Blood Training

Ah, yes, more training days. I’ve got a million of ’em, folks!

Shortly after I moved back here to be with my sweetie, I got a job at the blood center as a mobile phlebotomist. My future mother-in-law was the trainer, and when I was hired, we were a class of two, plus her.

It was such a coincidence that my co-worker and I ended up in training together. We’d both been patient registration clerks in the ER. And her (now former) brother-in-law was my best friend’s ex-husband. And we both struggled with infertility. We’d even gone to high school together. We just hadn’t met before. Blood-Donation.jpg

To get the job, you didn’t need any special certifications or training, because the training program there was all-inclusive. We were told over and over that after a year there, you could get a job as a phlebotomist anywhere. A lot of people did just that, but I would have liked to stay, had the politics been a little more bearable.

Before we even got to the sticking part, we had to learn about screening to donors. When I was there, ten years ago, we had 48 questions on the questionnaire; I don’t know how many they have now. It was a constantly changing process for some of the questions, though, depending on where malaria was reported, or mad cow disease.

And we stuck fingers and learned to read a hematocrit. Took blood pressures, took temperatures. Learned the limits of those stats for approval for blood donation.

Then we stuck the fake arm and the fake slab of flesh. They were both so old and used and abused, full of holes. You couldn’t actually fill the slab thing with liquid anymore, but sticking a piece of rubber isn’t remotely the same as sticking a real live arm anyway.

Finally, we were ready to do it for real.

For your first stick, you have to ask the donor if it’s okay with them. Ours both agreed, and we each got a whole unit on our first try. I got my vein, but she struggled a bit.

So, one down, forty-nine to go. Before you’re set free to stick as you please, you have to keep up with your little sheet of paper that has fifty spots to be initialed by experienced donor techs who watched you stick fifty times.

I got a little behind on this. I was about seventeen into my fifty when I fell on a blood drive and sprained my left wrist and elbow. I’m left-handed, so the sling and brace meant I didn’t have enough mobility in my dominant hand to stick. I was assigned to screening for a few weeks until I was freed from my brace.

Since donor blood is the safest blood, we weren’t required to wear gloves for sticking, but during screening, it’s mandatory. Have you ever tried to slip a nitrile glove over a wrist brace? It takes at least two people. Everyone was happy when I was all healed up and could get back to gloving myself and sticking donors.

I still had to wear gloves, because I was still less than fifty sticks in, but at least I could put them on myself. I had the hang of it way before fifty, but even two years later, I’d still get shorts now and then. You never know what’s going to happen.

I could still stick someone like a pro. What’s your name? Affix the barcode sticker from the bag on the donor sheet and test tubes, three red top and one purple top. Tourniquet on. Squeeze the ball. Find a vein. Are you allergic to iodine? Scrub for thirty seconds. Tear two strips of tape. Open gauze. Uncap the needle. Make a fist and hold it for me. Stick. Tape the needle down. Tape the tubing down. Cover the site with gauze. Loosen the tourniquet slightly. Relax your fist and squeeze the ball every now and then. Clamp off the sample bag and break the cannula in the line to the bag. Fill the tubes. Gently mix the blood and anticoagulant. Wait for the scale to tip. Clamp the line. Take the ball. Remove the tourniquet. Pull the tape. Hold gauze over the site. Slide the needle out of the vein until it clicks in the safety cover. Hold pressure here for me. Seal the tubing and drop the needle in the sharps container. Wrap the arm while giving post donation instructions. Point the way to snacks and tee shirts. Strip the tubing and mix with the unit three times. Wrap it up and drop it in the cooler.

Yep, I could still do it.

Have a good night and make your next meal a good one.

10 Comments on “Blood Training”

  1. susieshy45 says:

    April, you say a real story with so much ardour that I could almost see you with my eyes. No one trained me formally; as house surgeons, we were supposed to learn to prick and extract blood on the job. I must have done 1000s of phlebotomies.
    One of the ones that I remember is putting a blood gas needle into the forearm artery and connecting the blood gas machine to get blood gas readings real time. There was a time, when on rounds, a patient suddenly became cyanosed and our consultant doctor, who never did phlebotomies but was on rounds with us, asked the nurses or anyone to get a Blood Gas done. No one could- i volunteered and in front of his eyes, stuck the needle into the forearm artery to get a reading.
    These incidences remain as memories, right, April.

  2. LRose says:

    Holy cow…the things you take for granted. Never knew there were so many steps involved. Just like a choreographed dance.

  3. tnkerr says:

    I lived in England for most of the 80’s. As a result my blood is anathema. “Mad Cow,” they say! “Thank him and send him on his way.” Nobody wants my blood, I’m persona non gratis. Oh well, so be it!

  4. abbiosbiston says:

    What a fascinating insight. I used to donate blood in South Africa because my dad is an avid blood donor (over 200 pints so far). My grandfather’s life was saved by a blood transfusion and he feels like he needs to give back for that for as long as he can. In the UK they won’t take my blood because I have tattoos and piercings and I have had unprotected sex with someone from Africa (you know because I lived in Africa for 23 years of my life). Pity.

  5. LRose says:

    btw…the link didn’t ping for whatever reason. Try again?

  6. As someone who undergoes IV therapy every 8 weeks, and has rolling veins, your post made me cringe. You wrote it extremely well, but the very thought of being someone’s first stick totally unnerves me. I’d have to decline and hope the more experienced tech could get that needle in on less than 4 tries.

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