John, the only nurse at the outpatient hematology clinic who feels confident about starting an IV on me, approached me with a grin, “What arm to you want me to use today?”
I’m not an easy stick. He knows that, and I know that, and we both know what I’ll answer. “The arm where you can find a good vein,” I say.
“Okay, let’s try the left hand, that’s the easiest one.”
I extend my hand looking at the tiny row of scars like little beads running on the skin that covers the zigzag of the pale blue vein. This slender vein has been stuck a lot.
John’s facial muscle contorts and twist while he stretches the skin on my hand and examines it. He squints at the juncture of two veins. I can tell he is trying to determine if there is enough space for him to insert the catheter from the butterfly without bumping it against the wrist bone.
“Little stick,” he warns me. Then I hear, “Dang! There is no blood return.”
He pulls out the plastic tube from inside my skin, places a thick cause pad on the gusher, and I elevate the arm while putting pressure on the wound. “You know how much I hate missing. I thought I had it and then the vein pulled away.”
“Yeah, it happens a lot,” I say. Actually, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it did before I learned how to use relaxation techniques. I realized that my thoughts had been preoccupied with other things that morning. My blood pressure was higher than usual when I checked in and the scale displayed a weight that was considerably larger than I wanted it to be. I had been knitting while I waited for the RiaSTAT to be mixed with sterile water in the hospital pharmacy. That usually makes me feel calm, however, when the bag of white foamy liquid arrived, I was attempting to pick up several dropped stitches.
John seemed a bit more agitated than usual too. Now after missing once, he muttered something about how he hates to fail. He set up the equipment to try again. Wisely he went for the right forearm this time. He knows enough not to put the tourniquet on an arm with a punctured hand. While he does the prep work I do mine. I begin practicing my deep breathing, letting go of judging myself for gaining weight and dropping stitches.
I managed to relax enough so that the vein did not pull away and the blood flow did not decrease in that arm. This time the stick was successful and I spent the next hour, reflecting on the consequences of being afraid to fail.
Don't be afraid to fail. Don't waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It's OK to fail. If you're not failing, you're not growing.