Me, My Son and The Phlebotomist!

Blood tests… Always a fun outing for the kids. Today we went to get some blood tests done before Abdullah, my 8-year-olds upcoming tonsillectomy. Our experience was less than ideal. My son was petrified, I was frustrated bordering on insane. We had a terrible time of it and none of us acted in a way we are proud of. I genuinely thought that we were going to have to hold him down and just do it while he screamed or that I would go home with him not having it done. Meaning we would have to come back in the evening or we would have to push his future appointments which would not be ok.

blood tube analyzing

My trigger today was… actually, ‘were’ (I had more than one trigger triggered, to be honest):
1-The ‘Bala Dala’a’ trigger (Quit the drama). Which was a big one but not nearly as big as number 2.
2- The ‘We are keeping people waiting’ trigger. Oh wow was this big one. We are inconveniencing people. 

I am sharing my experience with you because it could have gone much more smoothly if I had just done one thing differently. And of course, hind sight is 20/20. I want to share this with you so that the next time you are in a situation like this you can skip all the drama and over reactions and go straight to the solution.

We started out ok. On the way there he was nervous but thats expected. With the promise of a desert from chunk and the bonus of the use of his iPad during a week day we walked in hand in hand and relatively ok. While we were waiting he got a little more nervous but so far so good. 

They called out his name and pointed us in the direction of some booths right behind the waiting area partition wall. These walls didn’t reach the ceiling so effectively we were all in one big room with partitions for the waiting area and four booths for the blood taking with curtains closing them off. We were basically in the streets in terms of how much privacy we had. 

Previously, while we were waiting, a child went into one of these booths and was screaming and shouting at the nurses the poor thing, and then he said in Arabic “God Damn you” which shocked and amused us sitting in the waiting room. Oh karma… Little did I know when I texted my sister laughing about this little child who was damning the nurses that my son was about to flip out big time… and I was not much better either. 

We walk into the booth and the lovely phlebotomist (the technical name of the person who draws blood, thank you google) was quiet and patient and explained what was going to happen as my sons panic level starts rise by the second. I decide to sit him on my lap, then they put the band around his arm and we were off. We tried to rush it after explaining doesn’t seem to work. Another nurse is called in and she pulls his arm straight while I hold his torso and then began the screaming. 

The phlebotomist (loving this word by the way) thinks that maybe bringing one of the male nurses in will help. He comes in and seems over it straight away. He suggests just holding him down and doing it. At this point, I am trying to talk him down while also trying to not care that the whole world can hear us and that there are other patients waiting. I swing between “if you don’t do it today I cannot come back with you, someone else will have to bring you” to “we are not leaving here today until you have done this!”. I decide I need to take him out of the booth to calm him down. And to calm me down. At this point I am furious. 

We walk out into the main hall of the hospital away from the waiting rooms and the booths and a river of unhelpful things start coming out of my mouth. Things about how he should be acting considering his age. Things about how rude it is that we have made all these people wait and wasted their time. Things about how lucky he is to be here and how other children can’t even afford to get any kind of health care. You can imagine how well this worked to get him to calm down. During this time I was trying to call his father, who is away, to calm me down and calm him down. No answer. 

I stand up and announce that we are walking back in ‘right now’ and he will have it done ‘right now’. I repeat that there is no choice and it’s not a discussion. He has to have this test done today so we can see the anaesthesiologist tomorrow so he can have his operation on Thursday. I walk (storm off) ahead of him and catch the eye of a man staring at me then at my son who is quietly crying outside the waiting area. I soften because I can imagine what he is seeing and what I would be thinking had I been looking at this scene unfold. I walk back and hold his hand and starts to move… thank God. 

We are 3 meters outside the laboratory and again he stops and says “I AM NOT GOING TO DO IT! I DON’T WANT TO”. So naturally, I grab him by the wrist and pull him inside behind me. My level of frustration now outweighs any judgement I feel floating towards me from the man who looks too young to be a father and probably has never been in my shoes so therefore whos judgement bares no weight.

Were back inside and Abdullah is standing against the wall of the booth where the blood tests are being taken protesting, on the verge of tears again and telling me he won’t do this. I calm down, he seems to calm down as well. He asks me again what the pain is like, I give him a little pinch to show him. Again I say “have I ever lied to you?” He says no. We were now standing near the curtains, waiting for one of the booths to empty so we can walk in. 

A lady walks out of the same booth we were in previously and we start o walk in. She turns to Abdullah and speaks to him so sweetly. She tells him she was just in there and the lady was so good she didn’t even feel the prick. She told him she’s going to bring her own kids to the same nurse to get their blood drawn. He keeps saying “wallah?” Which means “do you swear?” and she swore and I thanked her so much. She said she felt bad for him as she heard him crying and it strikes me now how as his mother in that situation the ‘feeling bad’ part never came up. I mean I, of course, hate when he is upset but the over all frustration I was feeling, and desperation because of his refusal and knowing there wasn’t anything I could do to change the fact that this was going to happen, far outweighed any feelings I had of empathy or sympathy. 

