Blood is Boiling

The stained glass through which I often write in order to color my more intense stories or emotions with humor or sarcasm is cracking under the steam of my anger at the moment.  So, today you get the real raw and unedited.

I am pecking at my keys with ferocity so intense I just may need a new computer  before this entry is complete.  If you would rather go about your day, free from the poison of my rant, you are excused.  However, I am honestly begging for thoughts on this.

We were kindly notified by the previous occupants of this home, that their 18 month old tested high for lead. They were not sure if this was due to exposure in our home or elsewhere, but felt they needed to make us aware.  Absolutely.

As it is New Jersey law to have this test done every year from ages one to three, Isabelle was recently tested and was fine. However, we had just moved and that level may not have depicted an accurate result as far as exposure in this home. Also, as this is not required in California, Zachary had never been tested, giving us no base line with which to compare.

I reluctantly called our pediatrician to get the prescriptions and also inquired about which lab was best for young children.  My last experience with Isabelle’s first blood draw here in New Jersey was not a good one and I left wondering if the technician had ever even met a child, let alone stuck needles in their arms.

So, naturally when I was given the recommendation for this particular hospital and told they are “The Best” by our current pediatrician, I expected an office painted in bright primary colors, strewn with fish tanks, children’s books, toys and bubbly nurses and doctors. This was, after all our experience at EVERY pediatric office in Southern California, whether it was an urgent care facility or a blood lab.

Instead, once we found the phlebotomist’s office at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, NJ, we entered to see no children, a drab office and a rude receptionist. I checked to make sure this was the correct place as surely this was not the pediatric lab that came so highly recommended.

Unfortunately, this was in fact the place, so armed with the iPad and chocolate, I carried Zachary back first. I had spent the morning explaining what was happening and had even showed him videos of children getting blood drawn so he would be prepared. This is not a simple prick of a vaccine. Four vials of blood needed to be filled from the most tender part of his arm.  He did amazingly well, even with the lack of warmth coming from the technician. He screamed, of course, but it was finished quickly enough and he was out in the waiting room with Daddy, eating a chocolate bunny and playing Monkey’s Preschool lunchbox within five minutes.

Isabelle was next. I broke a rule and allowed the pacifier outside of the crib for this occasion. The tech said nary a cheerful word to her and barely made eye contact as she told me to wrap my legs around her like a vice and called another woman in to help hold her down. I asked if I could breast feed her while they did it. Absolutely not. My 16 month old screamed and shook while three of us forced her into position. I watched as her thin, pale skin bubbled over the barging needle as it poked its way back and forth, up and down.  Three times this woman pricked my daughter attempting to find her little vein.  And three times she failed.

During attempt number two, the pacifier fell out of Isabelle’s gaping mouth and onto the floor and the tech picked it up and handed it back to her.   Are you kidding?  This is a blood lab!!!

She gave up and called for a doctor. I sat there holding my baby as she trembled and sobbed, our sweat and tears mixed. Every part of me was saying to screw it and run. This isn’t right. There has to be a better way.  But, what if there is lead in her system and it’s never addressed. Which is worse?

The “doctor” arrived with less personality than a cement wall and the torment resumed on the other arm. She was successful in getting her blood, but I have never wanted to slap someone in the face so badly.  Both Isabelle and I abruptly escaped, crying. I could barely find Steve and Zachary through the haze of irate red.

I caused the scene of all scenes in the waiting room, now piled with people delayed by my child’s procedure. A sobbing Isabelle in arms, I raced down the hall to find a supervisor and raise holy hell. Steve, Zachary in arms, chased after me and begged me calm down.  Much to his chagrin, I found the patient relations office and hysterically told them about our experience. Isabelle’s tear-streaked face and bruised and bleeding arms did much more to make our case then my own incoherent ranting.

I don’t know what my “complaint” today accomplished other than giving fodder for phlebotomist dinner-time stories…”Man. You should have seen this crazy lady today….whew”.

I understand that giving blood is not fun. I understand it hurts. But when it comes to working with children, a little bit of gentleness and compassion, or hell, maybe even a simple “Hi Isabelle!  I’m, so and so. How are you?” goes a long way in an already crappy situation, doesn’t it?  How hard is it to be friendly?

In the car on the way home, my two and a half year old said,

“Mommy. Calm down. I’m fine. Isabelle is fine. When you cry, you make her cry.”

Out of the mouth of babes.

