One Day in the Hospital Lab
A few days ago I got my annual physical with my doctor, and of course he ordered some tests, which meant a trip to the lab to get my blood drawn.
I have a little schtick I do when that happens: if the lab tech does what I think is a good job, I compliment them. If they don’t, I keep my big piehole shut.
“Well done,” I told the lab tech when she was finished, and mentioned that I used to draw blood samples when I was a medic in the Army during the Vietnam War era.
“The Army. Well, I bet you got some good training for that in the Army,” she cooly replied.
Her tone was just as sincere and sweet as could be, but did you hear the subtext there? I guarantee that I heard it, although I suppose it might have merely been my imagination.
My dark imaginings went a little something like this:
“Ooh, the Army, how long did they train you on that? Two days? I took a semester course on that, plus I have ten years experience, while you were in for, what, two years? And you’re going to judge my work?”
Yeah, I’m gonna need some ice for that burn. Fair enough.
Certainly my training would not match hers. Two or three days was all we spent on that; we practiced by injecting normal saline solution into each other’s upper arms, to start out.
It wasnt long before I heard people muttering to each other, “Pair up with Adams, he’s not bad at this.”
That was mostly because everyone else was so squeamish about what they were doing that their hands were trembling as the needle went in. I think you can see how that might be unpleasant for the recipient.
I saw that play out for a couple of people before it was my turn so I learned from their mistakes and used a steady hand.
Drawing blood is a bit trickier, but I somehow always hit the vein with no trouble the few times I tried, probably because the people I dealt with had veins that were obvious. I wouldn’t claim any great skill at it.
My last military assignment was at an Army medical clinic in Oakland, CA, processing people who were leaving the service.
Since I knew how to develop film in a darkroom, I mostly took chest X-rays and developed the film, and occasionally did blood draws or administered hearing tests.
One day I was finishing up in the darkroom when someone knocked on the door. “Rick, come out here please, we have a situation.”
The situation involved one very burly, glowering man who was quite irritated with the staff’s inability to draw blood from him despite numerous tries.
They implored me to give it a go, and he reluctantly agreed, but warned that, “This is the last time. If he screws it up I’m going to punch him right in the nose.”
Well, isn’t that just ducky.
And of course I could palpitate the area and constrict his arm with the rubber tubing and have him squeeze the little ball all I wanted, but the man had absolutely no veins that I could find.
Well, I had to at least try. I positioned the needle right at dead center and thought, “Okay, if I was a vein, I’d be right… about… here.” And with completely feigned confidence I deftly and surely slid the needle home.
Lo and behold, I found the vein on the first try and my nose remained unmolested.
“Now, see, you guys just needed to get the one guy from the back who actually knew what he was doing,” the guy sarcastically commented.
I smiled triumphantly, but after he left I had to confess to my colleagues that what they had just witnessed was merely a bloody miracle borne from pure dumb luck.