Hair is Everything.

“Hair is everything. We wish it wasn’t, so we could actually think about something else occasionally, but it is. It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day. We’re meant to think that it’s a symbol of power. That it’s a symbol of fertility. Some people are exploited for it and it pays your f****** bills! Hair is everything, Anthony.”

Fleabag: Season 2, Episode 5

This is a quote from the T.V. show Fleabag. I binged watched it in two days and this part of the entire series is what stuck out the most to me. The main character’s sister goes in for a haircut that she quickly regrets and complains to her sister. They return to the hair salon to tell off the hairdresser for the ridiculous haircut and the above words are part of her speech.

I’ve been trying to write a post about hair for maybe a year now, but I couldn’t develop the words. They just didn’t seem to be enough. How do I accurately depict how much hair matters in society, how much of a story it tells, how much it affects your mood, and how much self-expression it gives you. It doesn’t really sink in how much your hair means to you until you lose it.

Losing your hair physically changes your appearance and if you’ve watched as many America’s Next Top Model make over episodes as I have, you know people are emotionally attached to their hair. There’s always at least one person who is sobbing in the corner threatening to quit the show. I always thought they were so dramatic. It’s hair. It grows back!

But then… I started losing my hair, and suddenly all those emotions made sense.

I knew I was losing my hair 10 months ago. I wasn’t sure at first. The tricky thing about it all is that it doesn’t just happen overnight. The before and after is significant but the day to day isn’t.  Just a little bit here and there. Maybe a little more in the shower drain than usual, but I couldn’t spot the difference on my head. I cut my hair shorter to try and combat what could look like hair thinning just to play it safe. I easily played it off as a fun trendy new spring look for myself. Sure, my hairbrush had a little more than normal for me. Sure, if I ran my fingers through my hair, strands would just keep coming. I adapted to it though. I mean, I couldn’t definitely say that I was losing my hair.

Then I looked at photos and saw where there were gaps. I started removing hair balls the size of small animals from the shower drain. By the time, I really accepted it, three quarters of the hair on my head was already gone. I could no longer wear it down. It was patchy, the ends were dried out, and it just hung there, so I wore my hair up every day. I wore headbands to make it seem like a fashion choice I just decided to casually try out. Two months later, I accepted my fate and chopped it all off. 

I guess it’s a side effect of living.

I’m losing my hair, but at least I’m alive. Still, I didn’t consent to losing my hair. Yes, I knew it was a possibility but maybe I’m still in that teenager mentality of “oh, it won’t happen to me”. I also didn’t think I’d have so many feelings about it because I knew it might happen. I was mentally prepared. It wasn’t sprung on me the day of like it is to those models. I had agreed to the terms. I knew what I was signing myself up for when I said I would start chemotherapy and saw the two page long list of possible side effects.

I’ve narrowed it down to fear.

Hair is important. Why else would there be so many organizations set up to give free wigs to cancer patients. Hair matters. It represents your identity, your style. For me it’s a coping mechanism, a way to hide my AVMs. Losing it, is losing that shield. The most vulnerable part of me, laid bare for all to see. It’s being put into a fight, with the opponent already knowing your weaknesses.

Hair shouldn’t matter because yeah, it’ll grow back eventually, but it does matter. It means I have to learn a new way of styling it. I have to adapt to this new identity. I wake up to find out if this day will be good or bad all because I might’ve slept on it wrong. I’ve had short hair before and hated it.

When I was younger, I was on a different chemotherapy and lost some of my hair then too. Except that time, I didn’t even notice. I mean yeah, I had strands of hair on my clothes but who didn’t. My mom pointed it out to the hairdresser and we collectively decided to cut it short. At the time, I was growing my hair out because I wanted to donate it, but then boom chemo and I couldn’t donate it anymore.

Yet, that wasn’t even the memory that sticks out. I didn’t even care that I couldn’t donate it anymore. It was being in class, having the bell ring and getting up from my chair. As my friends and I walked out, there were multiple strands of hair on my chair. Someone pointed it out and I just laughed it off. I blamed it on something like combing my hair with my fingers during class, just to seem cool. But I hadn’t been combing my hair during class and I was self-conscious. Somehow 10 year old me knew that too many personal questions came with not having hair. My friend didn’t point it out to be mean or with any intention of harm but seeing my hair on the school chair made me think wow, I am losing my hair and I don’t want to.

