Vampires, Angels, Jesters, and a Quick Trip Home
Years ago I had zero problems when getting stuck for a blood draw, though I’ve always hated it. I feel like a little bit of my life is being drained away. Perhaps it’s just a mental interpretation of intrusion, brought to the mind’s forefront through quick, sharp pain. As to being a hard stick, I also imagine it’s because I was once young, thinner, and very fit and my veins all were easy to see. Just another reminder of my age, and that I’m much more like a typical American.
I learned a trick from a previous phlebotomist to stay well hydrated, as a previous time I wasn’t. This time I made sure I was dripping wet on the inside. I hydrated all day the previous day, at night, got up to pee twice, drank more, peed again in the morning, and by the time I got to the office, I had to go again really bad, mercifully, they let me.
Keeping Poe’s quote in my own mind, and knowing you learn the most when you go to extremes, which makes for an enriching life, I actually tried paying close attention to all details of my visit. It wasn’t long before my name was called, and I went to the front. The receptionist was young, fair skinned and kind of mousey, but cute at the same time, with her nose into her computer, barely making eye contact me behind her round glasses as she took my information. Claire said her badge. I like that name. It makes me think of Claire Danes, who I view as gentle and loving - Shakespeare’s Juliet, with angel wings.
While sitting in the waiting room I got my first look at a vampire - the phlebotomist. She came from the door hiding the bloodletting rooms and called out, “Shay”, with no emotion. A middle aged man of some ethnic descent went to the door, and before it closed I could hear the phlebotomist say “room #1” in a curt voice.
I kept an eye on people exiting the door as well. Not that I was expecting them to be beyond Pacific Northwest pale, or shriveled up like a prune, but I wanted to see if anyone felt slight, or looked really lethargic.
I mentioned I don’t like giving blood?
A few minutes passed before the same phlebotomist came to the door. “Phil”.
I went through the door, finally able to see the area, three door-less rooms, all with big green signs above them, in a short hallway.
“May I use the restroom first, please?” I politely asked.
Was I expecting a contest from her, that she was in a big hurry and I’d have to tough it out? Maybe a glance that I was wasting her time?
“Absolutely. It’s right there.” She said, pointing the way a room behind me.
At this point it may have been nerves as much as anything, but I did try to go, and succeeded.
After that, it was into Room #1, to the phlebotomist who was buried in papers. “Have a seat”, she casually said.
For being really introverted, I can be a chatty Cathy when nervous. I often try to push some humor through, maybe an inner jester, aiming to disarm who is in a position to harm me. I told her I didn’t care to have this done, but if she gives me the cue to look away, I’ll turn away and talk about my home state of Oregon, if she doesn’t mind me babbling on, as that would help me.
“Oh that’s fine.” She says.
"You don’t even have to pay attention.” I say.
She laughs a little. My inner jester is working.
I then get a look at her name. Ashley. I don’t like that name. Sounds like ashes, or ash. Like soot from a chimney. Fitting name for a vampire, I tell myself inside.
Then she asks a peculiar question, “Have you ever fainted?”
There’s a pause.
I’ve felt a little light headed at times, standing up too quickly, or on roller coasters, seeing stars. I let her know. But no, never on a blood draw, that’s for sure.
“We always ask.”
As I’m not entirely sure how this works, I wonder if something other than normal check mark precipitated her question.
“Are you taking a lot of blood?” I ask.
“Um, kind of.”
Kind of? Kind of? How much is kind of? A pint? A quart? My brain thinks back to former cyclist Greg LeMond surviving a shotgun blast in a hunting accident and losing over two quarts of blood, but surviving. They can’t take that much, can they? But LeMond was a 25 year old world-class athlete. Not a once athletic, now middle-aged, slightly overweight, over-stressed, mortal who spends his time sitting in front of computer screens, not sitting on bicycle seats for a living.
I realize the absurdity of my thought, and try to relax anyway as she puts the band on my right arm, and tells me to make a fist.
It’s not doing what she likes. I can tell as she pushes in a few places in the crook of my arm.
“The last place I went had a ball they had you squeeze.” I nervously interject, almost desperately trying to help.
"We don’t have that. Just making a fist is fine.” She casually says.
My inner jester tries to rescue me, “I can imagine I’m squeezing one if that helps.”
