Zen And the Art of Phlebotomy

August 14, 2013 § 64 Comments

The only thing I dread about my annual ob/gyn appointment is the invasive speculum insertion. What I didn’t anticipate this morning was my doctor asking when I’d last had my cholesterol tested. Knowing full well it had been a while, I played dumb while she reviewed my file.

“Looks like it’s time,” she chirped.

Son of a bitch.

* * *

I arrived at the lab and met the bored expressions of three technicians who looked about as enamored with their job as I was with my impending fate. One, a motherly dame, drew the short straw and ambled over.

“How are you with blood and needles?”

Although I’ve been known to pass out when giving blood and have even had Red Cross volunteers gently suggest I find another way to pay it forward, I waved her question off. “As long as I don’t look at what you’re doing, I’m golden.”

I took a seat. She fiddled around with my arms, checking for good veins. This gave me ample time to think through what was about to happen. I told myself to relax my shoulders. Take deep breaths. Visualize puppies and cookies.

I vote for a dog in every blood lab -- specifically, this pup

I vote for a dog in every blood lab — specifically, this pup

She handed me a ball to squeeze, tightened a tourniquet around my upper arm, and swiped alcohol across the crook of my elbow. All strong signals to shut my eyes, which I did. After I felt the prick, I relaxed somewhat.

But then she flicked the blood-collection tube, numerous times. Which made the needle move. Which reminded me that I had a needle in my arm. Which cued the nausea and sweating.

“Have you had anything to drink today?”

“Just chocolate milk.” Crap. I’d made my blood the consistency of a milkshake. Drawing my blood must have been akin to forcing a DQ Blizzard through a cocktail straw. (Note to self: Drink more water.)

Supposedly you can turn a cup of my blood upside down too and it won't spill a drop

Supposedly you can also turn a cup of my blood upside down and not spill a drop

The whole process took much too long. She kept at that tube. I continued the deep breathing.

Finally, she took the ball away and loosened the tourniquet. I felt a cotton ball on my arm and she asked me to hold it in place. I thought, “She must have crazy good needle-removing skills because I didn’t feel her take it out, and she would never ask me to hold the cotton ball while the NEEDLE IS STILL IN MY ARM!”

I opened my eyes thinking the coast was clear only to see everything still in place and my bodily fluids flowing steadily away from me.

My world suddenly became a little wonky.

She finally removed the needle, and I can proudly say I didn’t go down. But she knew a fainter when she saw one. She made me recline and drink a box of Capri Sun fruit juice.

So that was nice, I guess. I had my juice pouch. Strangers doting on me. I just wish they had offered me a cookie and a dog. Then it would have been worth it.

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§ 64 Responses to Zen And the Art of Phlebotomy

  • Hilarious post! I’m also a fainter–or, as I like to say, I suffer episodes of vasovagal syncope. See? Doesn’t that sound more impressive than being a fainter?

    But these episodes have been harder on me as I’ve grown older. They now leave me feeling washed out for several hours. I hope that you don’t have that experience.

    • tqdcamille says:

      Ha! Luckily, I was only down and out for about 5-10 minutes. The juice helped. They offered me an ice pack, which I should have taken, but I was still trying to pretend like nothing was wrong. Vasovagal syncope is a nice touch. Much more sinister and fun to say. 🙂

  • jhorta says:

    Talk about making a blood draw sound exciting (after the fact, of course). And like the above poster mentioned, I’ve also become more of a coward with these things as I’ve gotten older. Go figure.

    • tqdcamille says:

      I’ve always been bad when it comes to drawing blood, so I can’t blame my age. But I do thrive on the chaos that inevitably ensues (after the fact, like you said).

  • earthstills says:

    Who would have thunk a visit to the LAB could be worse than one to the OBGYN? Brilliantly funny, if at your expense, sorry 🙂 But, truth be told I’m laughing next to you since I’m not all that good on the needle front either…

  • I’ve had a similar experience. Afterwards I always had multiple drinks from my water bottle before getting my blood drawn. Makes me have to use the bathroom, but it’s worth it.

