Friendly Neighborhood Phlebotomist


I find it one of the more amusingly obscure words in our language, phlebotomist. One of those esoteric terms that refers to a highly specialized occupation—a word that’s really only familiar to the person it applies to and hardly anyone else. In this case, it’s the person who draws your blood. You know, the one wearing a white lab coat who drains a sample (or ten) from a needle in your arm. If they’re good at their job you can be out of there in a jiffy, virtually painless. Or, if you’re unfortunate enough to have hidden veins, you might remember the experience less pleasantly.

I always thought of phlebotomists as nameless busy bees in the hive of a clinic. But behind those safety glasses and blue gloves, who is that person? Well, the other day, as it turns out, it’s someone I know. She was one of my wife’s former high school students, who I met while chaperoning an overnight science field trip. She later became a college student of mine, taking an unrelated elective course midway through her chemistry degree.

And now, a few years later, here she was: about to stab me in the arm with a rather large needle. I confess that I did wonder whether I’d ever had to give her a bad grade. If so, this could certainly have felt like a compromising position. Actually, she was a good student, aspiring to go to medical school, and, it turns out, a good (and friendly) phlebotomist. In case you’re curious, yes, even though she knew me I still had to verify my name and birth date on the labels.

While it may at first seem a bit awkward to experience such a role reversal—to be the patient of a professional who was once my own pupil—it’s actually a joy to witness that kind of life cycle: to watch a young person grow up, work hard, and return as a dedicated professional.

Knowing of her ambitions to be a doctor, and understanding this job is an important step in her medical career, I am reminded that these folks we encounter so frequently in our healing journey are not merely nameless gears in a grand machine. Indeed, they are real people, with lives and families, with goals and dreams, with pasts and paths to follow. They’re people in our neighborhood.

In the end, where will she go? Far, I hope, and I wish her the best. Who knows, she might someday be the one to cure this disease. If so, I hope she invites me to the wrap party. (And, because it would mean I could finally eat them again, I really hope they serve chili dogs).

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Tags: Narratives

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.