I placed my arm on the cushion, outstretched. Clenched fists.
Clenched and clenched the gloved hand poked and twisted my hand left, right, left. Then she spoke: "Tssk, tssk, no good.."
No shit, no good.
I think and do not say aloud as I shrink far into myself.
Oh, how I want to disappear. After the first, younger less experienced woman in the other office gave up and brought me here to this room I had said it impulsively. I had thought it would help if she knew what kind of obstacles she was about to face.
I told her that I used to be an I.V drug user. I also said, to clear up any potential confusion (or harsh Judgement) that it had been almost four years since I put a needle in or done any drugs, for that matter. I almost said to her triumphant and a little smug
"I did, however, nearly drink myself to death for close to three years after I stopped using though, but I have been sober one year and five days now!" I didn't say that part obviously.
It was hardly relevant to the task "at hand".
Now she tilts her head left and then right and back again.
A large, black bird inspecting a worm it wishes to devour.
She is looking through and then above her rectangular spectacles, up and over, squinting.
She is looking for something she knows should be there but just isn't.
Her accent sounds Creole to my ears. I see her grab and stretch the tourniquet.
I open my eyes to her cutting off my circulation in the middle of my forearm.
Blue band, bad band. I close into myself as I close my eyes again.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry... "
I do not know what I am apologizing for. What guilt? What shame?
She tells me I am going to feel a pinch. I open my eyes for a moment and see the tiny spike aimed between my thumb and pointer finger
(I've tried that one before. It's not going to work. That one's a jumper.
I think and do not say.)
I quickly squeeze them shut so tightly as if blinded.
I was blinded. By my memories. I feel the old pop of the skin barrier and no other sensation other then her hand holding mine still. I feel her move it around, I open my eyes again. Only halfway through and the flow has ceased, not one drop in the made it's way to the tube. Now she is fishing. "God forgive me, god forgive me" I said aloud without meaning to.
I clasp my eyes shut again. This is the second phlebotomist and this is the third attempt.
I feel the tourniquet loosen and hear the cursed familiar snap.
A sound that used to accompany a feeling that I wish I had never felt.
I say with more authority on the subject then I should possess.
I said "Here, tie me off"... Oh my god, I think, why am I talking like this?! I hate this.
Please God help me. What did I do to myself. I never used to be squeamish about needles, not at all.
In this case that is lifting a clenched and pumping left fist up to my head, pumping faster, behind my ear and resting gently on my neck. My eyes skim my milky flesh and I can immediately see a couple blue tinted bulges painted beneath.
Tap (one second), tap (one second) tap (one second). Pressure, release, pressure and release. Got it.
"Right here." I say decisively. I just want this over with. Five vials to go. (Mother fucker, what have I done?) I do not like this . I close my eyes. I wonder, with fear, why I did that, as if it is second nature to me still. I do not like this at all. An alcohol swab is swiped across the place I pointed out.
"Okay, here we go, hold still."
I try and concentrate on my breathing.
"God please forgive me, please guide this woman's hands, please help me get through this."
(A malicious whisper ; This is your fault entirely, you did this. )
I say with a pre meditated kindness behind veiled and contrived curiosity.
She was about to pull it out and I said out of nowhere,
"Here. Let me try."
She let me hold the butterfly while it was still beneath my skin without hesitation as if I was a co worker.
(Is she even allowed to do that?).
I see the direction my vein is flows from my viewpoint.
At a downward angle with more light than she had, easy.
I am about to follow the trail of what I somehow instinctively know is a sure thing.
I stopped moving it abruptly, filled with fear and disgust.
My stomach lurched and I said with eyes closed,
"No. No. No. Forget it. Sorry."
Shaking my noisy head rapidly left to right.
That was a horrible idea!
Why the fuck did I do that?
That is what that means.
It is better not to know because you can never 'unknow', you can only never know.
Ohhhh The mistakes! Fuck.
I pulled down the sleeve of my sweater on my left arm. She pushed her rolling chair to the other side of me and I pulled up the sleeve on my right arm.
She told me that the veins are much better on this hand.
I tell her that's because I am right handed and I never really used those
( I left out "other people have though, on occasion.") .
Many memories are flooding my mind and I am trying to block them from invading.
I reply quickly because I do not want to think about anyone else's hands pricking me with poison, and when and who's exactly...
"I didn't think it would be that different, the other woman had tried my right hand first and didn't get it, just before we came in here."
(I close my eyes, I pray, I breath.)
"Those are pretty small and they roll sooo... I just wanted to tell you."
(shhh... Mary Catherine, let her do her job now.)
I open then up and she is tying the tourniquet in a half bow a couple of inches above my wrist bone.
I apologize to her again and thank her for her patience.
She puts the butterfly in and I see red specks splash the transparent tube.
"I wish you told us sooner! Pass me the tubes over there"
The younger woman say's,
"You got it?"
No reply, she just took the tube and popped it into place.
A slow and steady stream of crimson filled the tube.
I am calming.
I am starting to breath easier.
Three down, two to go.
I realized I was holding my breath.
As she popped the fourth into place.
I exhale with a quiet "Oh, Thank god."
My body is less tense. She unties the dreadful blue band.
I leaned back into the chair as she pinches a few small squares of gauze and presses it where the little red dot on my hand formed.
"Okay... we're done!"
I echo in relief, "We're done."
"Press down on that for me".
I apologized to her for getting so worked up, I said needles never used to bother me.
I smiled just a little, simplified it and said,
"Lot's of bad memories."
What she said in retort surprised me.
"You've been traumatized. ( she looks in my eyes, puts my hand inside her large one's)
You traumatized yourself. You're alright now."
That had never even occurred to me.
"Yes, yeah, I guess I did."
I turned around, then for the sake of levity and a bit of embarrassment, I said
"Thank you, Thank you both... Team work!"
I put my fist in the air and spun around to gather my things.
They said in unison and chuckled.
I shrugged on my coat, one of them handed me my follow up appointment slip.
I picked up my messenger bag and said goodbye.
I walked out of the front entrance of Bellevue Hospital feeling like I just survived the Apocalypse.
I walked out one year and five days sober and nearly four years clean.
Frightened, I allowed myself to feel whatever I was going to feel.
Six hours later, I was with a group of friend's listening and thinking, still in shock over my experience at the doctor's office.
Then suddenly I felt a dagger hit me straight in the heart and I sat upright when one of them said,
"I should be fucking dead right now. Right this second, someone is choosing to put that needle in their arm and they are going to die.
One more drink for someone could be the one that kills them. Life and death."
I think of many people. One's that are dead and ones that are close to it.
Flashes of the faces of potential and beauty. Faces of suffering and angst.
Faces that I love, these faces of lost creatures.
Mary Catherine, Cowardice Queen