“Don’t worry about it,” explains the woman with the tattoos on her right arm and upper chest, “I’m getting really good at this!
“Getting?” I ask. We were talking about my right arm here. The one that does a lot more work than my left, and has a hand attached to it that sometimes is used to bring me lots of joy. Or my wife. “I’ve done it lots of times and never had any real problems,” the woman in the dark blue scrubs explains to me.
I explain that since I was there for an endoscopy, I wasn’t allowed to drink anything for quite some time and was dehydrated. “So?” says the scrub-wearing woman as she pulls out a long needle and gets it ready for an IV insertion. “So,” I explain, “my veins are usually hard enough to find as they are, so I’ve learned to drink at least a quart of water for having my blood drawn, and today, nothing. Meaning my veins are going to be minuscule or close to non-existent.”
“I know what I’m doing,” she says, without looking me in the eyes, once. Then she starts feeling my arm for veins since she can’t seem to see any. “Roll them,” I explain to her, “most nurses find them that way.”
“Well I ain’t no nurse,” says Ms. Blue Scrubs, and she starts pinching my arm very tight in different areas. “Well, whatever you are, I said roll them,” I explain, trying to keep my cool, “not pinch them. Just gently touch my arm and see if you can feel an veins.” She looks at me like I’m a dope addict. “I know what I’m talking about,” I tell her, “I’ve had more surgeries than I can count, and my orifices have had more fingers in them than on an old bar or school piano.” She just looks at me and tilts her had like a dumb dog. As she tries to find a vein, I ask her if I can see someone else since she isn’t really a nurse. “I know what I’m doing,” she insists, and with that, jabs me with a long needle. Of course she doesn’t hit a vein, or come anywhere close, but she insists on going on a fishing expedition anyway.
“Ow,” I scream, “that really hurts!” She mumbles under her breath that she did it at school just fine, and she’d do fine now. She jabbed and jabbed me while keeping the needle under my skin until I yelled. “Enough, enough. Get that fucking needle out of my arm and get me a real fucking nurse.” She grunts and pulls the needle out, along with lots of blood. My blood. She tells me she just got out of medical school and that she never had this problem before. “You’ve been in medical school? Real medical school? You don’t look a day over 19,” I say, feeing bad I screamed “fuck” at her. She says, “Yeah, a whole eight months.”
“Huh?” I say, not believing what I’m hearing. Suddenly another woman walks into the room. This one has no tattoos and is wearing a stethoscope around her neck. “What’s all the commotion about?” she asks, “I could hear screaming from down the hallway!”
“That would be me,” I tell her, “this nice lady in blue can’t seem to find a vein for my I.V., I tell her. I want a real phlebotomist.”
“I’m a nurse and I’ll take care it,” she says, ushering away the “Eight Months In Medical School” assistant. She finds a vein in two seconds and the I.V. is in. Meanwhile, Ms. Eight Months leaves the room. “What was she talking about?” I ask the nurse, “no one goes to medical school for only eight months.”
“Sometimes they go for a year,” the nurse tells me, and then explains Ms. Eight Months was a “Medical Assistant” while she was a “Licensed Practical Nurse, a LPN.”
“Then what right does she have to stick needles in me,” I ask, really upset.
“Calm down Mr. Tabb,” she says as she holds my hand, “everything will be just fine.”
A couple of weeks later I’m at my general doctor’s office and a “Medical Assistant” reads me a list of all the meds I’m on. First she tries to say them, and then she tries to sound them out like a second grader. “I know what meds I’m on. All 17 of them. I’ve been chronically ill for over 10 years. No need to bother going through them,” I tell her.
“I have too,” she tells me, “or else I might get in big trouble.”
“Well let’s just say you did, okay?” I say, trying to be helpful. I mean, she was nice and all, but going from operating cash registers at McDonald’s with pictures of the food products they sell on the keys is a pretty far stretch to dealing with handling needles, trying to pronounce medical terms, and acting very high and mighty to say the least. And it only takes them eight months to one year. Eight months if they go fulltime, and a year if they go at night. And where do they go for this fine education? Trade schools of course. You know the ones. Advertised on the subway next to the doctor who removes hemorrhoids.
“Hydo-cort-is-een?” says the Medical Assistant. “Close enough,” I tell her, and ask again if she can just skip the rest. She doesn’t. Like all of them. They insist on reading something at about the sixth-grade level, which, clearly, most of them can’t. Then it’s time to take my blood pressure. The thing squeezes my arm really really tight and is on for a while. The machine starts beeping very loudly and startles the Medical Worker out of her daydreams of marrying some other Medical Worker.
“It says…” she starts to say. “It says 159 over 95, high blood pressure, I know!” I say. “You should really take care of that,” The Medical Assistant tells me, “you could die!”
I thank her for her advice. “And all these medications you are on, they could kill you too,” she says, with her arm on her hip like she’s my mother or doctor giving me a lecture not knowing anything about my medical history, or what I’m being treated for. “Thank you,” I say as politely as I can, trying to stay calm. Finally, after taking my weight, she leaves. I wait for a while and eventually my poor doctor shows up.
Turns out he’s now only allowed to see patients for no more than 10 minutes, 15 at most. But that’s pushing it. That’s totals about 32 to 42 patients each day. We talk about that, how the whole medical system is going down the drain under Obama, and then I tell him he really should look at my blood pressure. It’s high. He takes it again. It’s down to 135 over 85. Much better. For me, anyway. We both sigh in relief. “You know,” I tell him, “it’s funny, I always thought the high blood pressure could be due in part to White Coat Fever.”
“Uh huh,” says my doctor.
“But I think it’s actually Blue Scrub Fever!” We both laugh knowing it’s not funny.