But, I’m still pissed.

What would you have done? Should we opt out of these tests and take our chances?  I’m honestly asking?

34 responses to “Blood is Boiling

  1. Heather Vincent Larkin

    Too much to say here…I’m going to email you.


  2. oh god, i was reading as fast as possible to get their blood test results. i have been there – get it done, just in case. bring helpers. and literally, i say wwjd (lol) right before something BIG goes down, and a lot of times, it helps. i’m a lot calmer and clearer that way. XO!

  3. Oh Em!! Poor Ellie :)…that’s why you were so ruffled today when I swung by! Well, in my honest opinion, as painful and as poorly administered as the draw was, I think the long term side effects of lead poisoning (if let go undetected) will hurt the kids far worse in the long run. “An ounce of pain is worth a pound of cure,” as they say. Then again maybe “they” were sadomasochistic flabotomists!

  4. Please move back to Boston. We have the best care anywhere. I miss you so much and can’t bear to see you and yours suffer the ravages of living in Jersey. Come home, Auntie Kath and Alex

  5. I am sorry that you and Isabelle had such a horrendous experience today. The lack of compassion and knowledge of how to connect with children that some people who work with children have always disappoints and infuriates me. I would choose to have the test done rather than let potential lead poisoning go undetected. The pain from the blood draw is (should be) short lived. The problems associated with lead poisoning are not something I would want to gamble on. I love Zachary’s wise-beyond-his-years statement. I hope you’re fine now, too, and have had a chance to relax with a glass of wine.

  6. If I didn’t know any better and got my info only from your blog, I would imagine NJ to resemble a third world country. You and your family have had one awful experience after another. And, you are SUCH a good mommy to the world. I think you did a favor to all those who will come after you. I guarantee it will not (only) be fodder for a phlebotomist dinner party. They will undoubtedly take a closer look at the way things are run there.

    • Thank you James. I fear that I just looked like a crazy over-protective mom. And really, I am pretty chill when it comes to medical things. This, however pushed me over the edge.

  7. I don’t know what has happened to people in the health care field –but quite frankly they have worse customer service than Walmart and get paid alot more!! Because we live in an old home –next to where you grew up… we had our house and paint tested and not the kids. Hate to see kids get poked with anything–way to go for giving them a piece of your mind!!

    • It is about customer service, isn’t it Kim? It’s insane. There is no concern whatsoever for how people are treated. I do hope your home was free from poisonous elements. It is a wonderful place to grow up. i should know 🙂

  8. This is awful! So sorry!
    Try St. Joseph’s next time – it is located in the most awful place in Paterson, NJ, but it has a Pediatric Hospital – and Peds ER – so they know how to deal with kids. I had my middle kid get her Lead test there – and Natalie can raise hell – and they did a great job, considering. Also went to that ER in the middle of the night with a 105 fever for Natalie and they were so attentive and nice to us.
    Hang in there – we love living in Upper Montclair – all of Jersey isn’t bad!

    • I will try St. Joseph’s for sure, Laurie. I thought I had done my homework with asking the pediatrician, but clearly not. I know not all of Jersey is bad. for sure, not. I just need to find the right places. Thank you!

  9. Some days we’ve gone into the same lab and the phlebotomists recogonize Wyatt and he tells them where to put the butterfly. Some days they have no idea that my son knows more about this than they realize and they are terrible. Horrible bedside manner, terrible with kids and such. I walk out. My son has had to have his blood drawn since he was 9 months old. First it was food allergies and then it was liver failure. It was absolutely horrific in the hospital b/c his veins were collapsing. They had to call in the IV team, wrap him like a burritio in a blanket and shove a needle in his foot. He was 4. He is now 7 and he still tells every phlebotomist to stay away from his feet. He didn’t have the worst of it, though. Many kids had it much worse. I know that you know that, but I know as a mom your first instinct is to protect and watching your child be scared and go through pain is hell. I just want to help everyone skip my learning curve. If you feel like it isn’t right, just leave. You should be able to easily get another lab order and go somewhere else. If your pediatrician isn’t willing, go somewhere else. Find a specialist. I always keep in mind that essentially they are my employees. Without my child, they’d be on a lunch break. 🙂

    • wow. Yes. I can’t imagine what you have been through and many others. Even as I wrote this, I thought of all of the kids and parents who have had to go through much worse because of much more extreme circumstances. But, why are so many people void of people skills? That is really the source of my anger. How hard is it to talk to people….babies? It’s so awful to have to be poked and prodded, but doesn’t kind, loving, personal connection help to ease the pain?