  • Love your humor, but seriously, a friend of mine gave blood this summer and didn’t realize how light headed she had become. She fainted on her way out of the mobile blood lab hitting her head causing some brain hemorrhaging. She was in the hospital for days and is in physical therapy now. So be careful and accept all the doting until you are sure you are ok to leave!

  • chricecilia says:

    Haha xD loved this one 😀

  • awax1217 says:

    I hate being invaded and I empathize with you. I had a tube inserted into my heart. I have a heart problem caused by eating to many sandwiches of deli meats and bread. The strange thing was I felt nothing and was awake. I really do not want to do it again, I am not into pain and fortunately that time there was none. But I live having congestive heart value problems and get looked at every three months. So I connect with you. Glad you are not going my route. The best, Barry

    • tqdcamille says:

      Oh, Barry, so sorry to hear about all your troubles. I hope they give you something to relax when they insert the tube. You’re a stronger person than I. Please take good care. Best wishes that the insertions continue to be pain-free.

  • Karl Drobnic says:

    There must be a gene for the dislike of needles.

  • DPAli says:

    this is excellent. the writing is tight and the juxtaposition of phlebotomy and zen couldn’t be more spot on. truly. i’m also trying to juxtapose what may appear to be different themes to create what has long been a integrated whole for me:


    i’m subscribing to your blog. thanks for sharing all this.

  • I regularly donate blood, as someone with fairly low resting heart rate it can take some extra time squeezing all the blood out. Great post!

  • LOL. I take blood almost every time I work a shift – from an artery, not a vein, so there is potential for gushing and bruising (makes it more exciting but more risky). I actually enjoy doing it when it doesn’t hurt my patient. But I still don’t like my own blood taken. Particularly by evil phlebotomists that don’t mind if it hurts. I wish we had the budget to dole out juice boxes! Fun post thx.

    • tqdcamille says:

      That’s so interesting that it doesn’t bother you to draw blood from patients but it does bother you to have your own blood taken. Either way, I think I’d get queasy.

      I will try my best to avoid evil phlebotomists in the future 🙂

  • I found this post rather amusing as I start my phlebotomy course next week! 🙂

  • Thanks for helping me see the humour potential of blood work scheduled for this week.

    • tqdcamille says:

      Pack a juice box, ear plugs, and sunglasses. Shut out all external stimulation. Tell them to tap you on the shoulder when it’s over. Piece o’ cake. You’ve got this.

  • I’m chuckling at your expense, but next month you can have pay-back time on me. 😉

  • Caro says:

    Laughed out loud. When the church asks us to donate blood, I always say I can’t because I’m pregnant. This makes me somewhat of a miracle because I’m older than dirt and I can remember when snakes had legs… Well done!

    • tqdcamille says:

      Brilliant excuse! May steal that one from you 🙂 Last year I was slightly below their weight minimum for a couple of months, so I at least had a legit excuse to milk for a spell.

  • shellahudaya says:

    LOL! Really amusing 😀 Being a doctor myself, sometimes I don’t even think that a patient has a very complex feeling about a simple phlebotomy. Read this I promised myself to give more empathy then. Nice post!

  • bliss steps says:

    ~ What a bloody cute post, hahaha! Your experience is surely unforgettable. 😀 Next time, drink pineapple juice to lessen the coagulation. My friend gave me that tip the first time I donated my blood. Congrats on being FP! Cheers! – Bliss, The Lurker’s List

  • i had locked myself up in the bathroom when i had to get a blood test done and even though my parents screamed and shouted and pleaded I came out only when I was assured there wont be any such test. I look back at that day and realise how was foolish was I and am still embarrassed to go to that pathology.

    • tqdcamille says:

      Oh, you’re not alone. When I think back on how badly I used to carry on before every trip to the doctor, anticipating the inevitable blood test or vaccine or Penicillin shot, I cringe. Then laugh. My parents were (and still are) saints.

  • Barbara says:

    I love your style of writing… like you’re speaking… hilarious! And so true… I’m not a fainter, but I DO get woozy and I DON’T ever look! 🙂

  • Quite the funny account of getting your blood drawn. I (oddly) don’t mind at all, can watch, the whole 9 yards. But put a tongue depressor near me and I will be in instant panic mode! Congrats on being FP’ed… it’s quite the ride 🙂

    • tqdcamille says:

      Thank you, Caitlin! I’m thrilled with the FP post! Not sure how to top that one.

