Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Needles and shaking hands don't mix

I see a worried mother, standing outside her daughter's hospital room. Tears are beginning to well from her lacrimal ducts. "What's wrong?" I ask, responding to the silent plea for help that is blasting across the open space of our ICU.
"That nurse is being needle happy with my daughters arm," she snaps at me.
I look into the room. It's one of our newer nurses. She's a good nurse with killer instincts, but like all of us, we have to practice on someone before our butterfly needles slip into veins with ease. It's so easy to take sides. Yes, I want to say, how dare that nurse poke your daughter so many times. You're tired and scared and helpless and all you can see is a nurse inflicting pain and it's too much. On the flip side, the poking is necessary, practice is necessary and only through it will experience be gained, making a good nurse a great nurse.

So I can't pick sides, I know both too well. Instead I say, "let me see how I can help." I walk into the room. The daughter is crying, the husband is crying, the mother is crying. The nurse looks up. "Could you please help me?" her eyes and her mouth ask me. I see now the purpose of the poking. Not for an IV, but we're aiming for the artery in the wrist to test the blood being pumped out from the heart rather than the blood returning. These are much harder and make me nervous. I feel a movie moment coming on, where all you can hear is the beating of my heart as four sets of eyes focus beseechingly on my face. The pressure is on. I gather my supplies. I take a deep breath to calm my racing heart. The pulse of the girl preparing to be poked matches my own. I clean the site.

This is no big deal, I've done this a million times before, I've never missed, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. Somehow, having a traumatized audience watching over your shoulder makes all of those rationalizations fly out the window. My hands are visibly and uncontrollably shaking. Adrenaline is a weird thing. I'm sure the mom is freaking out at this point as she sees the shaking hands with the sharp pointy needle heading towards her daughters wrist. I hold the tip of the needle against the skin for a brief moment to steady my aim, then push through. "Oh fuuuuu....." is all I hear.

And then, bright red blood pulses steadily through my syringe. I feel euphoric, relief floods through me much like the blood is doing in the syringe. Funny the metaphors you find in a traumatic situation. The specimen is sent, I'm hailed as a hero and the rest of the day nothing can truly go wrong enough to take away that feeling.