  10. Soooooo sad for you. So sad for the kids. Oh, that’s just terrible.

    Don’t opt out of the tests. If they test high for lead there is a way to treat them and get their levels down. High lead is really bad for their brains.

    The pediatrician’s office should do the draws. If not, try a different pediatrician. Or a different town. Ask around and see if there’s someone who knows some office where the pediatric nurses draw the blood. It’s a once a year thing, so a trip even a couple of states over is not out of the question.

    Phlebotomy labs tend to suck in the personality department. Tell your pedi your story so they know how bad these draws were. And get recommendations for the next time; somewhere full of nurses whose job involves nothing but kids all day.

    • thanks, Christine. I have been asking around and am committed to finding a better place. Medical things are just so different over here. I’m hoping that the levels are fine (my gut says they are) and we will not have to revisit this issue until I figure out a better solution. I have also had the Health department come over here and was amazed at how much time the man took to check everything in the house. Most everything looks good, but now that it’s summer, we have to be careful about open windows. The sills are where the lead paint is chipping. All of the houses over here have lead paint if they were built prior to 1978 (I believe that is the year, but don’t quote me). So, going along with my last entry about the heat, we have opted for air conditioner units and closed windows. Hopefully this will help. thanks for your thoughts.

  11. First let me say, Emily, I am so sorry that had to happen to you and to Isabelle. How horrible to have to sit there, restraining your child, and watching her scream in pain. It goes against everything inside you not to just jump up and save your child from this miserable experience. Having said that, you are unable to protect her from everything that hurts or is miserable. You are the parent and you know what is best for her at this point. You ultimately have the power to walk away and try again another day.
    Her crying probably comes more from fear then anything else and some of that fear she may be picking up from you. To counter the rude and awful sounding nurses and doctor, you can comfort her with your own voice. Encouraging her and singing to her (I have no doubt you were doing that, but you mention you were also crying). She is taking her cues from you. She is not watching and taking cues from the nurses or doctors… she is focused on you. I have learned (and been surprised) with my own children that when I stay calm and soft spoken with them, they are able to get through whatever medical procedure they had to endure. Even when I have to restrain them. Zach is right… when you cry you make “her” cry… wise words from a little man. We are told over and over that if we explain everything carefully to our children they will be better prepared for what is to come and hence handle it better. Well, I can tell you, not with my children. When I have approached them with explanations and descriptions of what is to come, they respond with angst and fear until the process is over… they scream and cry through the procedure and then ultimately collapse in exhaustion afterwards (seriously, after one incident at the doctor involving immunizations at age 4, Jacob actually fainted… then slept for 2 1/2 hours!). What keeps them calm is me being calm. What keeps them relaxed is me remaining relaxed. By no means am I a pro at this… in fact I fail on a regular basis, but that is how I figured it out. I can see the difference in them when I am losing it vs when I am in the zone. I am sure this incident for Isabel is long gone from her mind. She is not going to remember this or hold this against you. She won’t be scarred from the experience. It will however stay with you. You will always remember it and always feel frustrated, angry, and helpless. This feeling will carry on to the next visit… and the next… If you can overcome your angst about going, then she will be fine. She will cry, she will be upset, but she will bounce back quickly. You are an amazing mother Emily, truly. You inspire me to be better at my mommy job and I thank you for your blogs, they are inspiring. Deep breaths… you are doing a great job.

    • Emily…you are so correct. I’m sure i exacerbated the whole event. I was just so mad from the get-go. I spent a lot of time on the phone with the hospital and insurance company trying to make sure we could go to this place specifically and the moment I walked in, I was horrified. I did have the sense that it was them against us and a little bit of communication (if even just with me) would have helped. So many people are not able to communicate and I just don’t get it. But, very good point about future visits of this kind. I need to breathe and let it go. If I carry it, they will too. thank you for that reminder.

  12. I’m so sorry! That really stinks. I know that you have to be proactive with your babies when it comes to serious health concerns but personally, I get annoyed when people look at the water I’m drinking in a plastic bottle that I’ve refilled from the tap and announce to me that I’m going to die…I’m just saying that part of me thinks “thanks for the information about your experience with lead (to the previous dwellers), but no thanks…” Of course I’m probably wrong (judging from the incident on the porch).

