Quinn’s foot was about the size of a peanut when he had his first needle inserted into his tiny pink heel. Just five days old, four pounds seven-ounces and five weeks premature, this is my earliest memory of his life. I imagine it’s his earliest buried memory– stuck somewhere inside the depths of his amygdala. For being so tiny his howls were large enough to fill the Taj Mahal. My own terror, worry and guilt at my inability to protect him was just as vast.
As a baby diagnosed with Congenital Hypothyroidism it was to be the first of countless blood draws that would stagger their way through Quinn’s life—signposts on a winding and often rocky journey. Along the way there were unskilled and skilled phlebotomists— jaded, gruff, tie-‘em-down and get it over with ones and a few extraordinarily patient, compassionate, and quick as lightning ones.
For his first year, I walked along in a postpartum, new-mother haze, assuming the doctors and lab techs knew all. I assumed that there was no other way to get blood from a baby than to pin them down and get it over with. Each time I returned I tried different solutions–each time I failed.
I tried to breast feed, (this was supposed to reduce pain)—but have you ever tried to breast feed with a room full of strangers bearing needles trying to poke and prod your baby? Once Quinn’s father asked if there was a pediatric phlebotomist, before I knew that there was such a thing. Note-to-self–one can make requests! I tried sugar water (useless) and organic gummy bears once he was old enough to chew. Later, I resorted to bribery. You can have a balloon! A stuffed animal! A twenty dollar toy from the hospital gift shop! Nothing seemed to help.
One time, an Eastern European phlebotomist began screaming at me, “You’re not holding him right! Hold him tighter!” What I heard was “It’s your fault! It’s your fault! It’s your fault!”I found myself engaged in a shouting match over the body of my little boy. How terrified he must have felt! Even now, ten years later I cannot drive down the street in San Francisco where that lab sits without feeling my gut clench.
Every draw felt like life or death—you know your kid needs the labs–you don’t know that it doesn’t have to be a horror show. Sometimes you have to walk across the hot coals ten times before you realize–Oh I can walk around the coals!
By the time that Quinn was eight years old he had developed a deep-seated fear of needles. As a child with CH (Congenital Hypothyroidism) he had to have blood draws to check his hormone levels every three to six months. If you’re reading this, I assume you’ve walked in my shoes.
While I know how blessed we were that Quinn was growing steadily and that his intellectual function remained high—there was an emotional toll, which none of the doctors seemed to have a balm for. Often he was cheerful, comedic, and a bright fiery spirit. Other times he would wake up screaming that bad men were trying to stab him to death.
These botched draws accumulated like boulders leaving Quinn with a form of post traumatic stress (PTSD) more commonly of the kind ascribed to war veterans or trauma survivors. I am sure that I suffered Vicarious Trauma; we as parents become the containers for all the feelings of our children.
Over the years I learned a huge number of tricks to make the draws better.
- Get the name of the pediatric phlebotomist you like best.
- Get the name of the manager.
- Offer your child a special reward to be given after the draw. (It does not need to be material, it can be a special outing.)
- Make sure your child is well hydrated.
- Have your child exercise before the draw (when possible) or afterward to burn off stress!
My tricks were countless—and yet still they were inadequate. Then, one day I spoke to a social worker who told me about the Buzzy— a brilliant buzzing device which would confuse the pain signals to the brain and reduce the actual pain. Bam!
I read the scientific reviews (impressive), pressed purchase, told Quinn about it as if it were the Holy Grail; He said to me “Sure Mama–I don’t believe you.”
He was proved wrong. In conjunction with the Buzzy we took several other steps to support him. We went to the best phlebotomist we knew. We planned a special reward for afterwards- as always. He was well hydrated. I had introduced him to the Buzzy ahead of time, he had tried it out at home, so he was familiar with the sensation.
To his amazement (and mine) it worked!
Dr. Amy Baxter, the inventor of the Buzzy, recommends that alongside the Buzzy you use ice wings (sold with the Buzzy) and Distraction cards to improve the efficacy of the pain blocking. Quinn was not comfortable with the idea of the cold pack and he likes to watch the needle going in, and so in his case we did not use these added tools. It’s worth knowing that these are clinically proven to reduce pain even further.
Each child is different. Giving your child small amounts of control over the process is healing in its own right.
The other day Quinn, now eleven, asked me, “Mama, when are we going to get my next blood draw?”
“I need to check,” I said. “Why?”
“Because I really want a new comic book.” He grinned. While I don’t condone materialism, the fact that my son now looks forward to his draws is truly an enormous blessing.
Now–if every pediatrician’s office, every hospital, and every lab could fully acknowledge the impact of difficult blood draws—and the simplicity of using the Buzzy–then each and every child could begin to see their blood draws as no big deal. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Have you tried the Buzzy? Tell me about it!
Available in Lady bug red and Bumble Bee Yellow BUY YOUR OWN BUZZY here for $39.95
It is reusable and lasts for years! Simply wipe with hand sanitizer after using. More directions, research, and videos on how to use available BuzzyHelps
Note: I do not receive any funds from these sales.
Want to craft a Better Blood Draw Plan for your child? I’m available for phone coaching or in person coaching in the SF Bay Area. Contact me!
Feet photo: by Martinus on Pexels.com, Cactus photo: by Largo Polacsek on Pexels.com, Buzzy photo: Courtesy of BuzzyHelps.com