My veins are barely civil to me since the many run-ins they’ve had with needles. Nowadays, nurses and phlebotomists must woo them to the surface.
Alas, the medical version of seduction relies on pain and punishment: slapping the poor things, tying them up, and generally dishing out a bit of tough love.
I once asked if veins ever recover, ‘One day, maybe!’ a nurse said, a little too hopefully, making me suspect quite the opposite. Another nurse said they were likely scarred.
What to Do?
Here are some tips for making those blood tests a little less traumatic, with ideas accrued from specialists, other survivors, and the wonderful world of Pub Med.
- Water – Be properly hydrated before the blood test. De-hydration can make veins harder to find.
- New Eyes – Good infusion practice is for a nurse to make 2 tries at finding a vein, before asking a colleague to have a go. From experience, phlebotomists usually give it 3 tries and then look a little sheepish. Feel free to ask for a new pair of eyes.
- The Top Dog – Training medics often struggle to find a vein in anyone, let alone cancer survivors. You don’t have to let them practice on you. It is totally in your right to request someone who has been doing the job for years. The same applies before operations. If you’ve got dodgy veins, ask that they leave it to the anaesthetist to do the vein-finding. It’s their very special skill after all.
- Warmth – Heat can help. Try putting a warm, wet towel on your arm for five minutes before the needle digging.
- Alternate Arms – If you’re a regular pin cushion, use alternate arms for your tests, giving your veins a chance to recover.
- Use the Muscles – Invest in a stress ball and use it before your appointment. It’ll work the arm muscles and get blood flowing.
- Gravity Power – Increase the blood flowing to your veins by dangling your arms by your sides, rather than raising them in the air.
- No Fun Stuff – Supposedly, staying away from caffeine and alcohol the day before can help.
- Butterfly Needles – The butterfly needle is the crown jewel of the needle world. I’ve found that they can slide in without you even knowing they’re there. It seems from research, that they can be angled slightly differently and can be more superficially inserted than other needles. But the size can also come up smaller. Always request a butterfly needle if you’ve got problem veins!
And if you want a massive geek-out on phlebotomy, here’s a feature on the topic by an expert phlebotomist.
Great article, I didn't even know butterfly needles were a thing! Thanks
Great article, I have trouble all the time now when I have to have a blood test. Regularly tag-teamed with nurses, hca’s, doctors. I always request the crown jewel of needles, the butterfly! It hurts less when they wiggle it around trying to find blood...
Great and helpful article from someone with wonky veins after lots of chemo.