Phlebotomy: The Art of a Good Stick

My father being an expert in hematology did not prepare me for understanding why the phlebotomist (person that takes your blood) is so important.

I had to have blood work before chemo every two weeks. Some stickers (what I called them) were good and a needle going into your vein wasn’t so bad. I could have had blood taken through my port, but that is basically a medical procedure and I waited in the hospital 4 times as long as when they took it from a vein.

Furthermore, I decided early on to get used to only having blood draws and pressure taken on the left side because of my cancer was on the right side and it spread to my lymph nodes. There is a risk of developing lymphedema (painful swelling of your limbs) after surgery, so as a preventative measure, I wanted to burn it into my brain, LEFT SIDE ONLY.

But as time went on and veins break down, it became harder and harder for some phlebotomists to get a good stick. Trying again and again and again. The only thing you need to be a good phlebotomist is to get the stick right the 1st time and if you’re really good, the patient won’t even feel more than a tiny pinch. A few such stickers existed.

But bedside manner and foot-in-your mouth disease are another thing altogether. I had just had an MRI of my neck, ordered by my neuro-oncologist to try and figure out where my massive headaches were coming from. I was going in for bloodwork and the young phlebotomist said, “How long have you had brain cancer?”

I said, “I don’t have brain cancer.” Talk about freaking out. Did she know something I didn’t?

No, she just assumed because she knew I had cancer and knew I just had an MRI of the top of my body. Hence, she concluded, brain cancer. I was flabbergasted.

Every time I would see her, she would ask about my brain cancer. She was so good as a phlebotomist that I just let it go. One stick and no pain, that’s what makes a patient not dread getting frequent blood work.