Tapped Out

It started a long time ago and ended up with me leaving the phlebotomy lab with several bandages on my hands and no blood test results. I could see this coming, but despite my protests about unnecessary and bad blood draws, no one else seems to care about this inevitable consequence: it’s next to impossible for me to have a successful blood test.

At age two, the regular pokings began. When I was on gold shots, I had to get tested weekly. Then as a teenager in the hospital for joint replacements, I had daily tests.

I started asking: “Why? Do I need this test? Is it critical? Can we space them out and give my veins a rest?” The answer was always: “No. The doctor ordered it. I have to do it.” And so forth. I acquiesced, but I never truly believed that one test was make or break.

It’s embarrassing, but I can’t remember when the veins in the crook of my elbow were finally gone. I think it was around the time I was 15 or 16 years old. My surgical IVs had to go into my hands and be replaced sometimes because my arms couldn’t support the needles.

Then my left hand went and I still have a purplish tinge to the skin that is the remnants of collapsed veins. Once in a while, a tech will find a tiny vein between my knuckles to tap. But for anything more than a small tube, it peters out too soon.

Recently, I think I lost my right hand veins. The tech poked it twice, getting the tubes needed, but leaving a bruise that still has not disappeared weeks later.

I’ve just about had it with recommendations to drink more water and stay relaxed. That is not the problem! The true issue is that my veins have been tapped out and collapsed. Honestly, if I were getting violently poked, I would also try to disappear.

When we make maple syrup, we tap the tree to collect the sap. Then we don’t go back to that tree for a long time, in the understanding that it needs to recover.

Unfortunately, this was not how I was treated. Instead, my blood was treated like an endless supply. Yet my veins beg to differ. They are now gone and are not coming back, not even if you beg and plead.

“So now what do I do?” I asked the kind tech today. She said, “don’t give up.” But she had no answers. There is no cure for collapsed veins.

I’ve left a message with two of my doctors asking what to do. I explained that we tried three times, hit the veins all those times, but they were too small and weak to support the draw. Where do we go from here?

Searching the Internet I find recommendations for looking at other veins under the arm, but not much else. My lab, and many others, won’t draw from the feet because of the danger of causing a clot. Some suggest a port or PICC line, but this is not practical for me to take care of.

I know it’s impossible, but I really wish that someone along the way had taken a moment to think about my long term health. That someone had asked the question with every draw: “Is this absolutely necessary? Will she be able to have a blood draw 30 years from now?”

Perhaps the only solution is no more blood draws, I joked with the tech. I only was half joking. If they can’t get blood, we simply can’t test. It’s just a matter of logic. But this wreaks havoc when trying to monitor my medications.

I don’t have any answers yet. All I know is that I’m all tapped out.

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