The feeling still resonates today. Yeah, I may look better with my new Tyra Banks approved look but that doesn’t mean I wanted to go through the process. What is our obsession with hair anyway, why does it mean so much, how do we help me move past this and see that we are more than our hair. 

Putting it simply, it sucks.

Losing your hair sucks. It completely changes you. It’s clearly given me a weird existential crisis of sorts. I used to be so afraid of putting my hair in a ponytail and now here I am where that’s the only hairstyle I can rely on to feel the same as my peers. As if I being on chemo isn’t something people already struggle to relate to now its losing hair.

I love my new haircut. I never would’ve tried out this look if chemo didn’t thrust it upon me and my hairdresser never would’ve cut it off if she thought I couldn’t take this new look. Yet, even with feeling confidence in my look I notice myself always answering one question differently…

Why did you decide to cut your hair?

Clearly, I know the answer. I was losing more hair than I was growing new. It looked horrible and unhealthy so I needed to chop it off. Depending on who was asking though I have two answers, “the medicine i’m on caused it to start thinning so I cut it all off” or “i realized i was wearing it up all the time and figured why not might as well cut it all off”.

The first one is honest but it annoys me because for some reason I still can’t say to people face to face chemotherapy despite posting about it on social media constantly. The second one may have been a contributing factor but was not the reason I decided to cut it. If I could’ve still gotten away with wearing my hair down I would not have chopped it. I don’t know if it’s the stigma of losing your hair, if i feel it makes me weak, if i’m afraid of the pity i’ll receive, maybe i’ll make someone uncomfortable, or if i’m still not as comfortable as I want to be among my peers with sharing my story that keeps me giving different answers but it annoys me that i do it and yet I can’t quite seem to stop myself from doing it.

I love my new look and the vibe it gives me. I don’t regret chopping my hair off but I do still sometimes get insecure about it. My AVMs are all out for the world to see and most days, that doesn’t matter. Most days, I forget about them and continue to live my life. Most days, I am happy. But some days, it takes all my energy to put on an aura of confidence as soon as I step outside my apartment. It takes all my focus to put on this persona and act like I am not bothered by the fact that I am not the same.

So yeah, hair is everything and we wish it wasn’t but it is. Why do you think Hair Love won the Oscar for Best Animated Short? Yes, the directors, animators, writers, and everyone who worked on it are incredibly talented individuals who deserved this award. Yet, the most talented people can work on something but it won’t win if there isn’t a message that matters and resonates. Anyone who watches it can relate to any one of the multiple messages throughout the 6 minute film. I personally cried watching it and promptly needed to watch it again.

I don't think you're ready for this, 
Kelleigh

Ahhhhhhhh, Advocacy!

I’ve been trying to schedule the delivery of my chemotherapy for a few days now. When I realized I had about four doses left, I called to schedule. I knew I was cutting it close with how few doses I had remaining but my medicine gets over nighted so I didn’t feel there was too much of an issue. Yet, when I called, I was told insurance had rejected it. I’ve been receiving this medicine for a little over a year now and have never had this problem. I was so confused and flustered, insurance rejecting any medication is a big deal, but there’s not really any other medication substitute for this one. That knowledge made me feel even more worried.

So, I inquired more about why and discovered it was simply a miscommunication from the pharmacy to insurance about what was written on the script. Everything was solved, it was being sent back to insurance, and I went on with my day waiting to be called to officially schedule my order.

I hadn’t heard anything after 12 hours, so I called back and explained the situation all over again. I was told insurance hadn’t processed it yet, but they would mark my order as stat and call me in the morning to schedule delivery.

The morning had come and gone, so I called for a third time.

My medicine quantity was getting lower and the weekend was fast approaching, I knew that would only complicate things further. Kindly, they stayed on the phone with me as they tried everything but couldn’t figure out why insurance wouldn’t cover it so they reached out to my NP. I followed up with her as well just to be sure that she knew the whole situation and that the phone call did take place.

My beautiful, beautiful NP solved the whole situation in like an hour and reminded me that it’s people like her that make the medical world wonderful. She took my worries and absolved them all. She made it an easy process for me, the patient. I went into the weekend assured that my medicine was covered by insurance, that it would be delivered, and it would be okay if I ended up missing a single dose.

Now, we arrive 5 days after my initial phone call and 4 days after everything was resolved. Yet, I still haven’t received my medicine. This was the latest date I was told it would be delivered so I called back… for a fourth time. I asked for an update on the shipping status, thinking maybe it’s still out for delivery and I’m just being my usual dramatic self. Then I was told it wasn’t scheduled.

