My youngest son had to have blood drawn today.
It was a repeat newborn screen, and they hadn’t been getting a good read with the heel prick test they usually do, so they went with the actual venipuncture. He’s smaller than my other boys ever were, and floppier, and also a baby, and also the baby (you know, of the family), and I was more distressed by this than I should have been.
I am a competent, educated, experienced mother of four boys, and I am far too tough to be troubled by a little blood draw. But . . . “Are you sure you can’t do a heel prick? He’s . . . so . . . little . . .”
The phlebotomists were quietly discussing how they would do the draw, and who would do what, and which needle and tubes they would use. And I was trying to pretend that I didn’t want to grab my baby and run.
Instead of asking me why I was being ridiculous (which I was), they looked at me kindly and only a very little bit pityingly, and said that the test needed more blood than they could get with a heel prick.
They rearranged the room a bit to accommodate him, and me, and my fidgety three-year-old, who was busily asking sixty questions a minute (most of which they actually tried to answer). I ended up behind the table (nowhere to run now!), holding onto the baby’s head while they held his arms and legs secure.
I was whispering the silly nothings mamas whisper to their babies when the babies are getting blood drawn. Because it’s calming and comforting, if only to the mamas. And it’s best to have calm mamas when babies are getting blood drawn.
Incidentally, before I had children, when I was working at a residential summer program for international students, I was the person that dealt with injured students. I could maintain a reassuring presence, and I didn’t mind the blood. It didn’t matter which body part needed to be sewed up or how many stitches it required or how little English the student understood. I could sit there and watch everything and keep a gentle, no-big-deal smile on my face, all the while murmuring soothing things and “translating” for the student and the medical staff.
(By “translating,” I mean repeating the doctor’s or the nurse’s questions verbatim, in English, only slower and more quietly, to the student, and then repeating the student’s English words verbatim, sans accent, to the doctor or nurse. I always meant to write a movie script featuring my last visit to the ER with a Thai kid who busted open his eyebrow, but I never got around to it. “How much pain is he in?” “How much pain are you in?” “A little.” “He says a little.” “Can he move his eyes around?” “Can you move your eyes around?” “Yes. It doesn’t hurt.” “He says yes, it doesn’t hurt.”)
It would have been useful to have that version of me around today. Now that I’m a mom, I’m so squeamish I couldn’t finish watching that awful Nationwide Super Bowl commercial.
Anyway, there I was, fighting down the distress and trying not to watch two women prepare to stick a Very Large Needle in my wee one’s very small arm. I was whispering, “You’re going to do just great, baby,” and my three-year-old started whispering from halfway across the room, “I’m here, Brother! It’ll be okay!”
And the phlebotomist, who hadn’t given the slightest hint that she had any concerns, slid the needle into his arm as smoothly and cleanly as any mama could want. And without the tiniest hitch in her movements, she said, softly and matter-of-factly, “Thank you, Jesus,” and changed out the tubes like nothing ever happened.
Her co-worker said, “Yes, Lord,” just as matter-of-factly, and then trotted off with the filled tubes.
My son didn’t even cry until a minute and a half later, when I clumsily shoved his arm through the carseat straps.
I could barely speak, only managing to whisper, “I’ve never seen anyone do that as gently as you did.”
But I was thinking, “Thank you, Jesus.” I hadn’t thought to invite Jesus into the room before then, but, apparently, she had. Whether out of compassion for my distress and for my wee baby, or out of concern to do her job well, she had asked God to be present with her in her work.
And when she knew he had been, she was kind enough to share his presence with me.
Perhaps for health care professionals, it is easier to remember that the work matters, that doing it well makes a difference in real people’s lives. I’m glad that she was there today for us, even if it was a routine draw for a routine test on a routine day.
I was grateful for her professional skill, her quiet competence, her sensitivity to my all-out-of-proportion distress, and her wish to do right by my baby, even if “doing right” was as simple as trying to minimize the already minor discomfort of a needle stick.
I was especially grateful that she thought to let me know that Jesus had been there with her.