Dear Phlebotomists…

Heart parents, you know this scene: you’re in the hospital with your little one – maybe it’s post-surgery or an admission for something else.  Either way, your child has been fussy or in pain and sleep has been really hard to come by.  Finally, in the midnight hour your kiddo zonks out and you turn out the lights to enjoy hopefully a few hours of uncomfortable sleep there in the room.

And then…THEN…comes the knock.  I bet your temp is rising right now thinking of it.  You see them in the doorway, pushing a little cart wearing a lab coat.  It’s the phlebotomist…they need a blood sample…and it’s 2 in the freakin’ morning.  And this phlebotomist wants to poke and prod at your child…at 2am…to get that sample.  And if you’re lucky, maybe they get it on the 2nd or 3rd try and you turn into this:


And you wanna yell and scream and throw things, your kid is screaming and no one got any sleep.  And guess what…they’re just gonna do it again and again.

Phlebotomists, this is for you:

We don’t hate you…I promise.  Your work is important work and often challenging work, and you’re working in a system that has set you up to fail in our eyes.  And that’s not fair.  As a heart dad I want to take a step back and offer some ideas to help your relationship with heart families:

Be Courteous and Communicate

I know you have a job to do, but good God almighty it’s 2 in the morning!  So don’t barge in the room and barely give me the time of day before getting stabby with my kid.  Smile…introduce yourself.  State what you’re doing and why.  You’re there at 2am because the Doctor wants to see lab results early in the morning in time for rounds.  But how often do you say this to families?  I’m willing to bet it’s not that often.  If you do, then bravo – I mean it.  If possible, think through some other alternatives.  Communication is key: tell people what you’re going to do.

Have Some Empathy

This is a struggle for many healthcare workers.  Again, I know you have a job you need to do but I act like an angry bear not only because it’s 2am.  I act like an angry bear because I’m exhausted, my son is exhausted and we’ve all been through so much.  I’m stressed, I’m scared, and my anxiety is through the roof.  So when you come in to the room and you get the angry bear, you label me as angry.  I get it.  But you don’t see all those other things that I’m going through.  And unless you’ve been in a situation like mine, you’ll never completely understand…and that’s ok.  You don’t need to act like you understand, but rather you need to realize that a big part of your job – and all healthcare workers’ jobs – is to help alleviate anxiety in patients and families.  You can do this through communication, and giving people a moment to vent if need be.  Most of all, try to imagine yourself in this parent’s shoes: you’re scared and all you want is for people to give the very best for your child.  So then you need to step up to the plate and do your best.

Kids Aren’t Adults

Sometime Phlebotomists aren’t comfortable with children…they’re used to working with an adult population.  Well if you’re in a pediatric setting you just NEED to learn.  It’ll be better for your job success if you learn to be friendly and a little fun…learn from the people who are good at this sort of thing.  See what they do and try to emulate that.  And remember that this is a living, breathing child that is well-loved by his or her parents…they’re not just a big vein laying there in the bed.

Just Listen and Anticipate

I’ll never forget a time when a Phlebotomist came in to take Nolan’s blood when he was recovering from the Norwood Procedure.  Before he was able to take a stab at Nolan (literally and figuratively) I asked him why he needed to draw blood this way when Nolan had a central line.  His response was that he wasn’t able to do this via the central line, and a nurse would be needed for that.  And then he stood there.  I raised my eyebrows and was like, “Wellllll?  Are you going to get the nurse or should I call?”  It didn’t occur to him one moment to bypass the pain, interrupting my son’s sleep, and getting an easy sample.  Sigh.  Or how about when we try to get ahead of things and say “He’s a heart baby and is a really difficult stick in that area” only for them to ignore you and try anyway…then my son ends up a little pincushion.  You think I like that?  You think my son likes that?  And you wonder why I become the angry bear.  Maybe a parent is suggesting ways to calm their child…listen.  It will be better in the long run!

Be the Change

Are you tired of getting the angry bear all early morning while you’re just trying to do your job?  I can definitely see that.  But like I mentioned before, you’re working in a system that’s designed for you to fail.  For years you needed to get early morning blood draws so you can get lab results to a waiting physician first thing in the morning.  That’s the way it’s always been.  But that just doesn’t work, man.  It doesn’t.  If rest promotes healing, then how in the world is it helpful to constantly interrupt sleep?  I know there are Phlebotomists out there who absolutely hate this…and if that’s you, then maybe you need to be the one to say “There HAS to be a better way!”  If you do this, if you step up on behalf of your patients – and yourself – I assure you that you’ll be the biggest hero among heart families.  Heck, among most families!  Talk to administration about it…make some noise…put your patients first.  This is how changes begin and you can play a major role in significant change in the future…and you can kiss the angry bear goodbye too!


Listen I’m not hating on Phlebotomists today…I can’t imagine how busy and stressful your job is.  You’ve got time crunches and probably pressure of people watching you like hawks expecting you to nail it on the first try.  Not to mention people just hate needles so no part of your job is easy.  What I’m saying is that this can all be much more successful if we’re ALL willing to work together for our heart kids.  And heart parents: don’t be needlessly difficult either – be open to suggestions…you can win more if you play as a team.  If you’re a Phlebotomist and you’re doing awesome and you have some pointers, please share them in the comments!


About Chris Perez

My name is Chris aka HLHS Dad: I’m married with 3 sons. I love coffee and Yankees baseball. Be kind to one another.

Posted on March 25, 2015, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Love it. Its so true- the picture of the bear! Ha. We are headed into a heart surgery in June and I’m gearing up for how much harder this will be than the last because my son is a few years older. He is already petrified of shots, I’m not thinking the blood draws are going to be easy at all…

    • The bear pic is one of my favs to use because it perfectly captures that 2am crazy anger that’s just hard to describe. I hope all goes well with your son’s surgery: please keep me posted!

  2. My shift starts at 4 am and today I worked in the heart center ! I have to say I have some pretty awesome patients cause my words are ” Hi my names Alysa from the lab we have to draw some blood this morning. Watch your eyes I’m Turning on a bright light. I’m waiting for the morning I wake someone up and they throw something at me haha! But I agree 100% these patients don’t choose to be in the hospital. They are in pain and just want answers and to get better and go home to sleep in their own beds! I try my best to make every patient feel like they are the only patient I have that day! Respect and empathy goes a long way!!!!

    • Hi Alysa, thanks for reading! And on behalf of patients everywhere: thanks for the awesome way you do your work! There’s a lot of people out there who could really follow your lead

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