Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Vein Hunter

I am a vein hunter. A tracker of blood, a tribesman of the tributaries of the heart, a pursuer of the pleasures of deoxygenated blood.

Every day, I'm asked to find small veins in elderly people. They tend to be invisible, barely palpable, and wriggly. Holding them down to get a small needle in is like pinning down Harry Houdini on how he did his tricks, or Gordon Brown on when the next election is.

It sounds like a truism, but the real differences between junior doctors and medical students are actually quite subtle. As a student, I often tried to take blood or insert a cannula. But every time I approached a patient, it was with the knowledge that success would be a bonus rather than the expected result.

Now, even though the task is the same, I take three times as much equipment with me: come what may, I have to come away with the red stuff. Failure is not an option. I don't want my patients to croak before the ward round tomorrow. Neither do I want the indignity of having to ask a nurse to do it for me.

This constant focus on finding veins is disrupting my personal life. Tube journeys are nothing more than a prolonged look at strangers' hands. Same goes for parties and restaurants. Flicking through the tabloids over breakfast, even the more popular parts of page 3 girls get only a cursory glance before I assess their venous access. It's embarrassing.

Maybe it's just an obvious sign of a deeper malaise. I rush around without ever having the time to examine someone properly. Clinical skills teaching with the medical students on my team is about the longest I spend with any one patient. So it's not surprising I'm constantly trying to pick up things with simple observation.

This doesn't mean you won't be a little nervous if you catch someone on the bus staring at your hands. But maybe you shouldn't shove them in your pockets straight away. Try pointing to a vein, and smiling encouragingly. It'll make your junior doctor's day.


PhD scientist said...


Perhaps a future in Anaesthetics beckons?

Elaine said...

Just bear in mind that the arteries are worse.........

the little medic said...

Awww, here was me thinking that finding veins got miraculously easier whe you graduate. Shitters - you've ruined all hope that I had.

Maple Leaf Medic said...

I'm glad I'm not the only who stares at people's veins on hands, arms, even feet, on the tube, in the pub, at parties, and some on, like some kind of vampiric pervert.

It's nice when someone has good veins though!

ditzydoctor said...

oh dear :( that's rather discouraging! i thought it'd get alot easier with practice. but then again, maybe you're doing the practice now! yikes. i really am horrendous at finding veins!

Anonymous said...

The "loking at the veins of strangers" phenomenon transcends the specialties, my friend.

As a paeds reg, when relatives and friends show me their new babies, the first thing I notice is how good their venous access might be.

It's no way to live :P

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Dragonfly said...

So true about that vein hunting. And if you tell people why you are ogling their forearms they sometimes look at you strangely. The cephalic is my favourite though..

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Juan Chaparro said...

Ran across your blog while image searching for "I hate my pager". HA!

Then started to read your blog. Found it rather funny that so many personality types, in nurses, patients and doctors, can be found in nearly any hospital. I started my residency in 2008 so just a year after you and can definitely relate to a lot of your posts. Do you have another blog now that you're (hopefully) done with post-graduate training? You write very well and there is truly a dearth of that in our field.