Yes, insurance would cover it but the pharmacy was waiting to be told to schedule it. I was told it had been scheduled and was given a date to receive it. How could it not be scheduled? I spent 20 minutes on the phone figuring out how to get my prescription delivered as soon as possible, and finally, five days later, all my medicine problems are solved.

However, this whole ordeal has left me upset and questioning the medical system. My script was sent in two weeks prior to this entire situation. The pharmacy would have known that insurance denied coverage fairly quickly after that. Why wasn’t I or my doctor contacted and informed that it wasn’t covered? Why weren’t we told that we needed to rewrite the script?

Once that was solved, why wasn’t I contacted as soon as the pharmacy knew it needed to be delivered? My chart had this order marked as stat. They knew that I was running low on medication and needed my refill as soon as possible. Why wasn’t I informed that it hadn’t been scheduled when I was told prior that it would be?

There needs to be more communication and better communication between the pharmacy and prescribing physicians, even between pharmacies and their patients. I respect pharmacists because they hold so much more knowledge about medications than I ever will, but how am I not informed about my own medications? How are my physicians not told that there is a problem?

What if I couldn’t advocate for myself?

I have been managing medications my entire life, but what if I was new to this and didn’t know to call the pharmacy and check? What if I didn’t know how to inquire for more information and question the process? What if I didn’t find it odd that I wasn’t hearing from the pharmacy? How was my physician to know that there was a problem with the script, if she was never told?

The medical community fails when there’s no communication. Medical practitioners needs to be a team. My situation is no one person’s fault, and I don’t blame anyone. It was just a lack of communication and poor timing. It highlighted for me though, all the complications I’ve dealt with in this field already.

Something needs to change because there are patients out there who could be missing doses or medications because they do not know that they can challenge the system and advocate for themselves in this way.

P.S. They were also using masculine pronouns for my NP and my doctor throughout this entire ordeal… they both have very feminine names. Females are doctors too. Society, please do better.

Medicine & Insurance

There’s about 20 medicines here. Yikes! This was taken in September 2019 and i’ve actually added a few medicines and gotten rid of a couple since then.

In 2019, my insurance paid about $94,500 for doctors appointments and about $80,000 just for my chemotherapy agent. These numbers don’t include the co-pays my family has paid either. In a prior post I said I had 53 doctors appointments within the year and as you can see I have a lot of medicines. I take all of these medicines, supplements, creams, ointments, and mouthwashes to help reduce headaches, stress on my heart, acne, swelling, mouth sores, skin sores, and any other symptom from my AVMs or side effect from my chemotherapy. Without insurance, I wouldn’t be able to pay for any of these things.

In four months, i’ll graduate from my occupational therapy program. Thankfully i’m still eligible to be on my parents insurance but for some graduation can mean a loss of health insurance. This is scary considering one trip to the doctor or one freak accident sending you to the ER can cost you thousands of dollars due to the increasing costs of healthcare. One month ago was the deadline for open enrollment for 2020 healthcare but graduation counts as a special enrollment because it’s a change in life circumstances.

Healthcare is a necessity, and at a best confusing, in the world we live in. It requires paying close attention to because each person has different policies, plans, and providers. God forbid, you have two insurances, it just gets more complicated. The amount of times i’ve been billed incorrectly, my insurance hasn’t been billed at all, or been told my insurance doesn’t cover something is scary. If i wasn’t so familiar with the medical system, I might just believe them and accept my incorrect bills or take what they say at face value but I know my plans and what’s covered. I know when a bill is too high to call the doctor and question it.

It’s important to know your insurance, your options, and what all this medical jargon means.

Year in Review

Started off the year with three blood draws in a day but today is the 1 year anniversary and I’m sentimental like that so…

365 days. 53 doctors appointments. 23 blood draws. 11 doctors gained. 10 new medicines. 5 EKG’s. 4 PFT’s. 4 Echocardiograms. 3 MRI’s. 2 ED visits. 1 year of chemotherapy.

