Oy, Ew, and Ow: A Visit to the Laboratory


“Laboratory”– seeing that on a sign gives me the chills. The classic meaning– a science lab, with all sorts of fun equipment and chemicals– I love. But the word, when written on a sign, means one thing to me: getting lab work done. Ugh.

I hate getting lab work done. That is unfortunate, because as a diabetic, I have to get blood drawn every three to six months. I’ll say it again: ugh.

First there’s the fact that all the Kaiser labs within half an hour of me are only open on weekdays. So I have to go during the work day, knowing that I’ll have to go straight back to work and won’t get to nurse my invaded veins at home. Then there’s the inevitable wait at Kaiser. The thirty minute wait I had yesterday was considered abnormally brief; that morning, the receptionist told me, the wait was an hour and a half. The one time I went to the lab at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, I waited for two hours.

And the waiting isn’t happy, well-distracted waiting. There’s no cell service in the hospitals, so no iPhone to play with. The magazines are new enough, but I’m afraid to touch any of them– “laboratory waiting room” does not exactly inspire images of bacteria-free sterility, unfortunately. And it’s cold. I imagine that’s to make things feel more sterile, but given how easily I freeze up and how quick my blood is to recede from my extremities, the low temperature is awful right before trying to get blood drawn. I have to pace back and forth and shadow box just to make sure I maintain sufficient blood flow to actually get the lab work done.

I break up the waiting with giving the urine sample. Ugh twice over. There is something so belittling about peeing in a cup. And leaving that cup behind a little door in the restroom. It’s like a nightmare version of Alice in Wonderland— who’s behind the little door? Can they hear everyone in the restroom? Is that awkward? Do most people make sure the container is clean, or do they leave behind wet, urine-soaked cups? My pee is warm. That’s weird.

Finally my number comes up. All this waiting and what do you win? A needle in your arm! Congratulations!

I walk into the even colder blood-drawing room, with a row of little booths. I sit down at one, and give my practiced spiel: “I’ve been told my veins are hard to find, and slow to give, and I’ve feinted in the past. My right arm is better.” The mention of feinting always gets some interesting reactions– the most experienced phlebotomists say, “Oh, let’s take a look. Ah, you’ll be fine,” and then do a remarkable job of keeping up a conversation about my job or the Superbowl while I close my eyes as tightly as possible and try to ignore the needle in my arm and the rate at which life-giving blood is exiting my body. Some immediately have me lie down. Once, the woman looked terrified, then turned to her colleague and said, “Maybe you better do this one– please–” He responded, “No, you’ll have to learn, that’s the point.” Maybe learn on someone else, please?

All the hassle and pain aside, there is one clear bonus of going to the Kaiser lab: invariably I have one of those moments where I realize, “Thank God I’m only a diabetic. It could be so much worse.” This time around, I noticed that the woman in front of me in line was recognized by the receptionist. Greeted by name. And when the receptionist gave her the cup for the urine sample, she said, “Do you think you’ll be able to go to the bathroom today? Or would you rather take it home?”

The woman responded, “Well.. I’m not sure.. you know, I should just take it home, probably. How long do I have to give it back?”

“You have a month before the test will need to be reordered.”

“Oh, yeah, that should be fine.”

“Have you eaten today?” the receptionist continues.

Pause. Pause. “Yeah, yeah, I think I did, this morning.”

I don’t know what she has, but I’m glad I don’t have that.

The other big bonus? Test results. With Kaiser, these are surprisingly fast to arrive. I was still at work when I received an email informing me some of the results were available online.

What were the results? Let’s see: I’m not pregnant, liver enzymes are all within normal ranges, calcium is normal. Cool.

And my HbA1c, you ask? The semester grade for me as a diabetic? Well, my last HBA1C was a hard-to-swallow 6.3. Since then, I have had a Continuous Glucose Monitor. And my HbA1c is 5.8. That is, within normal. Normal for normal people, even. And this time, I know from the CGM that yes, I’ve been low and I’ve been high, but much of that normal is actual time spent in normal ranges, not just a facade of normal created by averaging too many lows and too many highs.

Normal. Wow. It feels good. Rewarding. There’s something absurd about how much work, mental energy, routine, and machinery I require just to reach the point most bodies reach by their inborn nature, but I won’t dwell on that right now. I’ll just sit here enjoy this moment of achieving medical mediocracy.

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Jessica Apple
12 years ago

congrats on the 5.8!  that’s awesome!!!

12 years ago

Yes, Karmel!!  Things are looking great!  and pink!

12 years ago

Yes, Karmel!  Things are looking great!  And pink!

12 years ago

Weird how drawing blood is hard as ever and one never gets used to it. You’d think that an unlimited number of subcutaneous shots and finger pricks would inure one to the dread, but they don’t. Perhaps we should be given kits to draw our own blood; would that make it less awful? Good job on the A1c.

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