By Debbie Kerr
Using the word bloody to describe your feelings about going for medical appointments seems appropriate. No one I know likes going for any kind of medical procedure. In general, the procedures are intimidating and uncomfortable. They are a sign there could be something wrong. The rarer the test, the greater the fear. It made perfect sense to me until I realized that having my blood pressure taken and my blood drawn were also making me anxious.
Having your blood pressure taken is so relaxing. Cuff in position, you try to do some deep breathing in a weak effort to keep your blood pressure as close to normal as possible. Now the sound starts. It’s like a cross between a hum and someone revving a motorcycle engine.
With the unpleasant sound starting, you know the squeeze is coming. You try to relax your arm. You try to continue your deep breathing. You try to decide whether you want to look at the numbers as they increase…as the pressure builds. You decide not to look.
Decision made, the magic begins, the squeeze starts. Just when you think the cuff can’t squeeze your arm any harder, you realize that you were mistaken. You start to wonder if the squeezing will ever stop. You wonder if getting your blood pressure taken will be at the expense of losing an arm.
Finally, it stops, and you can’t help but look at the numbers. Your blood pressure is a little high and you become determined to do better the next time. Before the next squeeze-play starts, you start your deep breathing again. You start to psych yourself up to be competitive, but realize that you are boosting your adrenaline levels, which means your heart is beating a little faster. Panicked, you realize that in the middle of your mind games, the hum-rev sound has started. You missed some deep breathing time and you might have accidentally triggered a higher blood-pressure reading.
Fortunately, the pressure on your arm acts as a distraction. You once again wonder if the pressure will really stop. You happen to glance at the numbers. Are they higher than the last time? Now you wish you’d looked the first time as the numbers were climbing so that you would know if this blood-pressure reading is likely to be higher than the last one.
There is a third reading done, but part of you has given up. You know they are going to use the average of all three blood pressure readings. If your other two readings were bad, this one is not going to make much of a difference. Ironically, now that you have given up, your last reading is much better. You tell yourself…too little, too late.
Now, the blood-pressure game completed, you see the doctor and, as you expected, your blood pressure is higher than normal. On the bright side, you met expectations.
There was a time when bloodwork really was just a little thing to me. I’ve been taking medication for a large part of my life, so needing to get bloodwork done was second nature. I had no qualms about watching the whole process. I had no fear of needles. I even had a favourite vein. Hit that vein and it was like bloodwork magic. In and out in no time.
Now, since my cancer treatments, it’s become a game of will they or won’t they…find a vein that works. Now that my favourite vein is no longer an option because I had lymph nodes removed on that side, the magic is gone. No longer is there any kind of guarantee that I will be in and out in no time.
Now, when I go in, I forewarn the person that there have been problems in the past with finding a good vein. I tell them that sometimes blood must be drawn from my hand instead. They hear me but they are a little competitive. They want to give it a shot. No one wants to jump right to drawing blood from a hand. I’m not a big fan either. I just want the attempt to be gentle and I want the person to be willing to accept defeat after one attempt.
The odd time, someone finds a vein and draws blood on the first try. They don’t say it, but you feel like they’re looking at you to determine why exactly you made such a big deal. I don’t really mind the look. It’s a win-win for both me and the technician. I leave with a minimum amount of discomfort and the technician feels good about achieving something that others have failed to do.
In many cases, the first attempt fails. In some cases, the first string is called in…the technician with the most experience dealing with people who are unwilling to part with their blood. If that fails, it’s time to pull out the butterfly needle. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s a smaller more innocent looking needle, but it is being put in an area that is a lot more sensitive than the arm. In fact, this butterfly experience is not beautiful. It can produce some pretty impressive bruising. You almost feel rewarded for having to put some cotton and tape over where the needle went it. When the tape is on your arm, you feel sort of stupid when you take it off and there’s barely even a dot visible. With some bruising, now you have something to show for it.
It's a means to an end. I would rather have answers than not. I just have to find a way to fix my bloody mindset.
Over 30-years of writing experience, over 10 years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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