But at the same time…

About 20 movies seen in theaters with friends. 9 concerts attended. 8 shows seen in NYC. 7 states visited. 3 new haircuts. 2 weddings. 1 stop on the PGA tour. 1 year of graduate school completed and 0 surgeries✌️

🎶 Rise like the day, rise unafraid, and do it a thousand times again 🎶

Hospital Gowns

I’m in a paper gown… after being lathered in cold jelly for an echocardiogram, I walked through a hallway wearing jeans and a paper gown, THAT WONT CLOSE SO I WAS BAREBACKING IT, whilst carrying my bra, shirt, jacket, lunchbox, and backpack to get to another room for an EKG. It was uncomfy. But it turned out my heart was all normal, which is cool.

Due to my AVMs, I’m at risk for congestive heart failure and a prolonged time between heart beats so it’s always a good thing when the cardiologist appointment is uneventful, minus the paper gown fiasco. I was surprised to see that my heart rate was 58 bpm even though I had a Pediatrics Final in an hour. Guess I wasn’t too stressed, such is life with a chronic illness.

Also, it was Fine Line release day… I couldn’t let a stiff paper gown slow down my dancing to new jams

I Started Chemotherapy!

I was told, I need to tell people about what I’m going through in order to feel support and that like everybody I help, I need support too. People know that I have a disease but a lot of the people I’ve met recently don’t quite understand the severity of it because my situation changed.

When I was first diagnosed, my treatment consisted of 8 hour long surgeries every 4 months. In second grade, I tried chemotherapy and it ended with me receiving Last Rites from our priest. In middle school, I had 6-hour surgeries every 6 months and I tried a new chemotherapy. In high school, I either had four-hour long or 8-hour long surgeries every 6 months. In college, I had 4 hour surgeries every 6 months sometimes once a year. The surgeries didn’t get shorter and farther apart because I was getting better but because I was getting harder to treat. It was easier to adapt my lifestyle to these surgeries but fewer options were left with how to treat. I went through these procedures with the idea that eventually I would have a medicine that would do the work of these surgeries. It was promised to eventually exist. Now, I’m in graduate school and my doctor has retired.

A long while ago I wrote in my Microsoft Word equivalent of a diary,

“Sometimes you just have to accept it. There’s no point crying because that’s the way it is. This is what we have to do. People are always saying there might be a drug or there’s a drug trial here we can try and enter but it never pans out. There’s no sense getting hopes up until you are actually holding the drug in front of you.”

Well friends, I’m actually holding the drug in front of me. Well, sort of. I’m holding a drug in front of me and we’re hopeful it’s THE drug.

I started chemotherapy in January and have been taking it everyday since. That’s 267 days. Yikes. We’re still unsure if it’s working. For all purposes I’m stable and I’ve gone a year and half without surgery, which is the longest I’ve gone since being diagnosed.

I’ve been making videos this whole time, trying to document this whole crazy journey. Not all videos are that great, especially the first few but I still thought I’d share these over the next few weeks. If not for you, then for me to look back on and think about. So, here’s the first link. Me telling you all that I’m doing this huge scary thing and the night after I found out this thing was possible.

I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This,

Kelleigh

Kelleigh’s Cross

Annually I make the journey to Michigan to give out The Gustafson Family Catholic Youth Leader Award. Every year I get up, give a speech, and announce the recipients. We decided to hold a luncheon afterwards to honor and catch up with all the past recipients because it was the tenth year of giving out the award. Below is a copy of the speech I gave before announcing the new members of the Kelleigh’s Cross community.

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Thank you Principal Krusky, faculty, staff, STA students, parishioners, and visitors for giving me the opportunity to be here today to present this award. Before I start, I want to apologize for this outfit. I figured it’s May Crowning and if there’s a perfect time to wear a floral pantsuit, it’s today. Anyways, it’s an honor and a privilege to be here and its always great to be back home at STA. I graduated from STA in 2010 and just finished the first year of my masters program at Columbia University. As many of you may know, at age 4 while a preschooler at St Thomas Aquinas, I was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening and inoperable disease called arteriovenous malformations. Basically, not all of my blood vessels connect properly.

Last year I talked about friendship. More specifically, our friendship with Jesus. I touched on how He is our lifelong friend and is willing to travel any road to find us. More importantly, I know that it isn’t just the presence of Jesus as a friend that guides us but the friendship He gives us through classmates, teachers, and family. This year, I want to expand on an important part of that friendship. Kindness.

There’s a quote I take with me when I join new groups, make new friends, and most recently when I moved to a New York City. It was said by a former First Lady of the United States and it goes,

“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.”

Your yardstick of success will be how you treat other people.

