Its 5 a.m. I’m on the unit doing my job minding my own business. I’m drawing blood on  patient after patient moving along quite nicely. I come of out of my fifth patient’s room I look around and see white coats everywhere. Uh oh, shit is about to hit the fan. My workload doubles in a matter of seconds.

I’ve been a phlebotomist for ten years And I quickly learned this is not just about poking and getting blood.  It’s about talking to people. It’s about social skills. About Dealing with difficult people in the midst of difficult circumstances.

“The hospital” is a teaching hospital, therefore the doctors are learning how to be doctors. These are called the residents, the ones in the white coats. The residents round in teams of six to eight with one attending. The attending is the teacher for the residents. Because they are learning how to be doctors, they really don’t know how to order lab tests. This leads to patients being poked four to six times a day minimum.  This in turn leaves the patients very frustrated and angry. Because of the size of the teams and the amount of patients they need to see, they don’t always talk to each other, causing many problems. Not only do they order the same lab tests over and over, they order them incorrectly. “Can we add a lactate to that?”, he so rudely asks as I have the needle in the patient’s arm. ( No I can’t add it. He couldn’t have told this before I came in the room?)

Likewise most of the doctors do not have a good bedside manner or manners in general.  This is very frustrating to be around but I have to work with them so I learn to ignore it or shrug it off. This is not something that can be taught in a book like all of their other material, it is a process learned over time.  It’s pretty funny sometimes, to watch doctors who go to school for ten years, struggle with what to say to people.

Due to the HIPAA law, it makes it more frustrating for me to do my job. This law doesn’t allow me to get mentally prepared before I go into the room. Sometimes I’m shocked at what I see, from a man with no face to an amputee.  HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This healthcare law provides security provisions and data privacy to keep patients medical information safe. This law is so strict that I’m not even allowed to tell the patients what I’m drawing their blood for. Therefore as a phlebotomist, I don’t even know why they’re in the hospital or what they have. If a patient has HIV, the nurse is supposed to tell me but often times she does not. When I walk in the room I never know what I’m walking into. This can be shocking not only visually but emotionally. Their condition directly effects their emotional state and their attitude.  I get smacked in the face with it.

I saw a man with no face, his jaw was taken off, the top of his mouth and his nose. This man was not pleasant but I wouldn’t be either if someone took off my face. I could barely keep a straight face. Patients rip out their IV’S. There are dialysis patients, patients with liver failure, these patients are usually yellow. Patients are confused and often combative, they scream, hit, cry, and complain. All these physical conditions directly affect how hard it is to get their blood, physically and Socially. The sicker they are the more frustrated and rude they are. “You can’t get my blood, I’m a hard stick, they poked me 10 times in the ER” I hear this at least five times a day. Or my personal favorite, “Good luck, my veins are small and they roll.” I can get it, the nurses in ER couldn’t draw blood to save their life. I can’t tell the patient that though.

Most nurses are rude.  Nurses are not the caring gentle people you might think. Some of them only become nurses for the money. Wrong move, those people do not belong holding someones life in their hands.  The nurses that do care become hardened to the things they see on a daily basis. I can understand. Nurses can draw blood too, they just don’t try. So I have to do it. “Do you have have a BMP for room 6 bed 2?” she says with a demeaning tone. Yes I have it here. “Can you do it next hes going to CT?’ And she walks away.

Although its been ten years and now I’m an expert at drawing blood I don’t think its possible to ever be an expert in dealing with these people. I’m human of course and get frustrated too. It’s the field we’re in. We see some daunting things, it’s hard to watch. As a result people become hardened, Usually this happens by default and without the person being aware. It has advantages though. It would not be good if a doctor or nurse cried every time they learned a patient took a turn for the worse. Watching this transformation from sweet to hardened keeps me aware. I don’t ever want to become that way.

Learning to deal with these people gives me motivation to be grateful. Its hard to be in a bad mood when I’m drawing a patient with a colostomy bag, or an amputee, or when the patient is crying because they are overwhelmed with their diagnosis.  After a while the procedure gets easier and easier, however it is oftentimes very heartbreaking to constantly see people hurting.  And It is easy to get caught up in the chaos, to get lost in the procedure, in the hustle bustle of the day.  It does help when the cancer patient I am drawing is the one cheering me up. I catch myself complaining about some silly little thing like forgetting to return an item to the store or because I’m not happy with my coworkers. The person in the hospital bed struggling for their life offers me a better perspective and tells me they will pray for me. It really makes me grateful for my health and for JESUS. I get a quick reality check. I’m Healthy, I’m working in the A.C. Living in beautiful southern California. I have a lot to be grateful for.

I didn’t learn these lessons from just one patient, one nurse, or one doctor. I learned this through many of them over time. Nor did I learn it from one or two situations. It didn’t happen only once and then I learned and was a better person immediately after.  It doesn’t work that way, at least not the way I learn.

It wasn’t easy learning to deal with these people, it took patience and practice. It was a long process but now I can usually let it roll off my shoulders. I am grateful because this a skill I can now use anywhere I go and for the rest of my life.