She chuckles just a little.
“Let’s try the other arm.”
This isn’t good I think. I don’t like this. I want it to work, be easy, painless, and done with it.
She moves to the other arm, puts a band on it, feels around and has me make another fist, and after poking determines it will work better.
“Okay, turn away, and tell me about Oregon.”
I turn away, and after a breath, out it comes, “Oregon is a pretty big state, bigger than all of New England combined. On the west side it’s very green…”
And she sticks me. Ouch. this actually hurts more than any other blood draw I have ever given. There is sharp shooting pain going down my arm towards my hand. I let her know.
"Hang in there, you’re doing good and it will go away.” She tries to calm me.
“Tell me more about Oregon.”
I start to tell her about my home, and sure enough the pain does start to go away, mostly. Now it’s just uncomfortable, stressful, and I just close my eyes.
“Oregon’s west side is filled with evergreen trees, most Douglas fir trees, from the valleys all the way up to the mountains, which are big and have glaciers on them. Very majestic. And there are waterfalls.“
"I like waterfalls.”
“There are many there…”
I don’t notice at first, but it seems as though there are obvious pauses in my speaking.
“Are you doing okay Phil?”
I feel kind of cold, tired, but I’m here, just keeping my eyes closed, waiting for it to end. “Yeah…okay.” I utter.
“Keep telling me about Oregon, and the waterfalls.” She says.
“Oh yes. There are a lot of waterfalls there…all throughout the forests…”
“Hang in there Phil. Do you feel faint?”
“…I guess. I’m really tired. Hot. Cold. Are we done?”
“Okay.” I utter.
Cold is what I meant to say. But it’s strange like I’m sweating, but I know I’m cold. It’s quiet. I like the quiet.
I don’t remember the air ever being so clear, with perfect blue sky, and small white clouds. It’s not the foothills around Mt. Hood, it’s not that hilly, and I can’t see the mountain, but the small twisted firs and open subalpine meadows of heather, ferns and potentilla are so beautiful and tell me that’s where I am. I’m home.
I lift my head up and open my eye. Where am I? Is that an angel I’m looking at? Oh, it’s Claire, the receptionist, and Ashley has her hands on my shoulders, propping me up.
“Can you see me okay?” Ashley asks.
She’s talking to me. Yes, I can see her. Why wouldn’t I be able to see her?
It takes me a second to actually respond. “Yes. I can see you.”
“Good.” Ashley says.
“I can see you perfectly clear.”
It dawns on my now what happened. I fainted. I completely fainted, completely blacked out. So much so I was actually dreaming, or what’s called hypnagogic hallucination, a mental phenomenon that happens to many people during the early onset of sleep, or…death. It’s rare to have it be this vivid, but it happens.
“How long was I out?” I ask.
“Only a few seconds.”
"That’s it? I was dreaming I think.”
“About Oregon?!” Ashley asks with a smile.
It takes me a second. “I don’t know. I think so!”
Claire has a small wet towel and puts it on my neck. That really helps. I look down at my shirt and can see that I’ve been sweating. How can that be? I feel cold, and I haven’t even moved an inch, strange.
Another moment passes and Ashley asks if I can hold myself up. I try, and can, though my breathing is a little shallow, and forced.
“Feel better?” She asks.
“A little. How did this happen? Is this common?” I’m baffled.
“Not common, but it maybe happens about once a week here after a large blood draw.”
I also feel a little embarrassed, and feel like I’m inconveniencing them. Like I should be able to get up and out of the way, so someone who really, truly needs help can get their assistance. I even say it to her, like I’ve overstayed their welcome.
“No, no! Not at all. Just sit there and relax. There’s no hurry at all.”
They obviously knew better than me, as even moving a little made me woozy. I probably would have fell flat on my face as soon as I stood up (which upon reflection, would have really inconvenienced them!).
After a brief few minutes she said my color was coming back, and I felt pretty good. Enough to stand. She said this was normal and that I’d be fine pretty quickly. I sipped some water and felt better. I took a few steps and all seemed fine.
Reflecting on this experience, I had to wonder if this is what the end will be like. Not with a bang, or a whimper, but after some trepidation, and discomfort, to slowly slip away under the watch of kind strangers. And maybe, if we’re lucky, we do go home.