    …and on the healthcare provider note: You seem to have had some sort of fairytale experiences in LA with your doctors. Around these here parts ;), it seems that everytime I’m extremely sick and drag myself to the doctor, I get rolled eyes, snotty faces, and fat women judging me when I smile through my wheezing, hacking little body that’s being held up on a counter when I can’t find my insurance card…Sorry to say that my good experiences are few and far between. Have you considered ordering a home lead test on the internet? lol…(don’t do that…I’m kidding.)

    • Yes, Kass. It is overwhelming now that pretty much everything we eat or drink or touch has some claims attached to it of being cancer causing or any other myriad of ailments. With this issue, we did need to make sure the house isn’t the cause of the lead in the other kid. Lead poisoning is serious and not a small issue. But, you pick and choose. If we read into everything people say is bad for us, we would have to move to the moon…which I’m sure has been ruined now by us too!

      And also…for sure. California’s medical care is completely different. At least in my experience. Now i’m not feeling so crazy for staying there to deliver our babies!

  13. When your doctor recommended this lab, he must have been talking about their test results, not their bedside manner. Any child and parent would be upset by someone wanting to have the child forcibly immobilized – children are not stupid! They can tell when a parent is upset (as Z told you afterward in the car – great kid!). In my experience (kids are 7 and 9), doctors don’t know what other doctors are like from the patient’s point of view. Maybe try to get recommendations from every parent you meet for the next year, and check parenting message boards in your area for recommendations. P.S. I hope your house is not full of lead!!!!!

  14. I have two comments for you Emily –
    #1) from a mom who has been there and so feels the shoes you walked in…
    my daughter Chelsea was 2 but had the same experience at Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills of all places – she has no memory – I could tell you what color the tech’s were to this day. These are the blessings/curses of being a mom. The stuff they never share in the “what to expect when your expecting” books :-)))))))) You did everything a mama bear could and then you found an appropriate outreach to vent and get support – you much more highly evolved then I was – and just look at these AMAZING beings you are raising….truly out of the mouths of babes.

    #2) is my go to phrase courtesy of Harrison Ford from Raiders of Lost Ark – when asked about the experience of being dragged behind a truck for a realistic shot of Indiana Jones being Indiana Jones, he quipped…..”just another useless experience” – sometimes I feel even the worst of moments in life have to pushed aside and chalked up to “just another worthless experience”

    Hope you heart is warmed and you got a little chuckle!

    • Absolutely. Both warm my heart and give me a chuckle.:) I love that quote and will use it! Funny that you had that experience at Cedars. I don’t know how much you have read about my story, but we were in Los Angeles for five years and stayed there after a tragic experience. I have delivered 3 babies at Cedars and although the first we lost, we chose to stay with that medical team and that hospital because of the amazing, hands-on, personal care we received during that tragedy. But, your experience goes to show that it all depends on who you get and not necessarily where you are. But, I will say the medical care in California is much more personable that over here. Although that’s a blanket statement and not always true, it has so far been my experience. I’m so glad to hear that your daughter doesn’t remember any of it. But yes…Moms do not forget these things! Thanks so much for your comment and thoughts!

  15. Lead levels are too important to ignore. Find another phlebotomist. Preferably in California. You know that crap would never have happened at Women’s Care of Bev Hills. 😉

  16. That is just terrible, Emily! I can imagine I would be just as upset. You know, I remember when Lily took a bad fall when she was about 18 months. I did my best not to, but in the end I cried. Over two years later, my eldest still talks about how Mama cried when Lily fell. I had no idea it would stay with her like that…

  17. Sarah Vann Bonds

    Shannon and DB sent me the link to your blog. You are a very talented writer. I have read them all, but this one really made me want to comment. Having a 37 year old baby, I just had to weigh in. I worked in hospitals most of my career. My question is why did your pediatrician’s office not draw the blood? There is NO blood drawing lab that is going to be proficient in drawing blood from precious little ones. I know you won’t go back there, but my advice would be have all blood drawn at the peds office. That is their specialty. I would also be upset with his/her office for not agreeing to draw the blood there.
    Hope to come to NJ the first part of Aug. and maybe I will get to meet the little ones then.

    • Thanks, Sarah Vann, for reading!!! And that is a good question. Why do they not do the blood draw at the ped’s office? They didn’t do it at the offices in LA either. I agree. The labs really should not draw on children. It makes me want to start my own “child friendly” blood lab! 🙂

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