By Shirley Dalton,    Novant Health Phlebotomist

I had been working in a ceramic tile factory as an inspector for 10 years. Just after Christmas 1999, they called us all in for a special meeting. I figured it was yet another round of shift changes, but it wasn’t. The factory was closing, the work was moving to Mexico, and we were all out of a job. We had no warning this was coming. Everyone was mad and upset. Some people were crying. They had little children and were worried about their rent and car payments. Christmas credit card bills were coming soon.

I had to find something new. I’d been a certified nursing assistant right after high school and wanted to see if I could pick up where I left off. I was in my 40s by then and knew that a lot had changed, so I called Davidson County Community College to see if it had any nursing classes open. I was told: “We have one slot left in a CNA 1 class and it starts this afternoon. Can you be here?” So I was laid off at 9:04 a.m. and sitting in a classroom at 1:30 p.m!  

It turns out that I found my calling in a phlebotomy (pronounced fla-botomy) class. Phlebotomists are specialists who draw blood from you at the hospital. I had a wonderful teacher and it just felt right. When we were in training, I’d go to church and find myself looking at someone’s arm draped over the back of a pew thinking … that’s a good vein right there and I’d study it. I graduated and started at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on May 8, 2000. At 64, I am still roving the halls. I love my job.

Here’s the story on phlebotomy: Our labs are filled with amazing machines and highly trained technologists who analyze blood samples and do wonderful work. But you still need people like me with a personal touch and the know-how to tap somebody’s vein and draw the sample with as little discomfort as possible.  We help those who are healthy and those who are very sick. Some of my patients are scared. Some have a fear of needles. Sometimes we have to wake patients up to draw blood and nobody likes that. In other words, no one is thrilled to see the phlebotomist walk through the door. But that’s OK with me, because I like helping people and making a difference.

When I roll in with my cart, I imagine it is one of my family members in that bed and I just think about making them as comfortable as I can. I always say: “We’re going to do this together. We’re going to work it out.” You can’t always see a vein, sometimes you too feel for it. Veins are springy and bouncy, and my fingers are like another set of eyes. Veins can be a little wiggly, so it’s my job to get the needle in with as little fuss as I can.

Everyone on my team feels the same way. We’re family. We back each other up. If someone falls behind or needs a hand, somebody else steps up. We really don’t have to talk about it much. We’re not just phlebotomists with technical skills, we are humans who care for our patients. And yes, we are there to put a needle in their arm, but it’s more than that. We’re there to help them get better. We know it can be a stressful experience so we try to make their day with a little comment or conversation. And most times, we pull it off. That’s quite a feat when you think about it. But that’s our job.                    As told to a Healthy Headlines team member.