In March 2007, I had the unfortunate experience of having to divulge an unpleasant, delicately personal malady with a pretty young receptionist at my local doctor’s offices in Michigan. I approached her window at the main counter with a smile, telling the young woman I was there to see a Dr. H. Despite having arranged for the appointment a matter of weeks ahead of time, the young woman looked puzzled as she scanned the rules of her scheduling book. After some minutes she perked up, poking at the book with a meticulously manicured finger.
“Ah, there we are Mr. Thalmann,” she said cheerily enough. I breathed a sigh of relief. It wouldn’t have been completely out of the ordinary for me to have confused days and taken off of work on a Wednesday when the appointment was actually for that Thursday.
The woman handed me a clipboard with a questionnaire attached. The same old routine, I thought. I smiled silently and turned to the waiting room to fill out the general facts regarding my health history and habits, but as I did so the receptionist promptly called out, “Excuse me, sir,” with a high pitched cry that echoed throughout the waiting area.
I turned back quickly and approached the window again. Everyone else in the half-full room was now staring anxiously in our direction. “Yes?” I asked.
“I just need to know what you’re seeing Dr. H. for,” she concluded, her tone no less penetrating in the silence of the sitting area. I looked around uneasily. Some of the elderly patients continued to gaze in our direction. The middle-aged adults stared sheepishly into their magazines, pretending not to listen as they empathized with my plight, while secretly waiting to hear why I was there.
“I, um…” I faltered, my voice low. “I have…I mean…”
The receptionist was waiting expectantly, pen in hand.
“I have toenail fungus!” I finally blurted out. I could feel myself turning red.
The receptionist didn’t bat an eye, however, simply writing “Toenail fungus” on a sticky note and slapping it on the outside of my chart. “Okay,” she said. “As soon as your paperwork’s filled out I’ll let the doctor know you’re ready.”
I finished the questionnaire and returned it to the receptionist with the practiced smile. After a quarter of an hour or so, the doctor took me back to an examination room and had me remove my socks.
“Oh, wow,” he said, examining the brittle yellow crust that had replaced my toenails. Some bedside manner, I thought. Whatever you do, don’t sugar-coat it for me.
“Well,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Looks to me like you’ve got onychomycosis.”
I stared at him blankly.
“Cosis,” he said. He scribble more notes, then took out his prescription pad. “It’s toenail fungus.”
“So what do I do about it?” I asked.
“I’m writing you a prescription for Itraconazole,” he said. “You’ll have to have a blood test to make sure your liver can take the meds. If the liver function panel checks out, you’ll need to take two pills for seven days. After two weeks, you’ll need to take another blood test and make sure your liver checks out again.” He tore the prescription note off of his pad and handed it to me. “You’ll need to repeat the whole process three times, but that should clear it up.”
I took the prescription, thanked him, and made my way to the lab to get my blood drawn for the test. A nurse checked my chart and told me to take a seat in the small hall outside the lab, and after a few more moments a very large, tall man in nurse’s scrubs approached me and reached out a hand.
“Simon?” he asked. I nodded. “I’m Iain. I’ll be taking your blood today.” I shook his hand and followed him uneasily into the blood lab. I sat in the small blood-giving chair with my right arm extended flat on the armrest. Nurse Iain rolled my sleeve up slightly and dabbed the area above my elbow with a cold, wet cotton ball.
“This should only take a second,” he said as he readied the syringe. “Now you may feel a little pinch...”
It was more than just a little pinch, however. As he jabbed the needle into my arm, I felt like I’d been stabbed with a kitchen knife. “I’d given blood before,” I thought. “Had it always hurt this bad?”
Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, Nurse Iain pulled the needle out and placed a second cotton ball over the hole in my arm to stop the blood. He had me hold it there while he applied a Band-Aid. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hmm,” he said suddenly, eyeing the syringe.
“Hmm what?” I thought. I’ve given my blood, I’ve done my duty. Let me out of here!
“We’re going to have to do it again,” he said flatly. “Looks like that vein didn’t want to give.”
I nodded as he pulled out the armrest for my other arm, though inside I was cursing like I’d never cursed before.
The second draw went as similarly unpleasant as the first, but an adequate supply of my life-giving nectar was drawn that I could finally extricate myself from the chair of my torturer. I hastily bid adieu and went my way.
By the following day my right arm had turned an odd bluish color where the first blood sample had been drawn. My arm was stiff at the elbow, and by the day after that became painful to straighten. By the following week, the stiffness was gone but the skin surrounding my entire elbow was a sickly yellowish brown.
After a few days I finally showed my mother, a medical transcriptionist and an expert on all things medical, my pincushion of an arm. I told her what had happened.
“Ouch,” she said, looking at my elbow. “Looks like he went through a vein.” She didn’t seem surprised.
“I don’t even go there to get my blood drawn anymore,” she said of the office I had visited. “The same thing happened to your sister and me. It happened to your sister twice.”
“Twice?” I said. I was incredulous. I vaguely remembered my little sister coming home with sore arms after a blood draw weeks before. My mother nodded.
“Yeah, twice,” she said. They tried to do some blood tests but the nurse couldn’t get anything. He tried both arms.”
I described the guy who’d taken my blood and she nodded.
“Yup, that’s the guy,” she said. “I took her back a few days later to try again, but it was the same guy. He finally got a decent sample, but your poor sister’s arms were pretty tender after that.”
She went on to explain how the same thing had happened to her before that, and how after her experiences with my sister she told the lady at the desk they would be doing their blood work through the hospital from now on.
“Didn’t you complain?” I asked. She shook her head.
“I guess I didn’t really think about complaining,” she said. “I just figured we know better now than to get our blood done there. “You know, Grandma had the same thing happen to her there, too.”
Up to that point, I had always considered myself to be a fairly laid-back, understanding guy. I do my best not to complain about most things. The nurse screwed up my blood test, okay, but it was an isolated incident, I’d thought. But hearing that he had done the same to my sister (twice), my mother and my fragile, 80-year-old grandmother, was too much. I was forced to make a phone call.
I dialed the office calmly and after a number of rings was directed to voicemail. I stated my name and the purpose of my call, and that was it. A few days later an authoritative woman called me back. I explained the situation. I told her about my sister, my mother and my grandmother.
“You should see my arm,” I said. “I have pictures.”
The woman predictably apologized, saying the situation would be taken care of. The last I heard, Nurse Iain was temporarily removed from his post and was undergoing a retraining course.
Although I had skipped the next two blood draws for fear of facing the sadistic nurse, I continued taking the pills for my toenail fungus. Before the final course of treatment, however, uncertain as to whether my liver was still intact, I forced myself to relent to another round of poking. This time I went, at my mother’s suggestion, to the blood lab at the hospital.
I was nervous waiting in the chair in the small hall outside the blood lab, nervous as the young brunette woman brought me in and dabbed the area above my elbow with a wet cotton ball, and nervous as she adjusted the syringe and said, “Now you may feel a little pinch…”
I scrunched my face in anticipation of the pain, but the pain never came.
“Alright, you’re all done,” the nurse said.
I opened my eyes as the nurse dabbed the prick in my arm with a second cotton ball. I hadn’t felt a thing. What had I been so worried about? I left the hospital that day with a spring in my step and a smile wide as the one Snoopy wore on my Band-Aid.
My onychomycosis eventually cleared up, and I’m proud to say I am currently the owner of a multitudinous variety of open-toed sandals. And while I haven’t had to suffer through the vagaries of a blood draw since that last one, I’m confident that when I do I’ll be having it drawn in the blood lab at the hospital.
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