Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Math Is Hard

My next study subject for the VTNE is medical calculations. Math has never been my strong point, so I'm looking forward to this subject with trepidation. I brought my textbook and question book to work last night , thinking I would be able to work on problems here & there. First, I circled problems I knew I needed more help with. Then I took the first one and tried to figure it out. Marsha saw me working on it and asked if I needed help. Does the sun come up in the morning? Of course it does.
The question was:

How many milliliters of a 50% dextrose solution are needed to make 1000 mL of a 5% dextrose solution?

Marsha looked at the question and came up with the answer in about 1 second. "It's 100 mL", she said.
Ok, but how did you arrive at that conclusion?
She started by telling me that percent is the total grams in 100 mL. Apparently once I knew that, it all fell into place.
The next step was to make an equation.
10g                X
------       =    -----
100 mL       1000 mL

She showed me how to cross multiply and then divide. I still didn't get it, because she was talking about decliliters and converting grams to milligrams and then she threw in a .10 to really throw me off.

She had to go into the exam room to talk to a client, so I took my book and wandered away in search of more help. I ended up in the CCU, where three techs just told me to "memorize this chart, in real life you will never have to know any other amounts other that a 5% or 2.5% solution".
That was fine too, but I have to learn the calculation for the test...because you have to answer questions on a TEST, and they are sure to give you strange numbers not used in real life.

So I went back into central treatment, where 3 other techs were working on a patient. One tech in particular tried her best. I then realized it was like a foreign language to can repeat the sentence all you want, but if I don't understand the individual words it will never make sense.
At one point I had about 5 techs all shooting numbers and percents and decimals at me, and it was all I could do to hold back the tears of frustration. I felt so stupid. It was all so easy for them and I just couldn't get it.
As I tuned out their helpful chatter, I made a decision to go back and review the basics...converting decimals to fractions, the metric system, and basic tenets of ratio and proportion.  I hugged my book to my chest, said a general "thank you for your help" and started to walk away. As I got through the door, one tech rushed out after me. She said she was getting off work in 15 minutes and would be glad to sit with me and help me learn. I was very touched by her offer, but at the same time I was still fighting back tears that were threatening to break through in seconds, and I did NOT want to cry in front of her. (The whole showing weakness thing, you know.)
I told her exactly what my plan was:  learn the basics, then I would know the "language" that they were all speaking. I told her if I needed any more help I would definitely ask her. I smiled at her through glassy tear filled eyes (could she see my imminent breakdown? I had to get out of there NOW, I was gonna lose it!) and beat a hasty retreat. Once I was alone in the hallway I allowed the tears to come.
Unfortunately, as I got back to my work area there was another tech in the hallway. She asked me what was wrong, and I just covered my face and said "Nothing" in a voice that wouldn't have fooled anyone.

She told me not to stress over the math. She told me that I was a good writer and she had trouble with getting her tenses correct in a sentence (I did laugh at that a little, which was her intent). She also told me that I wasn't stupid, I just needed to take my time and learn as much as I could, and that the test had 8 other areas of concentration that I would excel on.

As I tried to dry my tears, my vet came out of the room. I told her I was stupid and would never learn this math at all. True to form, she sat down, got a fresh piece of paper, and went over the steps again slowly. After 10 minutes, I actually solved the problem! She showed me a way to think the problem through and understand what I was doing, which is just as important as memorizing a formula. This math is actually used in hospitals on patients, so I had to understand the big picture as well as calculate numbers.
We did 2 problems together and I felt a tiny bit of elation. Maybe I wasn't so stupid after all. Well, maybe I am, but if I can do a FEW math problems on my exam that is better than not doing ANY.

I took home the little scraps of paper with her calculations on them and resolved to show her on Thursday that I learned something.
Now as I finish this post, I'm going to open up my two math books and start over. I will try not to let these lousy numbers get the best of me.

It's an uphill battle. And I'm not looking forward to it.


1 comment:

valerie said...

you know im perturbed by the comment" you will only need know 2.5% and 5%...from the techs in ccu---I made up 7.5% last week and it frequently happens on septic cases. also helps to learn how to make adjustments in DKAs---