My veins suck. They have all kinds of structural issues and when combined with my chronic dehydration and other chronic health issues, they don’t like to play well with needles. I don’t expect blood draws to go smoothly. I’ve learned over the years that most phlebotomists (and some other medical professionals) aren’t going to believe me about just how bad they are. I’ve also learned that if they stay calm, it takes a shorter time, so instead of chewing them out about what’s going on, I smile and reassure them. But if I could tell them a few things, I would tell them:
- Stop hitting me. You may classify it as tapping or slapping, but it’s painful and it won’t help you. Slapping does not make it easier to find the veins. It doesn’t make them pop up. For me, it seems to make them “hide” because the stimuli is so painful; also, I have a connective tissue condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, so I’m prone to bruising, which make it even harder to spot the veins. The tapping/slapping/hitting also can damage the blood that you’re attempting to draw and mess with the results.
- I know I’m in my thirties, but my veins still roll. Every time I specifically tell one that my veins roll, they say that I’m too young for that to happen. Veins rolling is mainly associated with the elderly, but it is also associated with people who have connective tissue disorders.
- If I tell you my vein is blowing, then you need to listen to me. I know my veins better than anyone else, and I should since I’ve had them my whole life. I know what a blowing vein feels like, and I know what it feels like once one has already blown. For me, if I get a really cold burning sensation right where the needle is, I know that that needle better get out of my arm. I once told a nurse that the vein was blowing and she ignored me. She continued to work with the vein and even tried flushing it to start an IV. If you’ve never experienced the joy of saline flushing through an infiltrated (blown) vein, then consider yourself to be extremely lucky.
- I already drank the water. I am aware that being dehydrated impacts whether or not your veins are visible. Before scheduled lab tests, I make sure to drink even more water than I normally do. It doesn’t help.
- Stop being cocky and trust your patient. I know that some of these people are really good at their jobs, but the cockier they are the more likely they are to have problems finding my veins. And I’ve talked to other people with bad veins who have noticed this to be a common trait. Like I mentioned with blown veins, I know my veins better than anyone else. If I tell you that my veins suck, then I’m probably telling the truth. Even if the patient doesn’t actually have bad veins, the phlebotomist needs to behave like the patient does. What is the worst that will happen?
- Be confident. Yes, I want people who aren’t cocky, but if you’re nervous, you will miss the vein. Just be calm and respectful.
- Forget the gadgets. The only thing that was ever learned about my veins with a vein-finder was that they had more branches than most…and that they have are super-deep and really small. Using heating packs might help a little, but a warm towel or blanket works just as well. Oddly, a blood pressure cuff works better than a tourniquet.
- Tourniquets should die a painful death. Okay, back to the connective tissue disorder and its complications. If you’ve watched many episodes Law and Order or CSI:, then you may have heard of petechiae. It happens when the capillaries (really little blood vessels) explode and spew their bloody guts into the tissue that makes up the skin. Petechiae isn’t painful, but tourniquets are. (Blood pressure cuffs also cause petechiae and pain, but veins pop up quicker with them than with tourniquets.)
- Ask me about my allergies before you stick me. I know that it’s the patient’s responsibility to tell the phlebotomist and I try to get across that medical adhesive and latex are a no-go, but if they aren’t listening or they forget, it helps if they ask again just to make sure. Again, this is one of those what’s the worst that will happen things.
- Prepare your needle and equipment before you go hunting for a vein. A lot of people like to hunt for my vein before they have the needle ready to go in, which means they find one, walk away, grab their stuff, wipe me down, and then go to stick me. Veins that roll are not veins that you can just walk away from and expect to still be there when you get back. My veins have other plans.
- Stop digging. It hurts and it typically leads to a nerve being hit. That is pretty unpleasant. And by “pretty unpleasant” I mean that I would rather walk barefoot for 5 minutes down in Antarctica than have a needle hit a nerve. Sharp pointy things do not play well with nerves.
- Oh, so now you think they’re too hard to find? No shit, Sherlock. The exclamation of “these are hard to find” is always one of those things that makes me want to roll my eyes. I know that some people might lie about the difficulty, but I don’t. I don’t need your affirmation that they are hard to find. I know that they are. I’m the one who has been stuck in the palm of the hand and the top of the foot when safer/better areas were not found. I’m the one who has had to wait for the charge nurse to come do the stick or for the anesthesiologist to do one before surgery. When I was in the hospital when I was 17, it took 2 days before the hospital had a nurse come in who could find a vein. I’ve run into people who had to stick me on one occasion who recognize me on sight because they had so much trouble. I know that my veins are hard.
- You’re probably not going to get it on the first try. Even the best of people can’t typically find a vein on me on the first try.
- Do not stick me more than 2 times. I’ve had people (the cocky ones) who have kept at it, going back 3 or 4 times. No, you had your chance. You don’t get to keep trying new spots.
- If you cannot find a vein, find someone who can. It is okay to walk away. In fact, I prefer people who have the ability to recognize that they are not perfect and who would rather not inflict actual pain on me.
I am going to be your biggest cheerleader when you are sticking me because I know how hard it is and because I don’t enjoy it. I want to be away from the person drawing blood as soon as possible, but I want them to feel comfortable sticking me so that that can happen sooner rather than later. But just because I’m nice and accommodating while you torture me doesn’t mean that I’m enjoying the experience or that I won’t rant about you afterward. It’s not personal, but I have to deal with the pain somehow.