No, it’s not just a sharp scratch

Detail of a woman's arm during a blood test, with a tourniquet and a butterfly needle leading to a syringeThis morning I went for my latest blood test, which I have to have roughly every six months or a year — I can’t even remember as I have so many of them — because of my thyroid condition (which is a severely underactive or absent thyroid, treated with levothyroxine daily since I was diagnosed at age four or five). It’s no big deal; I get a test form with a bag attached from my doctor, go to Kingston Hospital’s blood test department, have it done and go on my way. This morning I hardly had to wait five minutes, and the procedure itself took less than that. What annoyed me was something the nurse said just before she put the needle in, which they seem to say to a lot of people these days (and they even say it on Casualty).

Those words are “you’ll feel a sharp scratch” or something similar. It’s always just a scratch. Actually, in my experience, it’s not just a scratch, it’s a sharp pain and it’s deeper than a scratch. It’s not a terrible pain and it doesn’t last, and having had them all that time I’m not afraid of them and don’t get worked up. But it’s a sharp pain all the same and lying about it doesn’t make it any less of one.

I tweeted about this earlier today and a couple of my friends, one of whom has a chronic illness and the other of whom is a nurse, told me they didn’t think this practice was a good idea:

I think it’s a particularly dangerous practice, because anyone who has blood tests (or injections) on a regular basis soon begins to know that the “sharp scratch” is a lie, and although it’s faintly annoying for an adult who isn’t scared of needles (and who has a fairly prominent vein which is always easy to get a needle into — some people I know don’t have this), for a child who is afraid, it could easily make subsequent tests a really big deal. It’s also not helpful for a child to discover early on in their treatment that the nurse lied to them. Why can’t they say something like “this will hurt a bit, but it won’t last long”? Because that’s the truth.

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