I did it! I got myself to go through with the blood draw and I must say, I did pretty well! It was a much more workable experience with my mom’s company, so I’m really glad we came up with that plan and that she was willing and available to accompany me.
Despite my strong urge to call her and cancel our plan, I stayed committed. She arrived mid-morning, and we drove to the lab. The operating administration at the facility leaves something to be desired because they only ever have one phlebotomist on staff to attend to patients nor can you make an appointment, so it’s always an unknown situation when you arrive. This inherently makes me uncomfortable and increases my anxiety because I like to be able to accurately anticipate a stressful event because such mental reversal helps me strategize and prepare so that I have a more successful and less nerve-wracking experience. This place makes that impossible. I’ve even tried calling before, explaining my fear and autism diagnosis, but they make no concessions. This exacerbates my anxiety because not only can I not envision what the scene will be like upon arrival, but I also catastrophize it (which leads to me talking myself out of going as I imagine a mob scene!). The actual wait itself increases my anxiety, nearly exponentially with each five-minute interval.
Fortunately, our timing was decent because there was just one patient ahead of me, though the wait during his draw was surprisingly long–perhaps 15-20 minutes. However, while we were still out in the waiting room, at least three other patients arrived and signed in, so I felt relieved with our position.
As an aside, it always baffles me when there are many chairs (or treadmills at a gym) in a communal space and I arrive first and always select an end unit, leaving all others free. When the next person arrives, instead of choosing any of the dozen or more other chairs, he or she chooses the one directly next to me. It’s not like we are old friends about to carry on a conversation! I feel my imaginary buffer zone bubble for breathing and personal space is instantly popped like a knife to a birthday balloon. I’m not claustrophobic in tight spaces like MRI machines or tight airplane seats, but I have, what I consider, social claustrophobia: a need ample space between me and anyone else, particularly a stranger. I can make exceptions for loved ones, in which intimacy and touching can be tolerable with notice. Anyway, the first patient to arrive after me yesterday sat directly next to me, despite the fact that there were at least fifteen other chairs available.
When we were called back, I was relieved to get a friendly vibe from the phlebotomist. Instead of my norm of crying as soon as I sat in the chair, I climbed up into the seat stoically and stayed focused on talking to my mom after providing the phlebotomist with my insurance card and requisition. Despite the fact that she imparted the favorable report that she had previously noted my orders were imputed into the system from my failed attempt three weeks ago to get my lab work done (when they were unable to verify the codes for certain tests and needed me to return another time after my doctor faxed a corrected order), it took over an hour to get the tubes ready for the draw. That hour would have been reason I had yet again failed to fill the order had my mom not been there to keep me placated and (mostly) distracted. Even she was unimpressed and frustrated with the wait by a certain point! It seemed that all 36 ordered tests had to be reentered and verified by the computer program before she finally printed the labels for my tubes.
And the labels kept on coming! Like a greedy child’s Christmas list after visiting FAO Schwarz, the sheet of labels kept growing and growing out of the printer into a long curl extending toward the floor. You would think that paper could trigger the startle response like touch in an infant (which, I learned this morning is active in a human embryo as early as six weeks after fertilization!), because I was instantly petrified by the number of slated test tubes, 14 to be exact. Mom looked nearly as alarmed as me, but assured me I would be okay. Then, it was time for the draw to take place.
We wrangled with the chair to recline it, because the higher my feet can be relative to my head, the lower my chances of passing out. I did cry during the alcohol wiping cleanse, as my sensitive skin screamed with the friction. That said, I regained composure quickly, and squeezed my mom’s hand during the stick and first few tubes. I engaged in conversation with the phlebotomist–my go-to distraction technique–while my mom vigorously fanned me with the photo album she brought for us to gush over while waiting the whole time (baby pictures from my first year of life). That’s one of the odd physiological responses that always happens with my body during blood work: I get exceedingly hot.
By the end of fourteen tubes, my hair was wet from sweating. I did great during the procedure though, only starting to panic that it was never going to end when there were just three tubes left. I felt lightheaded and my ears were ringing, but I stayed present, brave, and patient. The phlebotomist was amazing. She only had to stick me once, which you would think should be a given, but my skin is so thin and my veins so prominent, that they aren’t padded well and secured in my tissues so they often roll upon puncture and have to be re-stuck. She also moved between tubes efficiently and confidently, helping reduce the actual length of the procedure and calming my typical skeptical worries that things were going awry. I shut my eyes most of the time and tried to take deep breaths to cool my rising body temperature and combat my body’s urge to faint. When I did open them, I’d look at my mom for reassurance and love. Although I doubt it was more than ten minutes, the draw felt long, though eventually it was done. I rested a few minutes in my reclined position and then we headed home.
I felt triumphant, though weak, and thrilled to have not only gotten through it, but done so relatively maturely and finally reversed the trend of increasingly negative experiences. This, in contrast, was a win all around. Of course, I’ll have to see what the results show and get through those appointments with the ordering providers; however, this seems very doable compared to the hurdle of the actually getting the blood work done. I can do it.