The droid with needles, a hospital story

This morning Becca requested the droid with needles story, so here it is:

Once upon a time, in a very fine university teaching hospital with rooms having either water or mountain views, our hero Paul was recuperating from a very big operation to remove a squamous monster from his mouth. Our hero had, earlier in his medical mythic journey, been poisoned… um, received intravenous chemotherapy drugs… to kill a lymphoma monster (a distant relative of the squamous monster) that had taken up residence in his body…

“This doesn’t sound like the sort of story that has droids,” I can hear you saying. “Cut the fairy tale crap and get on with it.”

OK, so the chemo that Paul got in the 80s really wrecked the veins in his arms for IVs and blood draws. He brings phlebotomists to tears, and vice versa. The IV line that was put in for his surgery gave up after 2 days, and the unsuccessful attempts to put in another, combined with the sticks for routine bloodwork, left his right arm terribly bruised. (His left arm, which ironically has better veins, is in a cast from the skin and bone grafts, so it can’t be used.) In order to facilitate blood draws, administration of IV fluids, etc., his doctors decided he should get a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter), which is a long thin catheter inserted into a fairly deep vein in the arm (which the nurse uses ultrasound to find) and threaded up into a large vein near the heart. This procedure was done in Paul’s hospital room, but involved a portable ultrasound and huge amounts of prepping and scrubbing and draping and numbing… and finally it was in. And that’s the end of the st… no, wait, that would be too easy.

The PICC was put in Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning, the cheery droid with needles… um, phlebotomist… came knocking at the hospital room door. And I in my recliner and Paul is his bed both startled awake. “I’ve come to take your blood,” she said, whipping out her tourniquet. I blearily mumbled, “They put in a PICC line yesterday.” (Remember, Paul wasn’t talking.) The droid replied, “We don’t draw blood from PICC lines anymore. Let’s try this particularly painful vein in your wrist.” “But that’s what they put it in for,” I protested. Off she went to consult with the PTB (Powers That Be). Upon returning, the droid again whipped out the tourniquet, saying, “The PICC line has to be adjusted, so I can’t use it.” She wrapped the tourniquet around Paul’s arm. (The PICC adjustment – moving the end of the catheter a couple of cm away from the heart – was something that they’d known about since Paul’s chest x-ray more than 12 hours earlier, and the shift nurse had been paging the PICC nurse to come do it, and no one had shown up…) By this time, I was one fully awake, damned angry damsel, and I was NOT going to have the droid stick Paul for no good reason. I punched the nurse call button, and went for help. So, I was standing there in the doorway, pillow lines on my face, hair a mess, with the nurse call light flashing above my head. And the fairy godmother… um, charge nurse… who happened to be in the hallway came up to me and asked what the problem was (I guess “problem” was clear on my face), and I blurted, “my husband has bad veins from chemo so they put in a PICC line for blood draws and she says she can’t use it and is going to stick him AGAIN please make her stop…”

And so she did.

With some bowing and scraping, and a little passing of the buck, apologies were made to our hero and the now merely irritated damsel… and blood was drawn through the PICC… and eventually the nurse came to adjust it, too. And since that time, no droids with needles have darkened the door of our hero Paul’s room with the partial water view in the very fine university teaching hospital.

(p.s. Maybe damsels and droids don’t belong in the same story, but I liked “damned angry damsel”, and I’d already named the droid with needles. And Paul really is my hero.)