Etymology: from Greek phlebotomos “opening veins,” from phleps (genitive phlebos) “vein” + -tomia “cutting of,” from tome “a cutting.” 

I work at the hospital, and I love being a float nurse there. Part of the reason I enjoy it is the teamwork aspect. Need a room cleaned? The housekeeper is already there. Don’t have time fora  bath? Ask the PCA to help. Need a new IV start? IV team. Anything to do with a catheter? Cath team.  Instead, I focus on what I learned a lot about in nursing school: the big picture in acute care nursing. Assessments, critical changes, meds, education, and coordination.

However, I volunteer at a clinic, and I love volunteering there because it’s so completely different. Different pace, different responsibilities. I had previously volunteered in a different capacity, but yesterday I walked in for the first time as a volunteer nurse. I thought, “I work in a hospital. This will be easy.” But I got a patient’s information, walked into the room, and stammered through my interview.  I’m not used to gathering a history, except informally…I didn’t know what to ask about!

Another new skill at the clinic is, as you might have guessed, phlebotomy. K., the supervisor, mentioned that he wanted me to try a venipuncture sometime that morning and I felt… nervous. In many hospitals, nurses do their own labs and their own IVs but, as mentioned, not at ours, so sticking a needle in someone’s veins is a foreign procedure that feels personal and invasive. He had me practice a few times on a cushion and then asked me if I wanted to practice on his arm.

I wasn’t sure. Maybe I should think it over. Maybe I should study up on it.

Maybe I SHOULD practice on my husband. Maybe when he was asleep. (OK, probably a bad idea). Or could I practice on myself?

I studied K., the clinic supervisor as well as a former classmate of mine. It seemed like a bad idea to stick my boss, even at a volunteer gig, with a big steel needle. Maybe I should wait until A., a less intimidating coworker who boasted of good veins, offered her arm…

But at the same time, I wanted to be brave. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).

Not to mention, “fortune favors the brave” and I wanted some luck to avoid sticking K. twice.

“I’ll try it,” I announced as confidently as possible.

Looking nervous, K. slipped into the chair. I prepared my supplies, tourniqueted his arm with the blue band, palpated, gloved, steadied, prepared my needle…

and got it on the first time!!

As I watched the dark blood spurt into the orange and black tubed vial theycall the “tiger tube,” I felt the rush of success. (Then I tried again on someone else and lost the vein after the first tube, but everyone has a few stories like that…)


As I walked out of the clinic after a half day, I felt like my brain was about to explode, but in a good way.  I love learning new skills and information.

Venipuncture seems to be more than another skill. The medical setting allows us to violate that most basic personal boundary – skin.  Causing them pain, tapping into the source of a person’s very life, their flowing blood. Phlebos. Cutting  (tomia) like surgeons once did to “bleed” people to health.

Now we bleed people to read the secrets of their cells. Anemia, diabetes, leukemia. So many stories are written in the blood. Answers in antigens.  We have to hurt to heal.

Tome: From Greek tomos “volume, section of a book,” originally “section, piece cut off,” from temnein “to cut,” from PIE [Primitive Indo-European] *tom-/*tem- “to cut”

Phlebotomy. A tome of blood. It all comes back to the books.

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