Round two. We go in, he sits down and the panic starts again. Our Phlebotomist (does anyone actually use this word besides me right now?) is being calm but less patient as there are people waiting. She gives him a chance,and then two, then calls the male nurse. The same one who thought we should just hold him and get it over with. I ofcourse say more unhelpful things “it has to be done so either you give them your arm or they will have to hold it down. It’s better if you just do it yourself”. Then “maybe I should just go outside and wait”. 

The male nurse asks me to seat him on my lap and hold him. He holds his arm and I hold his other and put my arm around his torso. His panic is at an all-time high. The band goes on and the needle comes close and he is wriggling and writhing so much they just can’t do it. My phone rings and it’s my husband. I answer and Abdullah escapes my arms and stands against the opposite wall refusing point blank to cooperate and once again he is in bits. . I apologise again and tell them we will come back in a bit.

I walk out again into the main hall and explain the situation, very passive aggressively, to my husband who asks me to put Abdullah on the phone. He speaks to him for a few minutes, and Abdullah is saying a series of “yes… uhu… really…” then more talking while I calm down. Abdullah handed me back the phone, and my husband said to call him back as soon as he had his blood taken.

We once again walked back in and stood near the booths waiting for one to empty. In the first booth where Abdullah was a 1 and a half year old was waiting to have his blood drawn. The nurse quickly pricked him and drew the blood. He cried from shock for a second then his crying was more complaining and it stopped almost as fast as it started! I asked Abdullah what he thought the child was feeling and what amount of pain he thought he was in. The child was now walking out of the booth holding his mothers hand quite as a mouse. This seemed to calm Abdullah a bit more.

At this point the nurses and technicians in the lab opposite the booths all knew what was going on. 3 of the Saudi male nurses (including the one who had been trying to get Abdullah to cooperate before) gathered by the door where we were standing and started chatting with him. 

Then they all kind of took over. One of the nurses told Abdullah that when they rubbed The swab on his arm, it would make it hurt less (yes it’s a lie but wait). So Abdullah asked: “it won’t hurt at all?”  and the nurse replied honestly saying it will just be like a pinch. At this point, the booth at the very end freed up. 

All three male nurses and the technician and I went into the last booth which was decorated with children’s cartoons and very colorful. They sat Abdullah down and talked to him camly while the nurse got her things ready. Abdullah once again started panicking and the nurse who has originally been rushed and suggested holding him and just doingnit sat facing Abdullah and told the nurse to withdraw blood from him. 

He sat with his chair facing Abdullah’s and but put his arm on the arm rest of his chair.The nurse tied the band, wiped the nurses  arm with the alcohol swan and put the needle in and the blood started flowing. Abdullah watched and asked questions and was worried but less so. The panic subsided as the technician put the plaster on the nurses arm. He kept his a extended on the arm rest and held Abdullah’s hand and told him to extend it. He did and when she put the band on he started to withdraw but the nurse told him to extend it so it didn’t hurt. Then they breather in together and the technician put the needle in. A split second of panic then Abdullah smiled. It didn’t hurt.

We all laughed and said ‘see!!!! We told you!!’ So of course he cried a bit. But it was done and he realized it wasn’t as bad as he thought. 

What’s the one thing we should have done differently from the start? We should have taken more time to explain and show him what was going to happen to begin with. We should have not rushed the whole process. I should have blocked out the whole world and taken a few minutes to calm him as opposed to freak out about the people waiting.

Thats what I should have done. What they could have done is give my son more time. More space to question and understand. They should have done exactly what they did the third time around. I know we can’t expect someone to be there with the sole job of getting their blood drawn in front of frightened children to calm them down but asking for someone to speak to him with calm authority and give him more time would calm him down. I know it takes more time but if we’re inflicting pain on a child (yes for the greater good but he doesn’t care) we should at least support that child (and his mother) in the process.

Take the time you need to calm your child. Find a cooperative nurse and ask them to take some time to explain and show and listen. Maybe even see if you can have your child watch someone else have blood drawn! Yes it seems like a lot to ask and that you’re wasting their time but believe me? I wasted a lot more time by trying to rush it.

How has your experience been with taking your children for blood tests or vaccinations?
What support is there out there for children who are afraid of having these things done?
Have you heard of a ‘child life specialist’? Are you one? Does this exist here? 


  1. What an experience! But honestly, I’ve seen adults pitch a fit, too. I agree that they should have started with the third try. Maybe some books in the waiting room that show the process. So glad you all survived!

    • Thank you. Funny enough my sister reminded me that my grandmother told us my own mother only stopped freaking out at needles when she had her first child. It’s all good now. My son and I spend the ride home apologizing to each other lol.

  2. I could feel it all, triggers being triggered, mother guilt, apologizing. We have all being there. For different situations but yeah. At least, your son knows one can commit mistake and it is okay to apologize and move on. That is a success in my book

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