      That is so funny about the tongue depressor. I have a friend who, like you, has no problem with needles and blood, but put a cotton ball anywhere near or on her, and she freaks out. One of my favorite phobias of all time.

  • melayne says:

    Love your humor. I too am a random passer-outer. My worst pass out episode was not with a needle but with a little finger prick. I had done a job shadow with a medical technologist (I have no idea why I thought that would be a good idea). They test blood and urine samples all day. The technician I was shadowing thought it would be a fun idea to test my blood to see what type I was. “Okay!” I said happily. She used the finger prick method and scraped my finger along the tube to basically scrape the blood out of my finger and …Whamo! I went out, straight to the ground from a standing position. Got a juice box, some crackers and a good story out of it. Thanks for the post!

    • tqdcamille says:

      Oh no, Melayne! That’s not good! You did get a good story out of it, though. Luckily, I’m okay with finger pricks except for that brief period between the alcohol swab and the stab. Feels like an eternity. I swear my blood pressure goes up considerably then. But I still need to look away.

  • I’m a hard stick that requires me to go to the hospital & page the neo-natal nurse to come draw from my infant-sized veins. Luckily, I’m not queasy, but getting stuck on average 4X per test is somewhat daunting…
    I’m ALL for the cookie/puppy trade-off. =-)
    Congrats on getting pressed!!

    • tqdcamille says:

      Ugh. I don’t know how you handle it. You definitely deserve a cookie AND a puppy for that nonsense. You’d think in this day and age there would be some simple, painless way to extract our blood.

      Thank you for the congratulations! I’m enjoying my brief moment in the spotlight 🙂

  • […] Zen And the Art of Phlebotomy. […]

  • I’m a lab technician. You would have got smiles and not bored expressions if you came to my clinic. Good job not fainting!

  • […] When I launched this blog one year ago, I aspired to have a post featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed site. On Monday, the anniversary of my blog launch, my wish was granted when the editors featured my post “Zen and the Art of Phlebotomy.” […]

  • brinskitchen says:

    Congrats on getting freshly pressed! Thanks for the laugh!

  • Gail Coufal says:

    Love this blog and love that you respond to your comments. Very thoughtful of you, thanks. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 8 years ago which required, at the very least, a weekly blood draw. As we know, some phlebtomists are more skilled than others. I cannot have blood drawn anymore from my right arm (site of breast cancer) and, oddly, the only good veins I have in the crook of my right elbow. The left arm has no good vein – and I mean NO ONE has been able to tap blood from that area – yet almost all of them want to try it, citing “I am just that good.” Well, they were not. I would suggest instead – based on week after week of this exercise in futility – that they would get their best results from a vein in my left wrist or hand. After failing a draw from that inner left elbow, they would always say, “Well, I guess you were right.”

    WHAT DID I SAY???? These days blood draws are less frequent, but I still have no qualms to direct them appropriately. These folks need to listen to their patients!

    Meanwhile, yes! Don’t look and breathe deeply.

    Thank you for this brillaint post.

    • tqdcamille says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your breast cancer, Gail, and I hope you are in remission/cancer-free. What an ordeal drawing blood is for you on top of everything else you were dealing with. I think you need a written note from the doctor that says. “Leave the left arm alone — go for the hand.” You’re a trooper.

      And thank you for the flattering words. I’m pleased you liked the post.

  • danicalabeln says:

    Oh wow, I was getting nauseated just reading this! I’ve never fainted but I get extreme anxiety from it. You definitely deserved a cookie!

    • tqdcamille says:

      Oh no! Sorry to nauseate you. I do get a little graphic — probably too graphic for those of us who don’t like blood tests.

      • danicalabeln says:

        Haha! It’s okay! I still enjoyed reading it. If anything I compliment you on how well you wrote it and made me actually visualize it.

  • Haha! I like how you are so blunt about it!

  • fanny says:

    very interesting!

  • Love this post, I too have trouble when they draw my blood, they have trouble finding my veins and turn to digging uggggh !

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