Gladys, Itinerant Phlebotomist

Because I have such a secure and remu­ner­a­tive pro­fes­sion, I was advised to con­sider applying for an annu­ity.

Before they will underwrite, the insur­ance com­pany wants to know if you smoke cig­a­rettes, take drugs or have HIV, so they send a “para-med” to your home to collect evidence. The para-med arrives with a scale, a blood pres­sure cuff, a ster­ile jar and a needle.

I am mor­bidly afraid of nee­dles. When I was lit­tle, I wanted to run away from the doc­tor but I was too polite. As I got older, I learned that what I was feel­ing was the celebrated “fight or flight” instinct that animals are so partial to. After tamping down the overwhelming urge to flee, a new, more inappropriate urge pops up, and that is the urge to punch someone or something. I get really pissed off when I can’t run away from something I am scared of.

When I became a par­ent, I was blessed with two sons who are brave and stal­wart about every­thing from mul­ti­ple tooth extrac­tions, to stitches. This qual­ity proved invalu­able to us all in emergencies because once I got them safely delivered to a medical professional, they were on their own. Even if I was in the next room with my head between my knees, they knew I had their backs—in spirit.

When I was thrown off my horse and taken pris­oner in the meat wagon by the evil min­ions of health care and then forcibly squired to the hos­pi­tal and impris­oned there against my will, I vigorously refused pain med­ica­tion out of fear of an IV. Only after the evil-doers in X-ray softened me up on their metal table, did I gratefully accept whatever was offered to me.

Recovery from my accident involved a drug which neces­si­tated mul­ti­ple blood draws each week for two months. The “vam­pire” as I affectionately called her to her face, would show up at my house twice a week and have her way with one arm while I lay in bed with my other arm flung dramatically over my face.

After two months of consistent desensitization with the kindhearted vampire, I started to feel like the phlebotomy thing wasn’t that bad after all. So, when the insurance company  advised me of this lat­est bit of nee­dle mis­chief, I felt con­fi­dent that I could get through the expe­ri­ence the same way any nor­mal per­son would.

When the phone rang one night and someone who identified herself as Gladys asked for some of my blood, I was unafraid.  Then, after we hung up, my courage ebbed as I thought about her rasping, quavery voice.

Gladys’s voice sounded like it belonged to someone with a serious neurological disorder, the type of disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking. But then I reminded myself that a raspy, oxygen starved, quavery voice did not a shaky phlebotomist make.

At the end of the con­ver­sa­tion, Gladys, told me that our meet­ing would have to take place on an empty stom­ach. This was very bad news because I typ­i­cally get up at 6:30 a.m, cheerful, but hun­gry enough to eat a small fawn. Our assig­na­tion was sched­uled for 9:00 a.m the next morning.

At 9:45 a tiny, hunched per­son with aubergine hair that seemed to have been flung at her skull, stepped out of her car, bearing a red quilted suitcase. She wore an ani­mal print blouse, saggy black leggings coated with cat hair, and san­dals dec­o­rated with giant red plastic flow­ers. Her trollish toenails were painted a violent shade of red. As we exchanged pleas­antries in the hall­way, she off-gassed a potent reek­ of stale tobacco smoke.

Her face was a most unusual shade of bronze, with painted eye­brows the shape of upended  test tubes. The eye­ shadow was rem­i­nis­cent of a faded haematoma and her lip­stick was a morbid shade of purple.

Trying not to judge some­one who was clearly in the grip of a ter­ri­ble nico­tine habit, and so stylishly attired, I opti­misti­cally rea­soned that pur­ple hair and ani­mal print tops have no bear­ing what­so­ever on one’s abil­ity to capably man­age a small bore nee­dle.

Momentarily dis­tracted by the blood pres­sure cuff, the scale, and the trip to the bath­room, my sense of calm was soon wrecked as I watched her efforts to sub­due her vio­lently shak­ing hands.

As it turned out, my suspicions following our phone conversation were correct. Gladys’s hands trembled like the leaves of a Quaking Aspen on a summer day, while her upper body lurched in uncontrolled spastic orbits from the waist up. It was all I could do to sit qui­etly and not grab the hypo­der­mic nee­dle from her as she strug­gled to free it from its wrap­per.

Despite the evidence before me, I still clung to the hope that once she was actively engaged in the job she obviously loved, namely stabbing people in the arm and hoarding their blood, her muscle memory would kick in, and her hands would miraculously become stealthy bloodletting machines.

After the syringe and the vials had been liberated from their wrappers and were arrayed before us on the kitchen table, Gladys asked if I had any trou­ble with nee­dles. I casu­ally replied that some­times I had been known to lose con­scious­ness. Hearing this, she huskily assured me that she was gen­tle, she didn’t play games, and she didn’t “dig around” with the nee­dle. I had been with her 100% until she offered up the expres­sion “dig around” in the same sen­tence as “vein.” Despite my increasing anxiety, I non­cha­lantly offered up my arm.

After several archeological expeditions into my left arm with considerable “digging around” Gladys announced that my vein had some­how “rolled away” from the needle and that she would now need to excavate my right arm.

By this time, all of my hospitable and charitable instincts had left me. From my seat by the window, I could see My Royal Consort, happily engaged out in the barn, oblivious to the torment that was taking place at our kitchen table.

I announced that I would have to take a break, and abruptly stood up. I then took several laps through the living room, swallowing bile and taking deep breaths to keep from passing out. When the cat foolishly crossed my path, I barely restrained myself from rudely sweeping him aside with my foot.

I was really pissed off.

As I paced the house, I reminded myself that I had done lots of courageous things in my life like hitchhike alone, ride my friend’s horse home from a bar in the dark while intoxicated, and pose nude for art classes. Surely, I could sit my ass back down in the chair and let Gladys carry on with her nasty business.

To her credit, Gladys did extract some blood from my other arm with­out too much more fanfare and went on her way.

I am not proud of what came next. I ratted Gladys out to the insurance company. Perhaps, at one time, she had been a great phlebotomist, but that time had passed. Now, she was a nicotine stained wraith, toting the blood and urine of strangers door to door in a red quilted suitcase.

I wondered what had lead Gladys into a life of itinerant phlebotomy, and then realized that no one ever really knows where the road will take them. People are usually propelled toward a career in bodily fluids by circumstances beyond their control, or because they made poor choices in high school.

Certain that there would be some irritating mix-up with the samples necessitating a second go around, I prepared myself for the inevitable phone call from Gladys, but the call never came. If we had had to repeat the exercise, I think I would have abandoned the annuity, and risked spending my golden years destitute in diapers, at my TBD daughter-in-law’s house.

Like what you read? Consider subscribing. As for why the “e” in “needle” is accented throughout the post, I couldn’t tell you.


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  1. elizabeth says:

    Ever onward Mistress Pixel. Take no prisoners…….it’s what makes me your biggest fan!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Blizzard day is perfect for catching up on my reading, so I am reveling in those posts of yours
    which I have missed because life intervened. This one is so vivid and colorful that even I, who has NO fear of needles, am now rethinking my position on that front. Surely Gladys would take down even the most stalwart among us. I think I saw Gladys one time leaning against a light pole around 2 a.m. Smoked spiraled skyward in a gray haze. Or maybe it was just a dream.

  3. Al Fermeglia says:

    “aubergine?” Geez, I had to look that one up. What a terrible experience. Almost nothing worse than stanky tobacco smell! Glad to hear you made it through.

    1. admin says:

      Aubergine = eggplanty purple

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