I Saw The Phlebotomist Today

“After you rub the alcohol on,” I began. These were the start of the instructions to reach my comfort zone.

blood.jpgI don’t know if I ever told you this, but Helaine and I almost didn’t get married. It wasn’t a conflict. It was blood. Neither of us could give the sample.

In Helaine’s case it was probably because of difficulty finding her dainty veins. For me the problem was fear. I didn’t do needles!

As it turns out the older you get the more times you’re going to need your blood sampled.

I gave a little today as the final step in yesterday’s physical. The phlebotomist recognized me from my last trip.

“After you rub the alcohol on,” I began. These were the start of the instructions to reach my comfort zone.

“I know,” she said. “Don’t say anything. Just do it.”

I was playing around with my new iPhone at the time.

“That’s good,” she said. Keep busy.”

And so while she did her work, I played and shot off a few photos. In the end three test tubes of blood went quickly. There was no very little pain.

If you go back through this blog you’ll see a similar story repeated a number of times. Each time I go I’m scared. Each time I’m through I’m relieved.

I’ll still be scared the next time.

Tests You Can’t Study For

I’ve been dealing with this swelling thing on my lips, fingers and toes for a few years now. It doesn’t happen often, and has never ‘hurt’ me (it sure has made me look weird), but it still scares the living daylights out of me.

Oh… did I mention, I have no idea what sets it off?

I went for more tests today, trying to find the trigger. It’s probably not an allergic reaction… unless it turns out it is.

I really should have gone for the tests a week ago, but they’re blood tests. I’m not sure how you are, but I am a 100% All American Wimp when it comes to anything with needles.

My blood was drawn at Yale/New Haven Hospital. Like most big hospital, Y/NH has become a medical factory. On the second floor of the Physicians Building is a ‘drawing station.” My wait was short, just a few minutes before I was led into a small room.

Judith, my phlebotomist, scoped out the lab request and started thumbing through a book. Nothing. She looked in a second. Zip, again. One of these tests was so esoteric, she needed to look up the instructions for giving it.

By the time all was said and done, six test tubes of blood had been drawn. I’m not quite sure what makes one vial different from another, but they each had individually colored caps and labels.

I’m not going to lie. For the first thirty seconds after the needle went in, my arm burned. Then things calmed down and the next few minutes went easily.

I was still a little frazzled when she told me we were through, and then proceeded to put a Band-Aid on my arm… my hairy arm. That will probably hurt more than the needle.

I’m now thinking, maybe I’m ready to donate blood. For me, a guy who almost couldn’t get married because he couldn’t take the blood test, that would be quite an accomplishment.

I guess I should wait until they find out what’s in it first.

Blogger’s addendum: What kind of freak am I? I actually took the picture of the vials of blood just so I could post it here!

King of the Wusses

Next Friday marks 21 years that Helaine and I have been married. I am the lucky one here – let there be no doubt.

As it turns out, we very nearly didn’t get married. This is not a story about the guy getting cold feet or anything like that. This is all about blood! In order to get married you take a blood test. Though it’s seldom discussed, the romantic reason is to make sure you have no sexually transmitted disease. Nice.

We were in Buffalo. We were excited. We were ready to get married. I had never given blood before. I’m not certain Helaine had either (though that certainly has changed, especially while she was pregnant with Stefanie).

Where does one go to get a blood test? We didn’t know, but our friend Jeff Lapides recommended his friend (and former high school classmate) Tommy Cumbo – by this time Dr. Cumbo.

It isn’t the fault of Dr. Cumbo or his office staff, but they couldn’t get blood from my quivering arm. I was so panic stricken it’s a wonder they got within ten feet of me!

Time was running out. The wedding was approaching. No test – no license.

Finally, with little time remaining, we went to the hospital and a phlebotomist (let’s see if that word makes it through the spell checker). This was a woman whose sole job was extracting blood. Dealing with little wimps like me was just a normal part of her day.

Amazingly, she did it. And it didn’t even hurt.

That last part is important, because it should have said to me, “Idiot, you need not fear this.” Good luck on that happening.

I didn’t need another blood test for years… decades actually. Unfortunately, as I got older, my current physician wisely thought it would be a good idea to check my cholesterol. After all my dad has had bypass surgery plus surgery on both coratid arteries because of a buildup of plaque. Even if it wasn’t hereditary, I ate the same food he ate for 18 years.

The test came back with bad news for me. My cholesterol was high. I don’t remember the numbers but they were enough to make those in the know go, “wow.”

There is good news too. Cholesterol can be controlled with drugs. I started taking Baycol (since recalled because it was killing people – oops) and now Lipitor. My cholesterol is within the reasonable range.

Unfortunately for me, there are risks with taking these ‘statin’ drugs. So, every six months I have to have more blood drawn. Tests are performed to make sure the Lipitor isn’t hurting me and to see where my cholesterol stands.

Every six months a blood test… and I still panic as if it were the first time.

Today was my day to go. I went to a huge medical building on Whitney Avenue in Hamden. Inside are dozens of doctor’s offices and the lab. From the outside, it looked as if they were passing things out for free because the place was jammed.

I didn’t wait long to see the phlebotomist. She remembered me from a prior trip and my anxiety.

I sit in the chair, try to clear everything from me mind and close my eyes tight. She told me to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t.

The last time it didn’t hurt at all. This time it stung and then burned. It wasn’t awful… but it isn’t the kind of thing I’d do as a hobby. Or, more to the point, there is little chance of me becoming an IV drug user anytime soon.

When I was done, I hugged the woman who had drawn the blood. She knew it was coming. It is somewhat symbolic, but it’s also an incredible release after all the tension and foolish anticipation I had built up inside of me.

Within the next day or two the doctor will call and tell me what’s good, bad and indifferent in my system. I will be safely away from having blood drawn for another six months.

When I go back, and I will, I’ll still be scared as if it were the first time. It seems so silly that I can’t place this little pain in its proper perspective. That’s what you get when you’re a wuss.