Medical Tests 101: Getting Blood Drawn (aka Phelbotomy and Me)

(c) kropekk_pl,

(c) kropekk_pl,

I get blood drawn a lot.

A lot.

Most recently, I went the day before Halloween. I’ve gone to this lab at least twice per year for the last 12 years, so I recognize some of the people who work there. This time, however, I had a new guy. For the first time ever, in the 8,000 times I’ve had blood drawn, he asked me if I wanted to hang my coat and purse up on a hook before we started.

If you have ever had a needle stuck in your arm while awkwardly trying to balance a bulky coat and huge purse on your lap when you’re trapped in the chair by the arm that goes across the front of you, you understand just how much this small kindness made me want to cry.

He also cracked a lot of jokes about drawing blood/being a vampire/Halloween, which made me laugh. I appreciate a tech who can make me forget he’s digging around in my arm with a needle, you know?

And – he got my vein on the first stick.


Seriously, I have no words for how awesome this was.

The first time I remember having blood drawn was back during that time of many diagnoses (five health problems in one summer). I’m sure I had it done before then, but this is the first memorable time. I had undergone an insane battery of tests during that time, but the blood draw was, of course, the first.I was in a huge, busy hospital, 17, and terrified.

The guy who drew my blood then was another super nice person. He had been in the army medical corps, and so had drawn blood from people in the middle of all kinds of horrific conditions.

It was practically painless. And listening to him talk about drawing blood in Vietnam made me feel like I was a piece of cake, like he could draw my blood with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back and not even break a sweat. I swear the man was an angel in disguise.

I have also had my share of truly awful blood draws.

At one of my endoscopies, I went in dehydrated. It was at the butt crack of dawn, and so I hadn’t drunk anything for hours, and was nervous to boot. As a result, my veins were all hiding and shrunken and impossible to find. The first nurse dug around in my left arm for a while with no luck. There is no way to describe the feeling of a needle moving around underneath your skin.

She went to ask for help. Another nurse came in and dug around in my right arm for awhile. No dice.

Finally, when I was on the brink of crying, and already bruising, they went to get their supervisor. She came in, talked to me, cracked some jokes, and got a vein in the top of my left hand on her first try. Thank the Lord.

(c) jaytaix,

(c) jaytaix,

Another time, at the same clinic as the vampire guy I mentioned first, this blond girl who looked like she was possibly still in school called me back to the room. I knew she was trouble the second I saw her. Not that students are necessarily bad at their jobs – but this girl had something special about her. An aura of incompetence, if you will.

However, I tried to be polite. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and told her my phelbotomy mantra: “I have weird veins. Most people have a lot of trouble with them. Can you use a baby blue butterfly needle?” (This mantra was learned early on and repeated often.)

She actually snorted. She said, “it’s fine,” and grabbed an orange needle.

WTF, chick?

She stuck my left arm. I’m sure you can guess what happened. After providing what would turn out to be a bruise the size of my elbow, she moved on to my right arm. Nada. So she went back to the left arm.

She still wouldn’t switch needles.

Finally, she threw away the needle in the biohazard bin, ripped off her gloves, threw them across the room at the garbage can (and missed, btw), and stormed out. She didn’t say a word to me through all of this.

I sat there alone for about five minutes. Then, a middle-aged Indian woman came in. She apologized, grabbed a baby blue butterfly needle, and got me on the first try.


My last and most memorable draw was bad, but not because of the techs. Rather, it sucked (pun intended) because I was seeing a new doctor for the first time and she requested 11 vials of blood.

Again, by now I’m a phlebotomy pro. I don’t pass out. I’m not squeamish (unless you’re spending five minutes trying to find a vein). But quite naturally, I was pretty dizzy, clammy, cold, and ready to fall over after that. Because I’m gluten free, they couldn’t give me any cookies or crackers. Luckily, the awesome tech stayed with me while ordering one of her coworkers to get me a cool damp cloth and some apple juice. Even though there was a line, she stayed with me and patted my forehead with the cloth whilst I sipped.

I don’t know that there’s necessarily a moral to these stories, or even a cohesive plot line. But I do know that these people – for better or for worse – made a difference in my life, and I’ll always remember them. Phlebotomists take note: be kind. Make a few jokes. Make your patients comfortable. I know you’ve been at work for a long time. I know a lot of patients are crabby, mean, or rude. But your attitude makes a huge difference at what can be a very scary moment.

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