It’s a sunny Saturday in Chicago. As I head east on Diversey Parkway, memories of my college years pass by at 25 mph: that time I talked my underage self in to that bar, that apartment I lived in for 2 years (it has since been upgraded to high-end condos), the Halsted (8) bus that I took to work at my hostess job, that night I went dancing with my roommates and walked in a blurry line all the way home, that class I skipped….. the list goes on.

I don’t head east too often these days — my condo and work are on the west side of the city — but I look back fondly at my seven years of self-discovery on the east side of Chicago.

Across the street from the Home Depot, a woman wonders aimlessly in the bike lane. Is she looking for something? I wait for her to stop before parallel parking just behind the fire hydrant.

I head in to the office.

I’ve been preparing for this all morning: I worked out, had a solid breakfast, and have been drinking a lot of water. I normally pass out, quite literally, but I’m determined to conquer the needle-poking-blood-drawing experience that has traumatized me for decades.

Image from this NPR article

‘I’m here for the lab,’ I say. A woman with short dark hair and oval glasses opens the door, shepherding me back towards the small lab in the middle of the office building. The dark mustard curtains are a strange match with the white ceramic tile and oddly-placed brick wall.

I take a seat next to a young boy, his brother is audibly protesting the process on the other side of the curtain. ‘What’s your name?’ I ask. ‘Elijah,’ he says, ‘My brother is getting his blood drawn.’

He covers his ears with both hands.

‘Why are you covering your ears?

‘It’s loud when he does it. I don’t like it.’

I don’t blame him. A minute later, the mother scoops up her boys and takes them back down the hall.

‘Carolyn!’

The only other patient gets up, a small blonde woman in appropriate college-style-weekend-wear, and the lab assistant closes the mustard curtain behind her.

It’s almost my turn. I read my astrology app on my phone — anything to distract me from the mental images of blood and needles and vials and things that I am so apt to uncontrollably dramatize.

I’d really rather not pass out. I shake and sweat and occasionally vomit, and, you know, I’d really prefer to just avoid that whole experience this Saturday morning. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is out, and I’m headed to get my haircut afterwards. I would really rather not show up to The Hair Lounge covered in sweat and looking pale and feeling slightly delirious — it’s just not my favorite look, you know?

So, maybe I’ll try getting mad. ‘Fuck those needles’ I say to myself. ‘They ain’t got nothing on you.’

‘Angela!’

Shit.

I walk in and sit in the grey chair — the ones with the padded armrests that are designed to make you ‘more comfortable’ while your insides are literally being sucked out of you.

The mustard curtain shutters closed behind me.

I proceed to answer the standard questions: name, birthdate, doctor, etc… I sign the form that says my insurance will cover all but $15 of the cost, which sounds dreamy, but I most certainly expect a $300 bill to arrive in a couple weeks.

I check in: I’m feeling okay, actually. Fuck those god damn piece of shit needles. They ain’t got nothing on me.

‘I have been known to pass out during this,’ I say to the lab lady. I’ve learned that it usually helps to warn them up front, although everyone has a different response. Some immediately lay me down, which is very much ideal for me, others shrug like they don’t give a shit, and most of them proceed to talk endlessly — asking whatever questions they think will distract me. That last one never works: me talking about my dog and cat does not distract from the fact that there is a large, metal needle in my left arm and my blood is spewing out in to a seemingly endless number of plastic vials.

This lab tech simply says ‘We’ll just have you sit down for a bit when we’re done to ensure you feel okay.’

…maybe I do prefer the dog and cat stories.

I check in again: I’m feeling fine, actually. I try to not act too surprised, I’m usually at least sweating a bit at this point.

Fuck those needles.

The lady ties the rubber strap around my left bicep, pinching my skin in the process. I wince and stare at the wall on my right — I know any strong internal talk will be rendered immediately useless if I actually see the needle. At that point, it’s only a matter of seconds before I’m out cold.

I feel a small poke as the needle goes in. My sister, currently in med school at Dartmouth, has often commented that I have ‘good veins’. I’ve never had the stomach to compare, but at this moment I’m thankful that they are easily accessible.

The first vial of blood is complete. I can hear her switching them out. I stare stubbornly at the blank, grey wall and dig my right forefinger in to my thumb, attempting to draw my attention to somewhere else on my body.

Suddenly, I feel my stomach rising — a fluttery panic starts to expand in my chest.

No,’ I think.

Fuck those needles.

I press my forefinger more deeply in to my thumb, while simultaneously feeling thankful for my terrible nail-biting habit: if my nails weren’t so short and broken, I might actually draw blood, and then what good would that do?

The panic continues to rise.

I breathe deeply and channel allllll the anger…

FUCK THOSE NEEDLES.

I scream-think it in my head, catching myself before I say it out loud.

The panic subsides.

And, suddenly, it’s all over.

I sit somewhat shocked: waiting for it to hit me, waiting to suddenly fall over and vomit profusely (that actually happened at a New Year’s eve dinner in Colorado with my family — my mother was talking incessantly about child birth, and despite multiple warnings, she continued. I quickly found myself face-down on the table covered in my own vomit, but I digress).

Nonetheless, despite all of these terrible thoughts, I was actually, completely fine. More than that, I was un-phased.

It was a god-damn miracle.

‘Are you feeling okay?’ she asked as she secured the cotton ball and band-aid.

I’m sure my shock was mistaken for something else. ‘Yes, actually. I feel totally fine.’

And with that, I stood up without incident, walked to the lobby without incident, opened the door without incident, and stepped out in to the summer breeze.

It’s time to get my haircut — perhaps he’ll offer me a glass of wine while the color soaks?

Fuck those needles.

They ain’t got nothing on me.



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