Monday, November 17, 2008

The clinical laboratory

Regularly I have blood drawn to monitor the coagulation of my blood. The lab, next to the elevator on the ground floor of the hospital, is overseen by Natascha, a Russian woman and Jamal, a big black man who, when it is quiet, is often hunched over his desk whispering and laughing into his cell phone, his hand cupped around his mouth, much to the annoyance of Natascha.
When it is very busy, early morning on Mondays for example, David will be there to help them, a pygmy with a friendly scrunched up face and spiky hair, his white coat looking more like a cloak. We share our date of birth, he has told me happily.

Natascha has a tough job, going by the loud sighs she lets out and the way she brusquely brushes back her long blond hair, outgrown at the roots, as she looks through the files trying to find my standing order. She wears a white plastic apron, which fits ill and is tied tight around her round belly. On her feet she wears sensible shoes.

“Zee last one”; she triumphantly holds up my form, shaking it at me, and laying it under the photocopier. “Room won” she says in her thick Russian accent. I sit in the chair and wait for Natascha, taking her time to print out labels with my name on it and prepare the test tubes, laying them out on the counter. I stare at Natascha’s name badge, which shows a picture of Natascha looking younger and fresher, smiling at me, her hair blown dry and lips painted crimson, perhaps on her way to the xmas office party.

“Please give me your name and date of birth” she orders. I comply and she rubs my arm clean, ticking the veins in my arm, with the tips of her fingers. “You relax now”.

I have had so many needles stuck in my arm it should no longer bother me, but more out of habit than fear, I never look as the needle goes in. Conveniently, a picture of a green valley in Yosemite national park, torn from a magazine, is stuck to the wall with tape, directly opposite the chair.

Natascha does not like doing my arm. The one good vein in my right arm (left is out), is by now so covered by scar tissue, that she sometimes does not get through and has to withdraw the needle, mumbling and sighing. In that case she may try lower down my arm, where it is more painful and more skill is required, or call Jamal to take over, muttering under her breath that she is too tired, having been on her feet since seven am.

Jamal will shuffle over and calmly, with his big broad fingers, push the needle a little deeper, through the scar tissue, until the blood slowly comes dripping through the tube.

“Keep pressure on for two minutes”: he says as I get up with my fingers pressed on the bandage. “Yes”, I say, but never do.

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