“You’ll need labs”: Personality, sweat, and tears

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know who takes your blood.

Pity the poor phlebotomists. Appointment after appointment, they put up with vampire humor. Intrepid patients who don’t mind giving up their essential bodily fluids can actually crack Dracula jokes during the designated draining.

But not me. Phlebotomy is not a comic topic, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t get sick at a sight of blood; I get sick at the sound of blood. We can’t even use the word at my house. We randomly substitute the word personality to keep me from keeling over in the midst of an ordinary conversation.

(I’m not alone in this. I went to college with a woman who had an even more severe variety of this condition. In literature class, the prof said, “The author goes on in this vein,” and poor Becky flopped right from her chair onto the floor, out cold. God made people like Becky so that people like me have someone to pity. “Vein” “Artery”! Doesn’t bother me a bit!)

Wait, gimme a minute, please. I’m feeling a little woozy writing this.

Okay, all better. Thanks for your patience.

When I moved to Ipswich, my first order of business was to find a doctor, which inevitably means finding a phlebotomist, because a doctor will eventually order “labs.” (It’s a euphemism to keep you from freaking; you know they want a sample of the red stuff.) I found a doc in Ipswich, and made it my business to befriend the person with the needle, whom I’ll call Scarlett, not only to protect her privacy, but also to make a clever color connection.

I wanted to be sure Scarlett understood that she had my utmost respect, and that she would not be getting any cracks about fangs from me, nothing but complete cooperation, anything to speed the process along as smoothly and painlessly as possible.

And also to make sure she understood, and agreed, that I would need to lie down for this.

Yes, you read that right. I gotta lie down. Not just sit down. Lie down. Prone. Flat out. Horizontal.

I’m still remembered scornfully in the town where I used to live, out west, because on my first visit to the doctor, I tried to be a big strong boy. Didn’t confess my condition. Suddenly I was waking up on the floor, and discovering that medical professionals have a capacity for incredibly unrefined language.

So yeah, when I arrived in Ipswich and made Scarlett’s acquaintance, I was quick to squeal on myself. No surprises. No collapsing to the carpet.

And Scarlett was cool with it. The consummate professional. Sit back, this chair reclines, stretch out, try to relax, how’s your family, all done, don’t get up too quickly. Beautiful.

But here’s the thing about life. Sure, it can be beautiful for 500 milliliters or so, but at some point it changes. Accordingly, the medical practice was sold, and I lost my lovely Scarlett. And the outfit they got sold to isn’t in Ipswich. They’re in a place called Rowley.

Now, with great dread, I found myself visiting a new phlebotomist. I’ll call her Ruby.

Ruby of Rowley. 

It didn’t go as I expected.

Ruby was cheerful, energetic, not at all vampire-like, and when I told her I would need to lie down, she was completely sympathetic.

Sit back, this chair reclines, stretch out, try to relax….

Waiting for the needle, I tried to make conversation. “I can’t imagine doing what you do all day,” I said weakly.

She chuckled as she poked me.

“To me, it’s like Kool-Aid,” she said. But then her face darkened a bit, and she proceeded to make a shocking confession of her own.

She can’t handle raw meat.

“The first Thanksgiving after my wedding, I tried to prepare the turkey,” she recalled. “My husband heard me gagging and came running before I fainted.”

“You’re a phlebotomist!” he roared. “How can you have a weak stomach? Over a turkey?

Then she had to spill the whole truth. It’s not just raw meat. It’s anything that hasn’t been obviously, thoroughly cooked through-and-through.

“Deli meat,” she whispered, shuddering. “They slice it! It’s so thin and wiggly! It’s horrible!”

Ruby looked at me, her face grim, her skin ashen.

“I can’t make a ham sandwich,” she murmured. “I’ll pass out.”

I was strangely reassured, learning that my new phlebotomist has a foible. I used to be embarrassed, having to lie down to give personality. But no more. We’re equals. I may even be a bit superior. I can make a ham sandwich.

We’re going to have a Christmas goose this weekend, and I’m going to help in the kitchen. Standing up.


Doug Brendel lives in an old house the color of personality in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check out his other life at NewThing.net.

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