Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009
Yesterday at the doctor, I had to have some routine bloodwork done. A LOT of routine bloodwork, apparently, enough that they needed four vials of blood.
Keep in mind that I hate needles. Once, as a teen, when I was going to volunteer at the local VA hospital, at the end they announced we’d all have to have a TB test. No big deal, just a little needle prick under the skin of the arm. I immediately began to feel a swirling pit develop in my belly. Oh no. Oh no. All of us volunteers lined up. I got at the back of the line. Then I let some more people get in front of me. I wrung my hands until the knuckles turned white. My face turned white, too. The swirling in my stomach got worse. Finally, someone noticed I didn’t look so good and suggested I might need to sit down. I took that as my cue and ran for it and never went back.
My needle-related cowardice has also prevented me from donating blood. Ever.
The main reason for my fear is I have those difficult, hard-to-find, rolly veins blood-drawing technicians loathe to encounter. Sometimes they get out those tiny butterfly needles and still can’t successfully draw blood from me. And they’ve learned at one doc to call out the big guns – the expert blood tech lady. On one occasion, I got stuck three or four times, by two different techs, and they still couldn’t get enough blood for a measles test and just gave up.
After that time, the expert blood tech lady gave me some excellent advice – drink a bunch of water before you come because it plumps up the veins. Since then, I’ve guzzled water before every blood-drawing session, and I haven’t had a difficult draw in a few years.
Still, the fear lingers. And now I have something new to fear.
Yesterday, at the doc, we were there for hours, longer than expected. The appointment was at 11:30 a.m., and there wasn’t time for lunch beforehand. When blood-drawing time rolled around at 2:30 p.m., we were dehydrated and hungry. D asked for water for me, and I guzzled most of the bottle.
And to my delight, the trick worked again! The tech found my vein right away and successfully began drawing blood. I turned my head and covered my eyes because I still just can’t look. Even when they show needles going in skin on TV, I have to cover my eyes.
“Are you okay?” the tech asked, not for the last time that day. I laughed a little, trying not to jostle my arm where the needle was stabbing me, and said, “Yeah, I just can’t look.”
But then, the blood drawing just kept on going. I wasn’t looking, so I didn’t know exactly what she was doing, but D told me later she was switching out vials. He, meanwhile, was getting blood drawn in the chair next to mine.
When she was filling the last vial, the tech asked again, “Are you okay?” This time I nodded, but I noticed my “uh-huh” was a little hard to muster.
I was fine enough to move my finger to hold the cotton ball in place and out of the way as she taped it. Then the queasiness set in.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded. “I think so. Just feel a little pukey.”
She eyed me carefully and moved the trash can closer.
Then the queasiness got worse. I tried to sit up straighter, and the tech backed up.
“You want some Saltines?” she asked, and I nodded. She quickly fetched some packets of crackers from a drawer and set them on my little tray. I picked one up, but my fingers wouldn’t work enough to open it.
“Want me to open it for you?”
“Are you okay?” I tried to shrug. I couldn’t speak, or couldn’t make my mind work enough to know what to say.
“Are you hot?” the tech asked and directed a fan at my face. I wasn’t hot, exactly, but a prickling began near my hairline.
Suddenly, I felt very strange. The feeling changed from queasy and weak – a feeling I’m quite familiar with when my blood sugar gets low – to something I’d never experienced before. My breathing got shallow and quick, and sweat popped out on my forehead. I could feel the blood draining from my face.
Suddenly, I was afraid. Later, when I tried to explain it to D, he said, “You felt out of control,” and I had to smile – he knows me so well, he knew exactly what would’ve made me start to freak out.
“Talk to me? Are you okay?” said the tech, hovering in front of me.
This time, I think I managed to shake my head no.
“Call a nurse!” someone demanded – perhaps D’s blood tech? – and someone else got on the intercom and said, “We need a nurse in blood drawing, STAT!”
Almost immediately, a flood of people surged into the room, so many people that I thought, for a moment, “Am I dying?” A nurse ran to my side and gently ordered me to take deep breaths. I thought, “That’s good advice,” and forced myself to obey. Then she held a paper over my nose and told me to smell it. I inhaled the sharp, bitter aroma – camphor? – and even in my addled state, I thought of Gone With the Wind and the fragile Aunt Pittypat, who was forever needing her smelling salts. Just like in the storybooks, the substance instantly made me feel a little more awake, a little farther from the brink.
The nurse instructed me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. It took a moment to register what she was saying. There were people everywhere, saying things like, “Get her on the floor.” I couldn’t think what good that would do, though later it seemed obvious – if I was on the floor, I wouldn’t fall far if I fainted.
“Her color’s coming back,” the nurse said. “Someone get her a Coke.”
Then it was decided it was safe to put me on the floor, and three nurses came and helped me to a sitting position on the floor. One of them put a pillow behind my back against the cabinets, and one straightened my dress over my knees. Someone handed me a can of Pepsi with a straw in it and told me to sip. Another someone held a pack of opened crackers, and I took one. They set the fan in my chair, pointed at my head. My hair blew in my face, and I let it.
Everyone stood back and watched me sip Pepsi and eat crackers. They proclaimed that my color was much better. I felt much better, if a little embarrassed by all the attention.
“Don’t worry,” they said, “this isn’t the first time this has happened to someone, and it won’t be the last.” They teased my tech about last week when she had three fainters in one day. I said, “This has never happened to me before,” and they said, “That’s what everyone says.”
Gradually, most of the nurses drifted away to attend to more pressing matters, and I was allowed to return to my seat. D went and checked us out, while I sat and recovered a while longer. My nurse – the nurse with the smelling salts – popped in to check on me. I was told repeatedly that the next time I get blood drawn, I need to tell them to put me on the floor first.
Afterward, still a little wobbly but mostly okay, I couldn’t stop talking about my fainting episode as we stuffed ourselves with chicken nuggets and waffle fries at Chik-fil-a (the first fried food I’ve allowed myself in weeks).
This is the most dramatic thing that has happened to me in ages. Someone actually said, “Stat!” in relation to me!
And it was a new sensation letting someone else take over. I like to keep firm control over myself – emotions suppressed, check! – and I’m fiercely independent. When I cracked my pelvis in a car accident in high school and couldn’t walk for a couple of days, I waited till my parents were gone and dragged myself across the floor to the bathroom, so I wouldn’t have to have anyone help me.
But this time it almost felt nice to be surrounded by these medical professionals, all so calm and efficient and confident, and to let them take charge instead.
So maybe I should take a lesson from this – I’m not the only person capable of doing things right, I’m not the only person who can take care of me, and it’s okay to be vulnerable because I have people to catch me.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe my only lesson should be: Eat something before getting blood drawn, or you might faint. Don’t know how that’s going to work out Thursday, when I have to have a fasting blood test. Perhaps I should take the nurses’ advice and tell them to put me on the floor first?
I think this time I’ll wear pants.