Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hate is a strong word.

I have come to the realization that the word 'hatred' - for most people - is not necessarily synonymous with 'phlebotomist'.

But as I sludge through the "routine" scans, follow up appointments and lab work I am required to complete every three months - the word doesn't seem to hold nearly enough weight.

Particularly on the heels of a frustrating run-in with a condescending, needle-wielding tech who unfortunately happened to be on duty when I stopped by to have my labs drawn.

As I recall - this was the image on Elvira's name badge.
 Try to avoid her if you can.
Now, I will concede I've never been known for my fabulous vasculature.  Due - in part - to my "pocket size" stature as well as inheriting the fuzzy end of the genetic lollipop stick - I am not the girl who ever leant an arm to nursing school classmates intent on honing their IV skills.

And after a year of chemotherapy, countless lab draws and IV starts, my vein status would now rival an octogenarian heroin addict.

So, my beef with this particular tech (we'll call her Elvira) is not her failures - which were perhaps inevitable - but rather her dismissive demeanor.  And this, in my book, is inexcusable.

It is also something that can easily happen when caregivers get so wrapped up in accomplishing a task that they forget their "task" is also a person.

Me (rolling up my sleeve):  "I need to warn you - I am a terrible stick and you will need a butterfly."

Elvira (Giving me a quick smile and a wilting "that's what they all say" look as she ties a latex bow around my arm):  "Oh, ok."

Elvira quickly stabs into - and misses - her best option, the tiny colorless vessel in my right AC.  *Heavy silence*  She calls to a coworker who - after much fishing - attempts and finally fails to salvage the stick.

Elvira feels my fingers - now numb from lack of circulation.  "Your hands are ice cold," she quips - as though I am somehow to blame for her botched attempt.

Poke number two also fails to produce and I know from past experience we are running out of options. The only viable vessels left are deep and run close to sensitive tendons and nerves.  And I do not want to have to return tomorrow.

Me:  "Can you please check to see if Vascular Access is available?"

Elvira (Gouging into my other arm): "They usually only do port access."

Me:  "I know, but they've had to come in the past."

Elvira (Half-heartedly asking a coworker if IV therapy was in house on Saturdays as she fished with the needle for another elusive vessel):  "If I were you I would ask for a port."

Me (Closing my eyes in an attempt to remain zen-like as I remind myself that this woman could not possibly understand what I had recently gone through):  "I had a port."

Elvira:  "Oh what, it didn't work?"

Me (Wincing as she gouged a nerve - both literal and figurative - I recall the bulging lump in my chest I was so ecstatic to have removed months ago):  "No, it's just that I'm done with treatment. I don't need it anymore."
This is NOT your patient!

Finally, they break out the hot packs (that should have been used from the start) and manage to access one of the lacy surface veins that emerge on the back of my left hand.  The requisite tubes are filled - drop by painful drop - before this vessel too gives way. Both arms and one hand are stippled with tiny bruises and because Elvira was unable to retrieve a hold-tube I will need to return next week for more Bengazi-style treatment when additional labs are ordered for yet another upcoming appointment.

Nearly an hour after I first entered the hospital, I finally emerge - close to tears and feeling defeated. I want to give up.  I want to walk away from that building and never return.  I want to fashion an intricate Elvira voodoo doll in retribution for making me feel so devalued and helpless.  But instead I order a latte and vow to write a blog about my experiences.

Being a patient is humbling.

And I am sorry to say I have encountered many "Elvira's" during my experiences on the other side of the table.  Like the MRI tech who asked me if I had been experiencing any symptoms after the first set of scans searching for brain mets had been taken or the nurse who handed me an appointment card for a mammogram  - months after my bilateral mastectomy.

But thankfully, for every rotten interaction I've had - I've had ten-fold more experiences that have helped to restore my faith in the medical system and remind me of why I became a nurse in the first place.

I'm keeping this on hand - just in case.
That just didn't happen over the weekend.

I think it's important to remember, as caregivers, no matter how crummy our day may be (and I'm quite certain Elvira was not enjoying herself Saturday morning) our patient is having a much worse time of it.

We may not always be able to save our patients from suffering -  but it is absolutely essential we are kind.

And though, I know - I know - how busy you are, please take the time to be intentional in your practice.  It really does make a difference.  As cliche as it may sound - it is the little things that end up leaving an imprint in the lives of the people you are taking care of.

So, make eye contact and talk to people - not over them.  Bring warm blankets/ice chips/a clean gown when you say you will.  And remember to explain procedures, because although this may be your whole world, it's not something the patient may be familiar with - and that can be scary.  Also, say you're sorry when you hurt someone - and mean it.  We can tell the difference.

But beyond that, please remember that the frustrating patient you can't get an IV/NGtube/Foley into in room two-twenty-whatever - is someone's child or parent.  That patient might be your coworker.  And though I hope this is never the case - that patient could be you some day.

So be kind.

Because life is hard enough without having an Elvira to contend with.