Monday, November 17, 2008

The Angel of Mercy

I made my way down to the Infusion Center last Friday to have another pint of my preternaturally ironized blood drawn ("clink, clank, clunk"). I was greeted by a new crew. I supposed that I had worn Nurse Chappell and her buddies out. The head nurse was wearing a red smock; I had never seen one of these before. I quipped, "What does the red smock mean? Is there some sort of medical significance to the color code around here?"

"It's Friday," the Lady in Red replied. "Didn't you get the memo?"

"No, as a matter of fact I didn't, and apparently no one else in the office did either," I answered, looking around the entire complex at all of the powder blue, pastel green, beige, and other warm earth tones decorating the staff.

"Well, it is Friday and we are having a special celebration that demands that I wear a red smock today."

"Oh! What might that be?"

"Today we have a new Registered Nurse on the floor and she has never drawn blood from a patient before. You are her first."

"And the significance of the red smock?"

"It is difficult getting blood splatters out of our uniforms. I figured since I was to be the tutor of the new RN I ought to be prepared for any eventuality."

"And why am I being graced with a Newbie?" I asked with a quivering lip.

"Because if she screws up and douses the planet with your iron-rich plasma, nobody loses anything. We have to throw the stuff away anyway," she answered with a sweet smile.

"What colored smock is she wearing?"

"She is the one in the powder-blue smock. She is far more optimistic than I am."

So what happened to the pure white dresses that the nurses always used to wear when I was younger? The attire of the Candy-Stripers, I could understand; any errors on their part could be explained as Art Nouveau decorations. When I asked Trillium to marry me 42 years ago, she was dressed in white on the way to work at the hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. LPN's in Minnesota in those days wore white uniforms, and clearly had enormous confidence in their skills. It was the doctors who wore pastels. "Danger, Will Robinson!"

As I was waiting for the troops to show up with the various sized needles, tubes, bags, rubber webbing, the rubber ball, and the mop bucket, I thought about Lord Nelson's great ship of the line, "Victory", and his practice of painting the decks with red paint in order to minimize the psychological effects of having body parts and such scattered everywhere in the heat of battle. This may have made for effective warfare, but it seemed to me that the practice of wearing a red smock to a blood-letting bespeaks of a frame of mind that does not lower the blood pressure of the patient.

Speaking of sea-faring stories and such, one of my favorite songs by James Taylor is called "The Frozen Man". James wrote the song as a whimsical response to a tabloid headline that he had read several years ago about a sailor who had been found in a chunk of ice and whom the medical ghouls were contemplating resuscitating. The lyrics follow:

The Frozen Man

Last thing I remember is the freezing cold
Water reaching up just to swallow me whole
Ice in the rigging and howling wind
Shock to my body as we tumbled in
Then my brothers and the others are lost at sea
I alone am returned to tell thee
Hidden in ice for a century
To walk the world again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Next words that were spoken to me
Nurse asked me what my name might be
She was all in white at the foot of my bed
I said angel of mercy I'm alive or am I dead
My name is William James McPhee
I was born in 1843
Raised in Liverpool by the sea
But that ain't who I am
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

It took a lot of money to start my heart
To peg my leg and to buy my eye
The newspapers call me the state of the art
And the children, when they see me, cry

I thought it would be nice just to visit my grave
See what kind of tombstone I might have
I saw my wife and my daughter and it seemed so strange
Both of them dead and gone from extreme old age
See here, when I die make sure I'm gone
Don't leave 'em nothing to work on
You can raise your arm, you can wiggle your hand(unlike myself)
And you can wave goodbye to the frozen man

I know what it means to freeze to death
To lose a little life with every breath
To say goodbye to life on earth
To come around again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

That little song went through my mind as I sat there waiting with Trillium for the The Lady in Red and her cohort, the Girl in Glacier Blue, to show up to do the messy deed. Why wasn't I going to get an "Angel of Mercy," dressed all in white? Even William James McPhee got one of those and he was almost dead. LR and GGB showed up after about 15 minutes full of enthusiasm and thinly veiled anticipation. I could tell that LR had put a fresh coat of ScotchGuard on her smock. What happened next almost defies description.

Never have I been treated as kindly as the "Angel of Mercy" treated me during the next half hour. She freely admitted that this was her first time doing a phlebotomy, but she had been a nurse for more than fifteen years. She explained things cheerfully as she went along, answering my jocular, but nervous questions about what was going on. When it came time for the first injection, the one that would numb the area around the vein that she was going to poke, I made my little half-joke about my phobia about needles, even the 20 gauge one she was about to use.

She said with a wonderful smile, "Oh, this is not that big; you should not even feel the needle going in. It is a needle that we use on infants so as to not hurt them. It's about a 28 or 30 gauge, if not smaller."

"So this is not going to hurt?"

"Yes it is going to sting a bit, but it won't be the needle. It will be the local anesthetic. That juice smarts when it goes in."

No one had ever told me that before; I had always assumed that it was the needle. I began to wonder if some of my other bad moments with needles were of a similar nature.

As she was getting ready to put the 14-gauge "doo-dah" in my arm, I joked about the "Bad Needle Technique" (still abbreviated BNT) that I had received a couple of months back and how I feared for any tuna hooked like that.

"Well," she said, "I haven't ever done a phlebotomy before, but I am really experienced in performing IVs. We shouldn't have any BeNT problems today!"

I waited for the jab, the pinch, the sting, the flickering lights. They never came. Apparently "AoM" put the anesthetic exactly where it was supposed to go, unlike others I could mention. In one fell swoop, "AoM" had swept away about half of my agonies about having my blood drawn.

What a day! I felt so good afterward that I took my first and only Angel of Mercy, together with T-ma, to Carrabbas for dinner. Grilled chicken with garlic mashed potatoes, together with a Caesar salad. Not much digestible iron there, and if there was, I didn't care. I had a friend in the needle business.


Rebecca said...

well, it is always nice to find someone who knows how to use a needle.

I have a bit of a needle phobia as well and with comprehensive blood panels required on a regular basis I get a little worked up and my blood pressure increases...

Fortunately, there is a little old Asian lady who is quick and efficient and I am in and out within 10 minutes.

litest: little Asian phlebotimist

Trillium said...

. . . doodah, doodah . . . oh doodah-day . . . . :D

DebbieLou said...

Sounds like a breath of fresh air. Hopefully you get this lady on as many occations as possible.

Judie said...

You are fortunate brother dear that you found someone finally that doesn't hurt you. I come away bleeding and bruised, but I'm used to it and it doesn't bother me.