Another Day, Another Needle
RATE

It does seem, some months, that there is no escaping the needle.

I sat in the chair in the typical manner, that nice, cushiony armrest laid down in front of me like a prison door, my arm stretched out and waiting. This had become one of those moments I’ve resigned myself to over the past few years. Poke, poke, poke. You get used to it, but you don’t.

Grin and Bear it?

A few of my friends have confided in me that they have some level of needle-phobia. I dread the dentist for this very reason — stick me anywhere, just not my gums. I cringe at the thought of any dental work, brushing more diligently every year of my life as the creeping fear sneaks ever closer. But for my arms, I’ve always tried to be the “grin and bear it” type. After all, it’s usually just a pinch and it’s over. And I was blessed with exceptionally visible, plump veins on the insides of my elbows. Phlembologists have often sighed with relief when I extended my arms for them, offering them a break from having to hunt and peck for a moment. My gift to the blood-takers, and with a big heart I could say, “take your pick!”

But I was not really prepared for the frequency with which I would be opening that offer. Nor was I expecting that the tone of my voice would change from exuberance to mild trepidation to even a subtle, wary question: “take your pick?” Followed, perhaps, by, “that one is still bruised from last week and I need a good one for Monday…”

And still I am assured that I am better off without a port. My veins, hollow shadows of what they used to be, are still considered “good” and “plentiful” as far as options go. Such is my good fortune.

Jeffrey Poehlmann, with IV in his arm
I smiled as she took a needle, slightly larger than the ones used at the infusion center, even bigger, I thought, than the ones used to draw my blood samples, and she chatted with me about how much she hates being stuck by needles even though she does it virtually every day to someone else. She tells me that she always looks away when she has to give blood, while I watch intently as the needle slides effortlessly in. We laugh a bit as I tell her how I didn’t feel it at all and how good she is, to which she replies with a story about how people are so much easier than animals any why she steered away from a career in veterinary medicine some 25 years earlier. I now have a line inserted into my arm, ready to be hooked up to an IV as I lay down for a CT scan.

It is easy to appreciate her fluidity and precision with the needle, the ease with which she was both disarming and confidently slid the point home. I’ve come to see myself as something of a gourmand when it comes to the process of being poked or needled. And it is certainly not that I truly enjoy the experience, but my appreciation for a good phlebotomy is strong.

After experiencing a few surprise butchers as I tried lab after lab, I have been able narrow down the places where I am comfortable having my blood drawn — to one, thankfully convenient location where for whatever reason every single person there is eminently capable. After months of hit and miss options and unnecessarily bruised veins, it was important to me that I had a consistent place for this procedure.

At my infusion center, my usual nurse jokes with me every time about square or rusty needles, especially on those visits when the veins are cowering in my arms and she has to choose from my wrist or the back of my hand. And then, of course, for the different shots that I get at least twice a month, there is always the double threat of both square AND rusty, because otherwise how will I feel it enough to even know I had the shot I was expecting? There have been a few times when the infusion needle simply couldn’t find the vein, only once when it “leaked” through because the needle perforated twice, but these are unfortunately commonplace for some patients whose veins have either hardened with time and exposure or were simply too narrow to begin with.

I look at my arms and see them as shadows of their former selves.

To me, the veins are all but gone, and yet I’m still greeted by phlebotomist and nurses with positive smiles about how many good ones I have. So I suppose it is all relative and I should focus on being happy that I have what I have. My infusion nurse told me that I could be years away from needing a port, while I’ve had friends who had to get ports implanted near the start of their treatments. These are all matters of degree. But in the end, port or not, with these seemingly endless proddings and procedures, moving through them is often simply about resignation.

Another day, another needle. But that’s okay, because those needles mean something: the process is moving forward. And accepting the process as a whole, pokes included, makes it all a little easier to bear. It can even invite some light into an otherwise dark place. And I am all for bringing in the light.

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