I always think back to that. I really resonate with it. Attending Columbia has taught me a lot about comparing myself to others. How do I treat others when they succeed? Am I kind? Am I jealous? I started to understand that I don’t always have to be an A+ student. Getting an A doesn’t matter if I ignored friends who needed my help studying. But man, does a solid B feel good when I took the time to help my friends who didn’t understand something.

It reminds me a lot of what I learned at STA. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others how you want to be treated. If I was struggling with something, I would like my friend to help me out and I always knew I could count on my STA friends.

I try to follow the motto: “Treat People with Kindness” because I know what it’s like to be treated that way.

This is the tenth anniversary of me giving out this award, so I’ve been thinking about the number 10 a lot, especially with that 10 year challenge thingy that went viral earlier this year. When I was 10, I received a tracheostomy tube. Essentially, it’s a tube in my throat that helped me breath. I lived with it for six years but when I first got it, I hated it. I hated the idea of needing to go back to school with this thing in my neck and looking different. Yet, some of the parents in my 4th grade class went and spoke to my fellow students about what I was going through so that when I returned I would be welcomed back with no questions or weird stares. That’s kindness.

I can remember kindness even before that. Ever since being diagnosed, STA supported my family with love and prayers. That was kindness.

In first grade, when I had a very obvious change to my appearance to help promote new tissue growth on my scalp, STA didn’t treat me any differently. That was kindness.

In 2nd grade when a chemotherapy made me critically ill, I was given nothing but kindness from STA when making my First Communion and returning to school.

As a sophomore in high school I felt STAs kindness across states when I decided to remove my trach. I felt your kindness when I was 20 and suffered a stroke. I feel it every day when you keep me in your prayers. I feel it every year when you hold your dress down day for Kelleigh’s Cause. And most recently, I felt it this past Christmas when I received letters from Ms. Caruso’s class wishing me a Merry Christmas.

STA has shown me tremendous kindness throughout my entire life and I could only hope to give back as much as I have received.

So, your most important yardstick of success will be how you treat other people. Another way I like to phrase this, is your kindness is your credential. Credential kind of seems like an adult word so let’s say achievement, your kindness is your achievement. What an achievement to be known as kind.

It can be hard, sometimes we don’t always want to be kind because maybe someone wasn’t kind to us. I get that, I call my mom all the time to talk about it. We usually discuss what I know I should do but that it’s hard for me to just decide to do it. Usually it’s about whether or not I should watch my sisters cat. I know the kind thing to do would be to help her out. So I do.

For anyone who likes superheroes I usually think “What would Captain America do?” but more importantly “What would Jesus do?” Both of them would choose kindness… and watch the cat. Her names rhubarb by the way, just like the pie.

As I look around the church, I can see the kindness in all of you. You’re already being kind when you help your parents, when you make friends, when you ask someone how they are doing. I see it in your smiles, in your friendships, and the way you share your Catholic faith.

I feel this award embodies that kindness. At STA, I learned compassion, resilience, and what being a Catholic meant and it means being kind. I learned all this from my fellow students and the students couldn’t have done it without the support and kindness of the STA teachers, faculty, and staff. They showed through their actions what it meant to love someone and be their friend. What it meant to show someone kindness, just like Jesus.

This award is meant to celebrate young men and young women from the 5th grade, selected annually by the teachers and STA Administration who represent a quiet yet strong Catholic Leadership. They are walking besides their classmates, sharing their kindness with them, and walking a journey of Faith together. As they finish the 5th grade and move on to the middle school it is our hope that they will understand that this award was established with my family’s profound gratitude and love and that they will wear their Celtic Cross with pride, continuing the legacy of those who have done so before them. They will continue to embody the friendship Jesus has with us and spread kindness throughout the school.

 

Complications: Why I Received a Tracheostomy Tube

Seven years ago today I got my tracheostomy tube removed. I worried for months about even asking about when it could be removed that when they said it was a possibility I couldn’t believe it. Then I had the fear for even taking it out and finally worked up the courage to just do it. For those first few days after it was removed I was so worried they would put it right back in. It’s still something I worry about because I hated that thing. I had that trach for 6 years and then lived with a band-aid on my neck for a year afterwards until it completely closed.

This day means a lot to me because this trach changed me in a lot of ways and was the first moment of reality for me. I always knew these treatments were necessary but it was the first time I realized as a kid that they were dangerous.

