I’ve never enjoyed blood draws. The idea of something piercing through your skin and stabbing into a vein supposedly protected makes my head spin and my stomach drop. It’s hard for me to lay still when I know what’s coming. The jab, the bite, the horrible, sinking feeling as my blood is pulled from my body into vial after vial. I have to wiggle my fingers ever so slightly so I don’t completely tense up. I have to close my eyes and talk to the nurse so I forget about it sticking into my arm. My heart thunders in my chest and I am unable to think cohesively, unable to move normally. I am vulnerable. I am exposed.
I got my first blood draw when I was terribly sick in Colorado. They sat me in a chair, had me lay my arm flat, and stuck me. My head grew dizzy. My stomach filled with nausea and it was as if I could feel every vessel leave my body. I let out shaky breaths. And when they had finished, I sat there in the chair, shivering as if I were cold.
The worst part of it all is laying my arm flat, welcoming the needle to cut deep into me.
The worst part of it all is admitting something honest to a friend, welcoming the knife they hold at the ready.
The first time someone took advantage of my vulnerability was when I was in elementary school. I wore my heart on a sleeve and was unabashedly myself. Long talks of Pokemon with my friend, goofy antics and loud laughter as I raced across the playground. I was active and bright, wanting to be everyone’s friend.
Amanda didn’t want that. She saw me as a target, and each time we left for recess, she’d bound up next to me and comment on my stupidity. She’d mention my ugly freckles. She’d laugh at the way I tied my shoes. I couldn’t understand why she wanted to be so cruel to me. I tried to be nice in return, but that only fueled her fire. She mocked my kindness. She repeated my words in a high-pitched fashion, laughed when I grew teary-eyed.
Eventually, it was too much. I ran to the bathroom and locked the stall door and cried. My friend came in and asked if I was okay.
“She’s just so mean,” I whimpered. “Why is she so mean to me?”
Another pair of footsteps entered. With a delighted sigh, I heard Amanda ask if it was me crying. I quickly tried to stop the tears, to suppress the sobs. My friend confirmed it was me. Amanda laughed.
“You know what I think?” she asked in her small, elementary voice. “I think she’s just a huge baby.”
I think I would’ve drawn blood that day if my anger didn’t make it impossible for me to unlock the stall. I screamed and scrambled for it, unable to see clearly through my hatred and tears. She laughed. She walked out of the bathroom. I screamed until my voice was raw and put my forehead to the door. My face flushed with embarrassment.
Was I a baby? Was I too soft? I looked down at my hands as tears dropped against my palms. I resolved not to let her do this to me again.
But time after time I found myself allowing people to pierce my veins, to draw blood, to test it and find it unsuitable. Time after time I resolved I would never let it happen again, that I would harden my skin, that I would stop extending my arm. My friend group dwindled. From ten, to five, to three. I pulled my arms to my chest. Less blood was drawn. Fewer saw what was inside. And then, in one last cruel play of fate, you pulled your needle from my arm and let me bleed. I pressed my hand to the wound and searched your face, looking for a reason. You told me too many people had seen my veins. You told me you had to be the only one. I asked you to help me stop bleeding. I asked you to get me a cotton ball. And even when you didn’t, I offered my arm to you again. You brought a knife.
I don’t like blood draws. They always make me feel vulnerable and exposed. As if at any minute, everything inside me could spill out and be cleaned up with a mop without a glance to my lifeless body.