It is too late to be writing and not sleeping

However, here I am.

For those of you with needle or blood phobias, you’ll want to stop reading here.

Another phlebotomy class is in the books. Today, I was partnered with the non-recovered cotton-ball-phobe. I let her draw on me first, and discovered she is a very sweet girl. As she meticulously assembled all of her materials, she picked up the plastic cup with the screw-on top which housed her nemeses – the cotton balls. She held it up, drew a deep breath and opened it resolutely.

The cup had been packed so full with balls, when she removed the lid, they actually puffed up out of the cup at her. She startled with an “OO!” and was visibly alarmed. I chuckled out loud, thinking she would recover quickly, but she paused, just staring at them, and said, “they just jumped right out at me!”

I managed to get my giggles under control and explained I wasn’t laughing at her fear, just that of all the people to have cotton balls jump out at, of course it had to be her. I offered that I also hate the sound cotton balls make, and said it reminded me of the sound wet wool socks make when you rub them.

Her eyes widened and lit up, and she got this look of long-lost kinship… this almost faraway, “at last, someone who gets me!” look… upon her angelic face. “Exactly!” she exclaimed. “Exactly,” she said quietly, almost to herself. She shuddered.

She soldiered on through the ordeal of getting the cotton ball out and placed on the table. She drew my blood via Vacutainer without incident and put the cotton ball on my arm. Good girl! She did a great job, start to finish, and there was almost no discomfort whatsoever.

The second draw was via syringe, which I hate on both ends; it’s intimidating to draw and it hurts a hell of a lot more, too, for some reason. My theory is that the syringe needle seems less flexible, and therefore transmits every single movement quite sternly to the flesh. On the receiving side, that really sucks. On the drawing side, I know that it hurts more, and it sucks being the person delivering the hurt. Plus there’s more stuff one has to do with a syringe draw.

She got herself all set up. The syringe poke hurt like hell, but she got blood and I got a hematoma. It’s still swollen and bruised, and I reckon will probably be just about healed by next week. Alas. I don’t blame her at all; this was the first week we were basically completely on our own; Stacy was across the room, helping someone else and my partner had a lot on her mind. She did a good job for our level of achievement thus far, and certainly better than I would do.

Then it was my turn. As I was filling out my “patient information form,” I noticed her birth date: October 22, 1988.

I very nearly fell down.

“You were born the year I graduated high school,” I said. “In fact, I had already begun my freshman year of college when you took your first breath! Holy Shit!”

Nevertheless, I pushed ahead. The veins on her left arm were great; with very little fuss or muss, I nabbed a quick two Vacutainers of blood and was internally pretty damned satisfied with myself. I felt like the little girl in the commercial way back when (was it for Betty Crocker?) who says, “and I helped!” but instead I’m saying “and I did it all by myself!”

I placed her cotton ball, took the needle out and began my post-procedural… um, procedures. After about a minute, I realized she was still holding the cotton ball and what that implied with this particular girl. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry! Let’s get your Band-Aid on.” She sighed relief.

I prepped her for the syringe draw, already psyching myself out and knowing that was just a stupid, self-defeating thing to do. One vein in her right arm felt great; plump and juicy, just beneath the surface… but was invisible to the inexperienced eye. I could feel it, but I couldn’t see it.

When getting a blood sample, one palpates for the vein, one wipes the area with alcohol… and then one must not touch that area again. To do so would be to contaminate the sterile surface. Thus, if one is inexperienced in the subtle arts of visual vein location, one can easily lose one’s place.

My veins are easily visible from across the room; I never realized that other people’s veins aren’t usually like that. This makes phlebotomy much more of an art than a science.

I’ve never been much of an artist.

I thought I had the right spot, but I admit – when I looked back to her arm after grasping the syringe, I felt a moment of abject panic. I’d lost it. It was Not Visible, not at all. Well, nothing for it, I have to try.

I must’ve been a millimeter or two off. I poked, I pulled back the plunger… nothing. Nothing but an “Oo” of discomfort from my patient. Stacy had said, “if you don’t get blood, don’t pull out – call me.” She was across the room, so I called out calmly, “Stacy, if you’re not occupied, could you please come here?”

Meanwhile, my patient has a needle in her arm. Stacy is busy. I push in slightly – nothing. I pull out slightly – nothing. My patient is clearly not enjoying the process, so I made the executive decision to pull out. Cotton ball again, sorry, but this time we put the Band-Aid on much more quickly.

She was great about the whole thing, very understanding about the level of discomfort with the syringe, said I did a great job both times, et cetera. Just a very sweet girl.

A sweet girl with the damnest fear of cotton balls!

I was tempted to tell her that I’d written about her, and that I would probably write about her again tonight… but for now, I think I’ll just keep that between you and me.

Later in the day, a $13,000 bird would be crawling all over me, refusing to let go, and at one point, I thought he might do a little venipuncture on my jugular. That, however, is a story for when it is not 2:30am in the morning.

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