For those of you who don’t know, a tracheostomy, or as I shorten it a “trach” is a surgically created hole in your windpipe which is kept open with a tube. This device allows air to flow when the usual breathing route is obstructed or damaged. I had a trach for six years and they were probably the most insecure years of my life because I did not want a trach. This is probably something I cannot reiterate enough. I go with the flow for a lot of medical procedures and especially up to this point in my treatment, but I absolutely refused this trach.

Let’s set the tone.

It was the summer between 3rd and 4th grade. My AVMs were moving and being more active than normal in my neck. This isn’t unheard of, it’s often why I receive treatment in the first place. Our goal is to always keep the AVMs from spreading even if it does seem impossible. My mom was concerned because she saw me backing off of a lot of the activities that I enjoyed. My mom says when she asked me why I no longer wanted to do these things, I told her that my neck felt full. There’s always been constant emails back and forth with my doctor so my mom informed her about it. They decided I should have another procedure to try and control the AVMs around my airway. For timeline purposes, this procedure was scheduled in December.

So, I received surgery and ended up being on a ventilator after because my airway was swollen. We knew before the surgery that I would be put on a ventilator for a short time afterwards just due to the nature of surgery. The procedure went well and I was admitted to the Pediatric ICU (PICU) to begin my recovery. This was also pretty normal for me, at least for the first day or so, but I guess it was never normal for my parents. I spent the next five day sedated and on the ventilator. Yet, on the 6th day I was able to be taken off and move to the regular pediatric floor.

Anyways, that was not a fun recovery because my throat hurt, especially whenever I ate and I’m a known foodie. After spending 5 more days in the hospital I was discharged home and continued my recovery and slowly started getting back into my own routine. This also meant starting my usual steroid taper. This was the usual tone. Symptoms arise. Surgery is done. Everything’s good for a few months.

But then it all started again. I stopped wanting to go to practice for whichever sports season it was. I backed away from all my regular after school activities because my throat started to feel full again. My mom began to notice that once my steroid taper reached a certain point I would make whistling noises when I breathed (I guess there’s actually a term for this and it’s stridor).

All of the local doctors were baffled (which is something that I’m feeling like was becoming a theme) and increased the steroid dose. Once back on higher steroids, the fullness and noises I made while breathing would go away. Then they would wean me off and it would all come back again. We played this game over and over and over again. Nobody knew what was going on. It was all a complete mystery and guessing game for how to solve it.

I was nine.

This went on for about three months.

Eventually it was decided that I couldn’t be weaned off steroids and the amount of doctors’ appointments increased. All of them were confused. I guess this just isn’t something that happens. It didn’t make sense.people with my symptoms don’t see them resolved with steroids. However, numerous appointments and a scope of my larynx and pharynx determined that my vocal cords weren’t moving.

I guess that’s like a real super bad thing, and everyone was surprised. I was still talking fine even though my vocal cords weren’t moving which I guess is unheard of too. Just some more mysteries. After a night in a different hospital and another round of steroids to keep my airway safe, it was decided that I very well may need a trach since without the constant high dose steroids my airway was dangerously unsafe.

So, I got shipped out to my usual treatment location, 12 hours away, in order for them to witness the phenomenon that were my vocal cords and try to wean me off steroids one last time. I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve gone against medical advice and leaving for this trip was the worst thing I could possibly think of. Underneath it all I knew this is what needed to happen. I knew I needed but my god I did not want it. I didn’t care how dangerous my airway was, I was not willing to live with a trach. But alas, I was only nine and making medical decisions that young was not allowed. So we left for my usual hospital in Boston.

I ended up spending a month there in the hospital, building up the denial that it was going to happen. But I’ll delve into that for the second half of this story.

What It’s Like: Blood Draw

Getting your blood drawn can come off as something quite frightening. I mean, someone is taking your blood out of you while you’re awake and watching. It’s quite weird to think about. In some way it’s like a vampire who has some serious self-control. In reality though, it’s nothing to worry about it. The people drawing your blood, officially called phlebotomists, are honestly quite skilled. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been getting weekly blood draws for about two months now. I’ve thought of some questions about it though, like who was the first person to do this and think “hmmm you know what could be medically helpful” or why is it called drawing your blood? I feel like this term means we’re all just taking red crayons and coloring what we feel blood is. Is that what they’re doing once they take the blood out? Are they actually running tests or are they just using it for still life drawings?

