Wednesday, August 24, 2016

That Time I Got Manhandled By A Phlebotomist

The scene of the crime...
Having dealt with chronic illness for over eight years, you would think by now that I wouldn’t get phased by blood draws. 

But I recently had a particularly bad one that was enough to put me off of it for a while. 

Apparently, when I saw my rheumatologist at the University of Michigan Hospital at the beginning of August, the lab there did not do all the tests that my doctor ordered.  I’m not sure how that is possible since it was all sent electronically, but they didn’t.  I was also told that because of one of the medications I’m on, I have to get my blood drawn every other month, even though I didn’t have to do this with my last doctor, who was the one that put me on the medication. 

So in order to get the rest of the labs done and set up the standing order, I went to the lab at a local hospital near me, as it’s not realistic for me to go all the way to Ann Arbor just for a blood draw. 

I expected that this would be a routine blood draw, but not so.  (And by routine, I mean I know that I am a hard stick) 

The first phlebotomist spent about 10 minutes feeling around for veins in both arms.  That was a red flag to me.  I would much rather have had this person feel around and then give up, rather than try twice and fail miserably. 

The first time she tried, she got the needle in and proceeded to move it around.  Like really move it around, to the point where I was ready to scream, to the point where I thought if it was possible for the needle to come out the other side of my arm, it would.  Finally, she pulled the needle out.  But I’m not really sure why she couldn’t get blood from that area because of the amount of blood that proceeded to flow from my arm when she took the needle out.  

Then she asked if she could draw from my hand.  If you stick a needle in me and draw blood from my hand, fine, but if you stick a needle in my hand and get nothing, we definitely are not friends. 

After that, she said she would get someone else.  Yeah, good idea lady. 

The second person came in.  She asked where they normally draw blood from and I showed her the same spot that I showed the first woman, who opted to do her own thing.  The second woman went in the spot I showed her, and sure enough, blood came out, albeit slowly.  She asked me if I drank water.  I told her that if it was about how much water I drank that day, the blood should be flowing out of me. 

And we won’t even talk about the fact that they started decanting the blood into vials and the second woman proceeded to get my blood everywhere.  Well, we will talk about it because it sucks.  It took hard work to get that blood and then you go ahead and spill it all over the place?      

The second person asked if I was okay and needed juice.  I replied that I was fine and didn’t need juice. 

But in reality, I wasn’t fine.  I left the lab pissed off and frustrated.  I didn’t need juice.  I needed a break.  I needed to get out of there. 

I need to escape from the monotony of it all.  Actually, it’s not monotonous.  It’s always an adventure, and that’s what really gets old about it.  In reality, the routine is for nothing to actually be routine or ever go as it should.

And this situation was just too much.     

It feels like a profound violation.  Normal, healthy people don’t allow things like this to happen to them.  But as a sick person, I’m supposed to sit there and take it.  Without question.  Without argument.  And definitely without anger or frustration. 

Is there a glamorous side to chronic illness?  Some people try to find it.  But right now, I’m not seeing it.  I didn’t sit there with a smile on my face despite the pain.  I bit my lip and gritted my teeth.  But more than anything, I wanted to punch the phlebotomist in the face.  I wanted to pull the needle out myself and tell her I was done.  I wanted to walk away.  I wanted to call my rheumatologist’s office and tell them why I was choosing to be “non-compliant”, and why they can’t make me get my blood drawn, even if they threaten to take my medication away. 

The reality is, all of these small violations take their toll.  I am used to being stuck multiple times per blood draw, I am used to bruising after a blood draw, I am used to lab techs saying stupid things to me, like telling me that I have to put my arm out straighter even though I have arthritis and cannot physically accommodate that request. 

But when all of those things happen at once, when I am attempting to do my duty as the dutiful patient, and it all goes horribly wrong, it’s just too much. 

So yesterday’s anger and frustration has transferred to today.  And so I’m writing the shit out of this experience because I don’t want to stay angry.  I know that there are bumps in the road.  I know that some days are easier than others.  And yesterday was a bad day.  My body reminds me almost daily that I’m sick.  So these not-so-subtle reminders that I truly am sick are sometimes just too much.    

Maybe the bruises on the outside show a fraction of the physical pain I feel on a daily basis and the emotional pain that sometimes occurs as a result. 

I wish I could say that I got in a fight.  I wish I could say, “You should see the other guy”.  But the other guy doesn’t care.  The other guy has education and training to draw blood.  But even I can stick a needle in myself and get nothing out.  Maybe I should learn how to draw blood.  Is it possible to draw your own blood?  If so, I’d probably have about the same success rate at the phlebotomist who manhandled me.  But at least I’d be doing it to myself and not allowing someone else to do it to me.   


  1. Learning to do your own draws is definitely the answer - there's even a howto youtube video...

  2. Are there no private labs near you? The kind that specialize in taking blood...
    The problem with labs in hospitals is often they send the newbies in to "practice" at the hospital lab or ER. I have never had that kind of issue at a proper blood lab.... hospital YES guinea pigs are us.