5 things to keep in mind at your next blood draw

I’ve been getting a lot of blood work done lately. So much that maybe I’d qualify for a VIP parking spot at the lab.

I think many of us are familiar with the basics of the process and why we get our blood drawn, so this article is dedicated to hopefully sharing some unique facts and reminders with you! 

“Your veins make up an extensive network of blood vessels that wind their way through your entire body.”*

A recurring theme I have witnessed in these many visits is the lack of appreciation phlebotomists and lab staff receive from patients. 

I know labs are busy places. I have noticed a lot of individuals complaining, being rude to the phlebotomists and expressing negative emotions / feelings outwardly to others in the waiting area, seemingly trying to rally the patient crowd and gain support.

Things can and do go wrong in life, anywhere. Labs, doctors’ offices, etc. do run late. We all have places to be. And quite frankly, places we’d just rather be…

But the patient complaints weren’t around those matters.

Next time you go to the lab for a routine, urgent, or annual blood draw, I hope you will keep these in mind:

  • Phlebotomists are the initial gateway to understanding what is happening inside your body which directly correlates with your health and how you feel.

Phlebotomists play an integral role in your health and wellbeing.  Thank them! I know it’s stressful when you don’t know what the future holds with your health. You’re at the lab for a reason. We’ve all probably counted down until we get a call from the doctor’s office or the MyChart email with the results. I’ve anxiously stopped what I’m doing and focused on the numbers and whether they fell in the low, normal or high range on the little bar they provide on the results page.

Phlebotomists chose this profession to play an active role in bettering society’s heath. Asking them how their day is, saying thank you, or just being kind and not rude goes a long way.

I’ve made a few phlebotomist acquaintances lately. When I thanked one of them, she said it really made her day; that those statements are far and few between. Another one was very kind, taking me 3 hours early for my scheduled blood draw. I thought I’d try and see if they had availability, and if not, come back later. I told her she made my day (which she did) and she responded: “That’s a phrase we rarely hear.”

I want to clear the slate though. By no means am I eager to get my blood drawn. As you know, I had a spinal tap when diagnosed with meningitis. I get Botox injections for migraine every 3 months, have had several nerve block injections over the years, routine shots/vaccines, and a lot of blood draws. The short amount of pain is certainly worth unlocking the information needed to improve my health.

Did you know this fact? “Veins hold most of the blood in your body. Nearly 75% of your blood is in your veins.”*

Today, for example, I experienced a tough blood draw. I’ve had so many recently that the phlebotomist said I have scar tissue (likely in both my arms) which the needle was going into instead. He apologized and thanked me for hanging in there. I am grateful for his expertise and navigation in my vein. I also appreciated his fluid communication as he shared why and when I was going to feel more pain.

Later that week, when I was back at the lab, I decided it was the best idea to inform the phlebotomist of the prior blood draw. Turns out this one was even tougher – she attempted to draw from both of my arms and even the top of my hand. No luck. She found my veins easily, got the needle into them, but my veins simply said “We aren’t giving any more blood right now.”

She said I needed a break, that my veins were tired. She said there are other solutions available but I should reach out to my doctor first.

  • Water is your friend before a blood draw.

Drink extra water the morning of your blood draw. I do and then I drink one bottle on the way to the blood draw.

“If you walk into a [lab] without drinking … water before, everyone involved will have a harder time. The more water you drink, the plumper your veins are.”** Water allows the phlebotomist to find your vein much quicker!

Certain things like drinking water are in our control, which ultimately may lead to a more positive, less painful/stressful experience during your blood draws. Recall how I spoke about how experiences from our childhood shape our perspective of current day things? Well we are still influenced by experiences; why not turn a previous sigh about going to the lab to a mindset of – this is going to go smoothly!

  • Your veins, venules, more are hard at work behind the scenes.

How does this play a role in your individual experience at the lab?   Starting from the top, “veins are blood vessels located throughout your body that collect oxygen-poor blood and return it to your heart. Veins are part of your circulatory system.”*

Keep in mind that “venules are very small blood vessels that connect your capillaries with your veins throughout your body.”* Their job is to move blood that “contains waste and lacks oxygen from your capillaries to your veins. Venules vary in size, but even the widest venule is about 16 times smaller than your typical vein.”*

When you glance down and take a peek at your veins, do you assume veins are blue in color? Cleveland Clinic states, “That’s just a trick that our eyes play on us. Your veins are actually full of dark red blood – darker than the blood in your arteries, which is cherry red.”*

  • If you are a “tough stick,” a phlebotomist shared that with me that up to 9 blood draw attempts can be made in one day.

Did you cringe when you read that? Going back to my lab visit regularity, I encountered two new issues. The first being the regular blood draws were causing scar tissue.

How does that impact the phlebotomist’s efforts? “Scarring hampers needle insertion, resulting in vein movement when attempting to insert the needle.”***

This requires a “punch” through scar tissue.

Mayo Clinic states to “go low [as] puncturing below the scarred area is best.”***

My visit noted above is a prime example.  After a phlebotomist identified and efficiently went into 3 veins (both arms and right hand), my veins only provided one measly drop of blood from my hand. 

As she was the only phlebotomist on this given day in the lab, she informed me I could go to another lab and they could attempt more.  Side note: I called my doctor at this point to understand how to proceed. 

  • Pain is relative.

If a blood draw is very painful for you, that’s within normal. If you don’t “even feel it,” that’s okay too. Wherever you fall on the pain scale – is your individual analysis and individual reflection of the pain you experienced.

I’d like to think at this point in my life having undergone surgeries, much blood work, a couple emergency room visits, emergency surgery, hospital admissions, migraine, meningitis, and more that my tolerance is building.  A 4 out of 10 on the pain scale today for me was most likely was a 7 out of 10 a few years back. 

If you need a refresher on the Stanford Pain Scale – here’s the link to an informative, easy to understand article.  

Interestingly enough, not that she would want us to have this in common, but my late grandmother was a hard stick in the hospital at one time and they had to put a port in the top of her foot to draw blood from. 

She told relatives that it wasn’t any more painful than the initial arm attempts. It makes me wince thinking about it though. 

Phlebotomists have an important job. In my experience, they are compassionate professionals who have devoted their lives to society’s health. My most recent phlebotomist shared with me that they “do so much more behind the scenes than the public realizes; it’s a lot.” I could tell her job is stressful and that she finds comfort in interacting with kind patients. 

I’m thankful for phlebotomists and I hope this article provides a newfound appreciation for the occupation if it hadn’t been on your radar.   

Taking that hot-off-the-press lab order to get your blood drawn means many things, but let’s not forget some key ones: 

  • You’re alive
  • You’re doing this small task for your health
  • It’s admirable that you’re staying proactive

“Your blood is a race champion because it finishes laps throughout your body every minute of the day on two different circuits.”*

Happy blood draws, friends!

Coming next: Our subconscious mind can work against us