So, I conducted some research. According to Wikipedia, the concept of venipuncture, the process of obtaining venous blood intravenously, began sometime in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. However, it originally started as the therapeutic practice called bloodletting. Back then practioners believed that some illnesses were due to impurities in the blood and these could be resolved by removing blood from the body. It was widely used through the 19th century and was highly recommended by physicians for many illnesses including cancer, diabetes, asthma, tuberculosis, and indigestion. Some people opposed this method and scientifically disproved it yet still millions of leeches were imported each year to continue this practice. In the 20th century the medical community moved away from the practice of bloodletting and began using phlebotomy to test blood samples abnormalities. Today, it’s just as common but far safer. Venipuncture is something most have happen a couple times in their life, but some may not have ever gotten their blood drawn.

For those who don’t know what it’s like, here’s my take on the whole process:

The Process.

  1. Check in and wait. This is where you scope out the competition. Size up who else is in there with you and it’s the time for me to make guesses as to why each person is in there.
  2. Sit in a chair that you’ve never seen before. I mean I guess it’s practically designed but it’s like an uncomfortable height chair. Sometimes it’s just a regular old chair and you think yeah okay, let’s see how you pull this one off.
  3. A tourniquet is tied around your arm. Which sounds scarier than it really is. This is simply to help your veins show and it only feels like someone is pinching you. Sometimes, it honestly feels cosmetic and serving no true purpose.
  4. The prep. This is where the phlebotomist gets all their supplies so that everything they might need is within reach. This is actually very important to me. It’s the point where I decide if I like this phlebotomist or not. It’s also the time where I know if this is going to feel like a soft pinch or an aggressive pinch.
  5. They clean your arm with an alcohol wipe and go in for the vein.
  6. You just kind of wait there for them to be done. I personally, like to watch. It freaks me out to not know what they’re doing, and I don’t like to be surprised by the pinching feeling of the needle.
  7. They pull out the needle, give you some gauze, and slap a band aid on your badass arm. I’m calling it badass because it basically just survived a minor stabbing without even flinching.

In all actuality it takes maybe a minute but for some it can be a really scary minute.

I don’t remember ever being scared, just that it was always something I had to do but I’m sure my mom could tell you otherwise, especially in my youngest years. I’ve become so accustomed to it, I don’t even care anymore. I used to put in an effort as to which arm to use but now, I let the phlebotomist choose. I also don’t like to make decisions so it’s nice when someone else does. My vein has been poked so many times already, I sometimes wonder about its stability as a vein.

I’ve had my blood drawn at least 10 times a year for my entire life. So, I’ve developed some strong opinions on the act of blood drawing. Like, “no I don’t have an arm preference, but each arm has a beautiful median cubital vein for you to use.” or “yes, actually I prefer watching, yeah no my own blood doesn’t worry me”. Furthermore, you know how in step four I said this is where I decide if I like the phlebotomist. It’s because at that stage they choose a needle and obviously butterfly needles are way better than anything else. I’m technically an adult and I guess butterfly needles are meant for children but trust me they hurt less and look less aggressive coming towards you no matter what age you are. It should be a rule that phlebotomists can only ever use butterfly needles. It should be standard protocol. Also, better to chat while it’s happening so that you’re both not just awkwardly sitting there for a bit watching the phlebotomist go full vampire on your arm. Lastly, decorated band aids are way better than the usual brown ones. This may seem like nothing, but to me it’s much more exciting to walk around with fun band aids later. I don’t care if a SpongeBob band aid isn’t work appropriate, its way more exciting. Oh, and fasting is the worst.

I noticed I always thank my phlebotomist, as if this wasn’t their job and I’m incredibly grateful they decided to grace me with their presence. But I mean I am in a lot of ways grateful. Venipuncture takes skill and even more skill to do it in the least painful way possible. I’ve definitely had some bad experiences with people drawing my blood. They’ve missed veins completely, couldn’t find veins, or gave me band aids that my skin did not approve of later. So, it’s nice when you find a place that makes it relatively easy, quick, and painless.

I was thinking about this when the woman who’s been drawing my blood lately told me she was glad to see me because she’s had crying babies all morning. I promised her I would try not to cry. She promptly took a few tubes and gave me a rainbow pony band aid. I’ve loved getting my blood drawn lately because it’s been the perfect setting. My phlebotomist is lovely, she always uses butterfly needles, I get fun band aids, and it barely even hurts. My right arm might be a little tired of the constant miniature stabbings, but it’s been a good experience overall.