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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • karenkaye
    4 years ago

    I am an ‘old’ phlebotomist -lab tech. I send you compassion and apologies. Just a bit of info…so many times I suggested combining 2 draws (pokes) to the nurse or doc but was told absolutely not which could be for a good reason or not. I’ve even refused to draw blood when it made no sense to anyone. I’ve saved many sticks from happening that the patient didn’t know about. I’ve had tears while drawing blood. And most important I tried best to do the best job possible so a second or third stick would be prevented.
    We sent you compassion as we were dra

  • karenkaye
    4 years ago

    ….as we were drawing your blood. I still hear your pain and I’m sorry for your suffering. Today, with RA, I get stuck 3-4 times for an IV and I have only 2 good veins for blood that mostly work. I guess that is my karma:)

  • theAntiChick
    4 years ago

    I am a nurse, used to work ER, and I want to ditto Teresa. Many of our patients who had no usable veins left had ports implanted. The most common one I saw was a PowerPort which was good because if the patient needed a CAT scan, that one was safe to use with the infusion pressure needed for the contrast. I’d find out what types are available, and which are the most appropriate.

  • Teresa
    4 years ago

    I have a Smart Port by AngioDynamics. It is completely under my skin on my chest near my collar bone. It is wonderful! My veins have hardened and some have collapsed. They are able to easily access my port for blood work and for my Remicade infusions. I don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Every time it is accessed they just flush it with heparin. It does have to be used every three months or I have to go in to have it flushed but I am on a 5 week Remicade cycle so that has never been a problem. My first one lasted 10 years with no problems. I just had it replaced last month. Very easy out pt surgery under twilight anesthesia. I am so glad that I had this done and so are my nurses! It has relieved so much pain and anxiety.

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