It’s nice when they listen
Several years ago I was laying in a bed at the emergency room. The doctor who had triaged me was fairly certain it was my appendix. A nurse had been tasked to draw blood for some tests. So I told her what my regular doctor said I should always tell someone about to draw my blood: “My veins are troublemakers. They roll. They collapse. They move. They hide. The secret is to ignore the ones you can see, and go for Old Faithful here that you can feel, but can’t see.”
“Uh huh,” the nurse said. And proceeded to stick me about a half dozen times in that arm, move to the other arm to repeat it, move back to the first arm to try a couple more times before, in a very exasperated voice asking, “What was that advice, again?”
She got it on the next try. She apologized profusely.
A bit later, just as another nurse was giving me the pre-anesthetic prepping me for surgery (it was the appendix, and they got it before it burst, but only just), she came back to apologize again. “I just found out from one of the other nurses that your G.P. is Dr. Cahn. Dr. Cahn put himself through college and medical school working as a phlebotomist. Most doctors know nothing about drawing blood, and are always giving bad advice. I’m really sorry.”
Some years later I gave the usual advice to a lab tech about to draw my blood, and he said, “Oh, don’t worry about that!” A second later he said, “See! Got it on the first stick…” and his voice trailed off, because it was true that blood had started to flow into the first test tube right away, but it had suddenly stopped, before he could finish the sentence. He also apologized profusely for ignoring the advice, and then spent several minutes trying to follow the advice so we could get on with it.
I have lots of stories like these. Occasionally the people tasked with drawing my blood listen, but far more often, they don’t.
Once a year I see a specialist to evaluate my meds. The usual routine is that I go in for lab work, where they draw about 7 tubes (All different sizes with different color-coded tops; I used to be able to rattle off the colors, but a few years ago there was a change in the color-coding system and I haven’t quite got the new ones down). Then, three to five days later, I have the appointment with the specialist where she goes over the results, asks a lot of questions, we discuss some things, and so on. Occasionally she gives me a list of things to talk to my regular doctor about.
When I went in on Monday to get the lab work, I recited my usual advice. The woman listened to me, asked a couple of questions, then went to work. She spent a lot of time feeling around my arm before deciding she was ready to pick up the needle. It worked perfectly the first time. It was great.
I saw the doctor later in the week. I’ve been on the same meds for a long time, and everything has been nice and stable. This time there was one thing she’s a little concerned about. She immediately amended that to, “I don’t think it’s worrying, but I want to be certain we don’t need to be concerned.” So she ordered more tests, telling me to stop at the lab on the way out.
I got a different woman. I told her my advice. She laughed, “That’s what I do with everyone,” she said. “Lots of people who have the tricky veins don’t even know it. I just assume everyone has tricky veins. I never thought about calling the deeper vessel ‘Old Faithful,’ though. I like that.”
And she got it on the first try, too.
It’s nice when they listen.