Sunday, August 8, 2010

Confessions of a non-Heroin Addict

I am a coward.

I admit it. I do not like things stuck into me. Especially needles. Safe to say, when the Bloodmobile comes around looking for donations, I am not the first in line. Nor, am I the last in line. I am not in the line at all.

So, when a simple visit to the doctor's last week for something with my cheeks or jaw yielded this comment, "Let's get some blood and see what that tells us," I got something I hadn't bargained for--needles stuck in both arms.

My fear of needles comes from a single incident in the fall of 1977 when I contracted mononucleosis during my junior year of college. If you've not had mono, then you may not know that they check the progress of your mono by looking at your blood. If you've not been to college, you may not know that there exist places called "health services," or something of that ilk. If you didn't go to a university that has its own hospital, then you may not know that health services is staffed by some combinations of interns, cast-off nurses who couldn't get a better gig, and people who are pretending to be doctors a la Decaprio in Catch Me If You Can or who just want to try it out a little to see if medicine is for them.

During one of those "blood checks," the nurse or nursing student could not find the vein in my arm. I was sitting in quiet terror, watching her face at the time, not being all that inclined to watch the actual needle puncture my arm, so I saw the confusion and frustration on her face, and I saw that change to a kind of "what the hell" resignation and I immediately connected that look with sheer pain because at the other end, she had just decided to go for it. I guess she figured, 'If I just stick it in his arm, I'm bound to hit some blood eventually.'

And she did. What else she hit, I guess I'll never know, but my brain was screaming, 'Bone marrow! She's after bone marrow!" If she decided at that moment that, hey, it might be fun to become a dentist and drill people's teeth and occasionally hit a nerve that hasn't been deadened, I wouldn't be surprised.

You might think, therefore, that last week's experience involving needles stuck in two arms would be even worse. Fortunately, that was not the case. Here's why:

1. I've learned since my shy college days to talk a lot to the people who will be poking, prodding, and jabbing me. It helps to remind them that I'm not a cadaver sitting there to be experimented on.

2. This is the important thing: she was a real nurse.

Now, my wife, who has her veins invaded fairly regularly, swears that males nurses are the best. I'm sure they are in some ways, maybe even in drawing blood. But "Talkative Bob," even with that thought in the back of his mind, was not going to even think it while this petite woman was tying a rubber tourniquet around his right arm, wasn't even going ponder it while she tapped on his expanding veins, had pushed it out of his mind by the time she said "You'll feel a small prick." Insert appropriate joke here. And I did and it wasn't too bad, but since I wasn't looking at the actual mating of needle and vein, I was instead watching the disappointment on her face. 'Oh, no,' I thought. 'Don't go for it.'

She shook her head. "You know what," she said, "This isn't going well. I'm just going to try the other arm."

"I think that's a good idea," I said, though I don't know whether I did or not. I just knew that the needle would be out. However, briefly. And that meant that my life juices would stay inside me for a little while longer.

As Herman's Hermits once sang so famously, "Second verse, same as the first." So, tourniquet, tapping, warning, prick, not looking, conversational, but no disappointment from her. No, apparently, she was happily filling vial after vial like it was maple syrup, only redder and faster and mine.

And that was it. A bandaid on the failed arm. A piece of gauze and that cool purple tape that sticks to itself on the giving arm and I was done.

So, to sum up. Insights--none. Lessons learned--none. Increased comfort about next bloodletting encounter--little. Decreased memories of the fall of 1977--nope. Gratitude--yes. God Bless You, little nurse. Don't forget that I told you how good you were so that next time you will again proceed with absolute confidence, while I quietly await my doom.


Billy said...

I'm convinced I can actually feel and sense the blood leaving my body. I've been banned from the BloodMobile for passing out three straight times.

The little vials at doctors' offices are slightly more tolerable... until they start connecting a fourth and fifth little vial, at which point I start thinking of the word "pint."

Were I forced to choose between a needle in my arm or a baseball bat to my leg, I can only tell you it would take far longer for me to make a choice than it oughtta.

Nice write-up!

Anonymous said...

Remember the days of taking the kids in for shots? The look on their faces that says, "You cold bastard; you were supposed to protect me from pain!"