The year was 1998. During one of my routine AOL chats with one of my very favorite people in the world, my Uncle Joe, he told me, “You would make a good nurse,” and in a later chat, “With your personality, you should go into nursing.” I said, “ME? A nurse?!!” If chats had sound effects, that would’ve been a very shrill sounding “ME?!!” Was he out of his mind? I was terrified of needles and I couldn’t stand the mere thought of blood, much less the sight of it! It was extreme, to say the least. I mean to tell you, I would get grossed out and literally weak-kneed if I even thought about the blood in my feet and how when I stood up or walked, all those blood cells were being squeezed and squished between my foot bones and my skin. Yeah, it was that bad.
Five or ten years prior to that, my sister-in-law had been going through nursing school and I remember seeing her study at her dining room table. She was reading one of those 20-lb nursing textbooks. They’re ridiculously heavy and equally expensive. Plus, they’re usually “outdated” by the next academic year making hand-me-downs, in order to save a fellow student some money, quite infeasible. I’d sit at the table and occasionally glance at her as she turned the pages, absorbing all the medical knowledge they contained. I really admired her determination to complete her degree with three young children at home. She went on to become an excellent nurse, too. Every now and then, when she’d be studying, I’d catch a glimpse of something unpleasant on her current page. With my knees feeling weak, and my vision blurring, I would say to her, “I could never be a nurse,” as well as, “I could never even work in the medical field.” This is just one of the many incidences wherefrom my use of the word “never” came back to bite me right in the buttocks. Hard.
Well, Uncle Joe, in all his wisdom, had successfully planted a tiny seed in my head. From time to time, I would mull over the idea of nursing and that mulling would be abruptly ceased by me. Never! Still, that little seed was determined to take root and persisted to the point that I was seriously thinking that, perhaps, just maybe, there was a career in the medical field which did not require my exposure to needles or blood. I know. I just heard you say it, too, “Yeah, right!!”
With that seed taking up more and more space in my noggin, I finally looked into degrees which I felt would be tolerable, safe from the gory inside the body stuff. Oddly enough, I really liked the thought of working in a hospital with lots of other people. There seemed to be a wide variety of jobs within the hustle and bustle of hospitals and that appealed to me. Through my online search for a new career, I came across medical assisting. That didn’t sound very scary. I spoke with a guidance counselor at a nearby college and signed up for the associate degree program. For my first twelve-week semester, I registered for three classes. They were anatomy, medical terminology and a literature course. I made all A’s for that term and felt more confident that I was doing the right thing pursuing this medical field sort of training. The second semester rolls around, I register for classes and — there it was — a clinical, hands-on class that required us to give shots and — draw blood! On each other! Needles?! Blood?! WHAT?! I didn’t think medical assistants performed such tasks! I was mortified, petrified, and was no longer constipated, if you get my meaning.
The anxiety I experienced due to the looming poke-a-student-with-a-needle-day was palpable. I considered dropping my classes, hanging up my school bag (way far back in a closet), changing my name, leaving town, the state, the country, and forgetting all about this short-lived medical training endeavor nonsense. I mean, what was I thinking, really? However, I would think of my dear Uncle Joe and about how much he believed in me. He had encouraged me every step of the way regardless of my phobias. I surely did not want to disappoint him, prove him wrong for his belief in my abilities, or let him down. Deep breath. I persevered.
B-Day arrived. No, that’s not birthday, it’s, Blood Day. On the day that we learned to draw blood, the instructor asked for a volunteer to go first. Surprisingly, I was the only one to raise a hand. I simply could not imagine waiting my turn through the 20 or so other students and possibly being last. How agonizing that would have been for me. I wanted to get this over with — and as quickly as humanly possible. My heart was racing. I think all my blood was in my face, but I was determined. The instructor slowly talked me through the steps. I tied the tourniquet snugly around my classmate’s upper arm. I felt inside the bend of her arm for a suitable vein. I thoroughly cleansed the site with alcohol. Oh, please, can we just have a fire drill, like right freakin’ now, please?! Deep breath in…and exhale. I had the needle in my hand, that vein in sight and I really stuck it into my slightly hesitant classmate’s arm. I wasn’t successful at harpooning the vein so I didn’t actually retrieve any blood. I think she closed them all due to the fear created when a visibly terrified, shaking, fellow student is coming at her with a needle, determined to jab her vein and remove a blood sample. But, I did it! I was so elated, I screamed, “I didn’t get any blood, BUT, I POKED HER!!!” The instructor hushed me and closed the classroom door. I must’ve been really loud. I actually did it. I left school that day feeling six feet tall. I was going to say ten feet tall, but when you’re five foot two, six feet is monumental. Surviving that experience was a turning point for me and I realized maybe, just maybe, I really could do this nurse type job thing after all.
After attaining my associate’s degree 2003, I soon found that hospitals don’t hire medical assistants. They’re only used in clinics, doctors’ offices, etc. That was a disappointment. However, I got a hired by a small cardiology practice which was associated with my favorite hospital. My co-workers were great people and I enjoyed working there for a couple of years before boredom set in, along with my yearning to work in a hospital setting. There it was — I could either stay at the clinic indefinitely, or I could go on to nursing school and work in a hospital. So, that is what I did. There I was, studying at my dining room table just like my sister-in-law had done, paging through the 20-lb textbook, learning about unpleasant human conditions and looking at the accompanying gory pictures.