Medicine often generalizes people based on their diagnosis or medical history. People can make the assumption that because I am “a frequent flyer” that simple things like blood draws would be a piece of cake. I was surprised to learn that it is common for the opposite to be true.
I was in the hospital suffering from the effects of a tick bite and had been diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I wasn’t feeling very well, as you might imagine, and was getting much needed rest. It was 2am and I was sound asleep.
A phlebotomist came in my room and startled me by turning on the bright lights over my head. I tried to keep my eyes closed and not let the rumblings of her cart and the scrunching of her papers wake me up so much that I could not fall back asleep. Before I knew what was happening, she had put a needle in the bend of my elbow. I didn’t have the chance to tell her that I preferred to be poked in my hand as all of my other veins were weak and usually blew out.
Still working to keep myself quiet enough to be able to fall back to sleep, I remained calm and let her finish. When she left however, I was met with an excruciating pain in my arm. I can only assume that she managed to hit a nerve because the pain was nearly unbearable. I didn’t bother to call the nurse, I knew there was nothing they could do for this kind of pain. Instead, I cried for hours, trying to let myself accept the pain and just go back to dreaming. I was unable to sleep again until about 6am in the morning when the pain finally started to diminish.
At 7am the intern came in to wake me up and start my morning of questions and more tests. I had lost hours of sleep due to pain but there was no sympathy on the part of the staff. I truly don’t think that they understood how a blood draw could hurt so much. I wouldn’t have understood either if it hadn’t happened to me.
Had it not been for the hundreds of prior blood draws and IV catheters that had made my veins so fragile, I doubt this would have happened. My body had reached a physical limit as to how much poking and prodding it could stand.
The accumulation of years and years of invading my veins had make simple blood draws a painful event even under the best of circumstances. It has gotten to the point that I often cry all the way home after a routine blood draw. This kind of accumulation is not something people in the medical field seem to be aware of and it is up to you to educate them as well as prevent against any unnecessary tests and procedures that will add to this degradation of physical tolerance.
I never thought much about cell memory until I experienced its effects. When it came to surgery, I had always had the attitude that I was asleep so what they did under anesthesia didn’t matter much. In fact, I was never concerned about the transplant surgery itself because “I got to sleep through it”. I was always more worried about the recovery after.
While that is a partially true statement, I have found that it is a bit naïve.
One day, when I was playing a game, I found myself in a very similar physical position to the position that I was in when I had both of my surgeries. I almost immediately began to feel an emotional discomfort. I tried to ignore it so that I could stay in the game but the feelings grew. Soon, I was feeling strong anxiety and began to cry. I left the game and went off on my own. What happened next was a confusing series of emotions. I began to sob uncontrollably. I still had no idea what was happening to me and why I was so upset. Somebody came over to me and asked me what was wrong. I had no logical explanation for my emotional outburst. The only thing that was coming to my mind was the word “Violation” and an intense feeling to match it. I finally put the pieces together and realized that my body was speaking to me and my feelings were not coming from an emotional place but a physical one. I sobbed for a solid hour and let my cells release the pain of my two surgeries. “I” had been asleep, but clearly there was a part of me that wasn’t.
After my second transplant I was facing another surgery on my stomach. This was a laparoscopic procedure and by all accounts a “minor surgery”. My reaction to the idea, however, was not minor in any way. I was terrified of the thought of it and fought the team tooth and nail on having it done. It finally occurred to me that part of my reaction was not coming from my conscious self, but rather my cells once again speaking to the pain of their violation. I went forward with the surgery, but was aware that there was a part of me that needed nurturing and assurance, and it wasn’t my mind.
My body has been through so much cutting, poking and prodding that it has reached a certain limit. I now try to communicate this to my caregivers before a procedure because I know their expectation of me may be inaccurate. They think because of all that I have been through that I will be an “old pro”. I have found in talking with other patients that this feeling of accumulation is not uncommon and should be factored into the emotional formula that comes with undergoing any procedure, large or small.