Very nearly an armfull!

Last stop on my week-long whistle-stop tour of Auckland’s medical establishments was a return visit to the city Oncology Unit (Cancer & Blood Services), for something ominously called a Pre-Op. To my relief, this turned out to be nothing more sinister than a form filling exercise with a dapper young Indian registrar called Raj.

Q. Have you ever suffered from Kidney Failure? A. No.
Q. Have you ever has a Heart Attack? A. No
Q. Have you ever had an organ transplant? A. No
Q. Do you have any prosthetic limbs? A. No.

And so on.

I’m generally easily confused by forms, but I was able to answer the questions with confidence and poise. Heart attacks and amputations are the sort of things that would stick in my memory. With the paperwork squared away, we moved on to a cursory physical examination. “Just to check if you are fit for surgery,” Raj explains. Apart from the small matter of the cancer, I’m gratified to learn that I am fighting fit.

The surgery is necessary, I’m told, to fit a small device into my chest that allows the chemotherapy drugs to be injected directly into a main artery, rather than via a vein in the arm. The chemicals are apparently quite corrosive and can cause vein damage over time. The device consists of a small valve under my skin, connected to a tube which is in turn plumbed into an artery in my neck or near my heart. I ask Raj if this can also be used for administering beer or narcotics. He looks confused for a moment, then earnestly lectures me about the risks of inappropriate use and warns me that the device must only be used by trained nurses at the clinic. Thanks for the tip Raj.

Finally, Raj pulls out the now familiar blood-test requisition form and starts ticking boxes like he’s ordering a take-away. I protest that I had all these done just a week ago but he’s not to be swayed. he draws a map on his notepad to help us navigate the labyrinth that is Auckland Hospital to the blood lab and sends us on our way.

* * *

BloodThe Phlebotomist* is an impossibly small, stern looking Chinese lady with disproportionately large feet. She could easily be hobbit. I can’t see if she has hairy toes under her over-sized Reeboks. She shooes me into a cramped ante-room and up onto a raised chair with wide tear-drop shaped armrests upholstered in sticky, green vinyl leatherette.

I used to be a bit squeamish about blood, needles and the like, particularly when the blood in question is my own, but I’m getting to be something of an old hand at this now. I fearlessly bare both my fore-arms, pump my fists to raise some veins and present them to the hobbit for inspection. She casts a critical eye over my bulging blood-vessels and prods a couple experimentally with a stunted finger. Satisfied with her selection, she applies an elastic strap to my right, upper arm. Checking the form I had given her, she reaches into a draw and pulls out seven clear plastic vials, each with a different colored cap. SEVEN! I immediately think of Tony Hancock’s Blood-Donner sketch. “Are you mad? That’s very nearly an arm-full…”

“This will be velly click,” the Chinese hobbit says, “look out of window if you like”. I resolve to call her bluff, and force myself to watch with what I hoped looked like bored disinterest, as she carefully inserts the needle into the crook of my arm and attaches a plastic syringe with a short length of fine silicone tubing. One by one she inserts the empty vials, and I watched them fill with my dark, red-brown blood. When she is done, she drops the tubes into a silver kidney-dish and busies herself filling out little adhesive labels. I pick up one of the vials for a closer look. The blood is thick and viscous and sticks to the sides of the tube like ketchup. It’s pleasantly warm to the touch, and had a satisfying weight to it.

I’m quickly ushered out into the waiting room ro gather my things. No cup of tea and digestive biscuit. No-lie down. No merit badge.

I feel a little cheated.

*According to the helpful leaflet I read while waiting for my turn at the lab, “A Phlebotomist is the name given to a person trained to take and handle blood-samples. It is derived from the Greek word phlebos, meaning vein.” Also, here’s a good bit of phlebian trivia. I bet you didn’t know that your blood circulates your complete body once every twenty seconds. So now you know.

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  1. Vegas says:

    Hi mate, I’m loving your blog, which feels like a shitty thing to say given the subject matter. Always knew you were a great art director and a dab hand at DIY foley in the audio suite, but seems you can write too. And to think that Sion always told me he was the talent in the team :) Good luck bro.

  2. Judy says:

    Very, very funny, Lindsay – laughed a lot! I am looking forward to reading the earlier blogs. Great that you have such a sense of humour to deal with all this stuff.

  3. Jo 2 says:

    Wow i didnt know that word. phlebotomist. I like it. Thanks for the edification. Having just donated blood the other day I can sympathise with feeling cheated. i got a paper bag with chocolate bikkies, a free pen and a little stuffed toy in the shape of a froplet of blood…. ha ha I’m just going to leave that typo there. the thing had legs and arms so could be mistaken for a red frog?

    Poor Raj. You made me laugh with that one. Nevermind the hobbit, you are droll…. hence the hairy legs?

    We loved having the chance to see you on Saturday….. glad you enjoyed Ben’s ‘heart-y’ casserole and beer. We hope love will sustain you when those aggressive chemicals start to kill off the cancer. There can be no sparkly clean without harsh scratching and your hair was never your best feature anyway. Actually you probably have lovely hair but i wouldn’t know because you never let it grow long enough to see! Looking forward to the re-growth dear friend.

  4. Pete says:

    Maybe we should all have stents inserted at an early age so caffeine, G&Ts and chocolate ice-cream could all be administered intravenously – I wonder if you could taste them? Anyway, I’m addicted to your journal Lind’s, it’s frightening, inspiring and I really like the pictures. If you need an armful I’m O negative.

    • Linds says:

      Thanks Pete, I’ll keep you in mind as a potential donor. Yes I think the Porta-cath would be a real boon to any serious drinker or substance-abuser. Unfortunately those days are now behind me. At least for the time being. Glad you like the blog.

  5. Siobhan says:

    So does this mean Oona and I can legitimately send you oodles of hugs and kisses over the ether now? Not exactly the excuse we had in mind 25 years ago but hey…we were desperate to hug you then. Lots of love Siobhan and Chris in London xxx

    • Linds says:

      Hi Babe! Lovely to hear from you. Great timing. I was just chatting to Lawrence today about the old London days, and the times we shared in that tumble-down old house in whereveritwas.

      And yeas all hugs and kisses – legitimate or otherwise – are most gratefully accepted.

      Hope you guys are all doing ok.

      Linds xx

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