Body Confidence: How Mutinous Bodies Influence Our Instincts
To be fair, I had warned the nurse trying to insert an IV into my arm that I was a “bad stick.” While that is the understatement of the year, I hoped it would let her know that the problem wasn’t her, it was me. Or, as I liked to say, my wily, conniving veins. I needed an ACTH stimulation test to check my adrenal glands. It should have been a simple procedure—draw blood, insert medicine via IV infusion, re-test blood one hour later.
Looks like I may have jinxed all of us that day.
One hour and 45 minutes, 14 sticks, eight blown veins, several hematomas, multiple heating packs, a couple of additional phlebotomists, and much teeth-gritting later, the nurse wouldn’t even come back into the room and I still didn’t have an IV line started. At first, I tried to crack jokes and smile a lot so the nurse—I’ll call her Tammy—wouldn’t think she was hurting me. I have a pretty high pain tolerance (I get my cavities filled without Novocain), but even I will admit that it did hurt.
“No really, it’s okay, you can keep going,” I told her when the needle went into yet another vein and no blood came back out. She’d push and prod until the vein blew or else swelled up to the size of a golfball. After a few tries, she called in the phlebotomist, and an interesting turf battle transpired in terms of tactical approaches. After awhile, Tammy got even more rattled watching over her colleague’s shoulder, and she left the room altogether.
“I don’t understand. I do these all the time, but now I’ve lost my confidence. I don’t want to go near you, and I don’t want to hurt you,” she said as she left. She was practically in tears.
I never got my IV. They had to push the medication in all at once with a syringe and then re-stick me for the second blood draw an hour later. I left with 15 band-aids, several very sore and swollen patches on my arms, and a few instant heat packs to tape around my arms later in the day.
I looked like a disaster, but I honestly think Tammy came out of the experience more troubled by it. “I just don’t have any more confidence in my ability to put in an IV,” she said as she gave me my parting instructions. I was struck by how the balance of power had been disrupted by some tiny, stubborn, and scarred veins. I tried to comfort her with assurances that everyone struggles with my veins, but it didn’t help.
Being the patient trying to console and bolster my healthcare provider was an odd role reversal, but one I’d experienced before. Whenever my body doesn’t act the way it needs to, I feel responsible to remedy the discomfort it causes, like it’s somehow my fault that people lost confidence in their skills when left alone in an exam room with my complicated medical history and my uncooperative body.
But I could relate much more to Tammy than I’d have guessed. I am used to temporarily losing confidence in my own body and in my own skills as a result of my various conditions. It’s the worst when I am returning back to a more “normal” schedule after a prolonged absence or exacerbation. I begin to doubt what I can do, question my stamina level, and hesitate in making plans or commitments because I am not sure I can trust my body the way I once did. Eventually I get there, but while it happens, it is a terrible feeling to question my own instincts, the same instincts that have proved so wise in the past.
I see now why that IV scenario was so precarious for both us. Tammy and I each have our expertise—hers as a nurse, mine as a patient—and yet my body managed to make our knowledge backfire for both us that day. Goes to show that no matter how much you think you know, illness is always an equalizer.