Ever wondered what it’s like to be a phlebotomist? Rhyll Biest sat down with one of these exotic creatures (let’s call her Phoebe) and managed to hold her away from her veins just long enough to get an interview.
RHYLL: Does phebotomy offer the potential for keeping hero and heroine together in a confined space, or apart?
Phoebe: Oh, yes. In a small lab, the phlebotomist works closely with the lab techs and pathologists and helps prepare specimens for testing or transport.
RHYLL: Phlebotomists are trained to draw blood from people. Could you imagine this skill coming in handy in a romance novel plot?
Phoebe: Very handy indeed! Phlebotomy requires the practitioner to get close to and touch a patient in order to collect blood. And we all know what important roles proximity and touching play in a romance novel!
RHYLL: Do you think there is anything sexy about being a phlebotomist? (I think the name is pretty sexy!)
Phoebe: When taking blood, a phlebotomist often has to lean over a patient and there’s enough proximity to feel a caressing breath, bask in another’s scent, or thrill to the touch of fingers on bare skin….
RHYLL: Is fraternization a no-no between phlebotomists and patients? Or between phlebotomists?
Phoebe: I don’t recall any specific fraternization no-nos, although there may well be some now. I was single when working at the lab and had a dalliance with a single and well-to-do pathologist who was also a pilot and a partner in the state-wide firm. It was one of the most romantic times in my life!
RHYLL: Some big strong men have been known to faint at the sight of a needle. Are phlebotomists trained in reviving fainters?
Phoebe: Many phlebotomists are registered nurses, so they know how to revive fainters. For those of us who hadn’t received nursing training, we were given some rudimentary instructions. Thankfully, I never had to use them! Part of my training involved practising my venepuncture technique on a fake arm we christened ‘Lefty’. It had a skin-like latex covering and a network of ‘veins’ running through it — long tubes containing water stained with red dye. These water tubes were arranged differently like veins found in real patients (i.e. close to the surface, deep-set, and bunched with others and so forth) and I had to be able to successfully extract red water from each of them.
Once I’d mastered Lefty, our consulting pathologist (the one I had a dalliance with) had me collect blood from both his arms. Now THAT was a real test, and proof that there’s plenty of scope for romance and sensuality in phlebotomy!
RHYLL: What are the traits of a good phlebotomist?
Phoebe: A caring but professional ‘chairside manner’, excellent hygiene, good joke or story-telling skills, and sensitive fingertips (for finding veins).
RHYLL: How many people might you take blood from in a day? Is there much opportunity to chat?
Phoebe: In my experience, the number of patients we saw was the number of patients who presented! And that varied from day to day. It was a high- pressure environment that was also mentally, physically and emotionally taxing, so talking about ‘normal’ things (like boyfriends, family, hobbies, our dreams for the future) helped keep us grounded.
RHYLL: What’s the most unusual thing that has happened to you as a phlebotomist?
Phoebe: This was probably one of the nicest things that happened. We got to know a young woman who was keen to start a family. She came regularly for pregnancy tests, which continually came up negative (the doctor gave us permission to release the results to her directly). At first her husband would come into reception with her and they’d comfort each other on receiving the disappointing news. But after a while he began waiting for her in the car park, which was right outside the window in reception.
The day came when we could give her the news she’d been hoping for. We were almost as excited as she was when we told her the test was positive! But we helped her calm down and assume a serious expression before returning to the car. As we watched from the window, she slumped into her seat with head bowed. When her husband reached over to comfort her, she lifted her radiant face and burst out with the news. It was like a party for two in the front seat of an old Holden!
RHYLL: Do phlebotomists have their own jargon?
Phoebe: Yes, but I don’t remember much of it! We used a lot of initialisms, like FBP for ‘full blood profile’, ESR for ‘erythrocyte sedimentation rate’ and LFT for ‘liver function tests’. We also shortened words like bacteriology to ‘bacto’, biochemistry to ‘biochem’ and histology to ‘histo’, but that might be an Aussie thing! When it came to the collection tubes, we’d refer to them by colour so, for example, EDTAs* were ‘lavenders’.
RHYLL: How do phlebotomists like to unwind after slaving over a hot vein all day?
Phoebe: Pretty much like anyone else! But when we all went out as a group, our boyfriends or husbands (we were all female except for the manager) rarely joined us. They’d all tried bravely once or twice but would were put off by all the talk about needle sticks, collapsing veins, sputums, swabs, 24 hour urine and faecal fat tests, and so forth. I hate to admit it, but we sometimes took wicked delight in turning a newbie boyfriend all shades of green!
RHYLL: What do phlebotomists hate?
Phoebe: Plenty! Arm veins that are too deep, hard to get to, or which collapse as soon as they’re punctured, forcing the phlebotomist to go looking for veins in other places. Doing heel pricks on newborn babies also makes you feel like such a monster!
(*EDTA = Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid)
Thanks, Phoebe, the phlebotomist sounds like real red-blooded romance novel hero/heroine material!