As I struggled to open the heavy glass door to the rheumatologist’s office, I felt a sense of relief that finally someone might put an end to my pain. There was hope, after all. My family doctor had sent me there to further investigate what was causing my chronic health issues.
After a thorough examination, the physician ordered blood tests and handed me a lab slip. I glanced at it and noticed that numerous tests were requested. Only a few boxes had been left empty, and some of the tests seemed unnecessary.
“I’m only 85 pounds, I exclaimed. Isn’t this a lot of blood to take from a small adult?”
The doctor shrugged me off and laughed. “You’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? I’m not even allowed to donate blood due to my low weight. This seems like too much.”
“You’ll be fine,” the doctor repeated.
My instincts warned me otherwise.
Once at the lab a few days later, I asked the technician how many vials of blood she was going to take.
“Twelve to fifteen of these,” she stated as she held up a vial for me to see. “Don’t worry so much. We take this amount even from children.”
“I’ve been told that, but are you sure?”
“Now, give me your arm, so we can get started.” She moved in closer.
My instinct screamed. “How about we just do half today, and I’ll come back next week and do the rest?” I bargained.
She hesitantly complied.
I showed up a week later for the next batch to be drawn. Little did I know that it can take much longer to replenish red blood cells. Thus, my having waited one week didn't matter very much.
When I got home, I felt a bit tired and weak. I sprawled across my living room couch and pondered the ramifications of the testing.
About two weeks later, I woke up in the night with part of my lip numb and tingly. The sensation came and went throughout the night and the next few days. Then, a prickly maddening itch set in as if bugs were squirming across my nose.
Eventually, I noticed a strange patch of red on the left side of my nose. I tossed it up to food sensitivities or a bug bite. A few days later, it appeared almost as a blister.
I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch the next day and contemplated cancelling because I looked so strange. The idea of my having anything contagious never crossed my mind.
As I was seated across from my friend at the table enjoying lunch, I caught her periodically glancing at my nose.
“Rats, I thought. She noticed it!” I felt embarrassed.
“What’s that on your face?” she blurted out.
I cringed and disclosed I’d been wondering too and that I was going to make an appointment with a dermatologist.
“Good idea,” my friend shot back. “It’s probably nothing too bad, though.”
The day finally arrived for my appointment. By this time, the rash was worse. I felt like a freak and meekly walked into the office with my head down.
After a short time, the doctor inspected my face and informed me she thought I had shingles.
“Shingles!” I was shocked.
Visions of when my grandmother had it flashed through my mind. She was in intense pain, and even the slightest breeze crossing over her face would cause her agony.
“It’s along the trigeminal nerve, the doctor said. I want you to get a blood test to see if you had the chicken pox when you were younger since you are not certain.”
“More blood? They already took too much!” I protested.
“Just one tube. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Sure enough, the blood test revealed prior exposure to a specific zoster virus. Since I had chickenpox when younger, the virus reactivated resulting in shingles.
I was given a prescription to shorten the duration of my symptoms.
Over the next week, I had horrific attacks near my left eye. The attacks came on abruptly, stung, and made my eyes intensely water. More blisters appeared on my face too making me even more self-conscious. Taking showers required that no water touch my face to avoid a feeling of raw skin being immersed in acid.
I stayed inside except for medical appointments so as not to infect anyone. It was suggested I see an eye doctor, though, to be sure the virus had not invaded my eye.
Driving to the appointment, I had to abruptly pull off the road due to a spontaneous eye attack resulting in such blurriness that I could barely see. I put my head down on the wheel and sobbed. The shingles had broken me physically and emotionally. I had caved.
The more the tears streamed across my eyes and face, the worse my discomfort soared. I had no choice but to stop crying so that I could get back onto the road to my appointment. Ironically, I had discovered that something very cold and damp pressed against my eye would stop an attack. I frantically grabbed my small ice-pack that I carried with me and placed it over my eye for temporary relief and then headed back to the road.
Fortunately, the ophthalmologist informed me that I wasn’t going blind and that the virus did not appear to be inside the eye.
Once I recovered from the shingles, I went back to the rheumatologist who had ordered the original blood tests and told her what happened. This time, she agreed she had ordered too many tests at one time. She was very apologetic, and I appreciated that she admitted it. Due to my already low immune system, my body had become severely stressed. The excessive blood taken had caused the dormant virus to spring forth.
As I reflect back, it amazes me that my doctors hadn’t asked me if I recently had blood drawn elsewhere or intended to in the near future by another doctor. Had that been the case, I could have suffered even more dire consequences. Certainly, it pays to have good communication on this issue.
Later in the year, another physician ordered yet another blood test. Fortunately, he was testing only a few things. I used this as an opportunity to explore labs. I took his lab slip to three different local labs to find out how many vials each would each take. They used the same size vials. Their responses to my question varied. One technician told me one to two vials, another said perhaps three, and the third said four.
The third place was where I had my original lab work done that the rheumatologist had ordered. I asked the technician at that lab why they would take more vials than other labs. She responded that they like to have extra on hand in case one is lost or dropped.
This was my first realization that some labs take more vials than others even for the same test(s).
Having gone through enough pain already, I obviously chose to have this recent test done at the lab that used the fewest number of vials. I was glad to have some control over the matter.
To this day, when getting bloodwork, I ask what size vials and how many will be used. The doctors and lab technicians still respond by telling me not to worry. I stand my ground and tell my story.
Why take more blood than necessary? Why not play it safe?