‘Easy way or the hard way’

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It wasn’t the first time my son had had blood drawn. This time the phlebotomist started by folding her arms over her white lab coat, her ample waist and bosom straining the seams.

She lowered her chin slightly and looked at my 7-year-old with squinty eyes. “James, now you listen to me. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” Her name, Catina, was embroidered on a breast pocket.

She grasped the tiny needle with red-brown fingernails that glinted under the fluorescent lights.

It was the first thing she’d said to James since we’d entered the room five minutes before, the first time she’d even acknowledged his presence. Up until then, she’d ignored his rapid-fire questions: “Is this chair meant to trap me? What if you plunge the needle into the top of my arm? Why did we have to come here? Why can’t Dr. Wuttke do this himself?” James’ growling stomach punctuated the last question; he’d had nothing to eat or drink since the night before.

While James’ voice volume rose and his body tensed, Catina read from a script about payment, asked for my insurance card, our doctor’s orders. I signed a form authorizing the use of my credit card. Then she sat down heavily at the counter and wielded her needle, her empty vials.

I looked around Catina’s desk at the lab for a sticker, a lollipop, anything. All I could see were needles, vials and forms. Hadn’t we made an appointment for a “Pediatric Specialty Blood Draw?” This blood draw was turning out to be special, but not in the way I had expected.

It’s true, you sometimes have to get kids to do things against their will. Some kids more than others. I’ve always provided a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

But this time Catina was in charge, not me.

“So, what’s it going to be, James?” Catina asked, pursing her lips and tilting her chin. “You going to cooperate, or are we going to do this the hard way this time?” A muscular woman in scrubs hovered in the hallway, peering at James.

“The easy way,” said James, holding out his arm.

James was quiet as we drove to get a milkshake after the blood draw. I felt giddy, like I’d just watched him walk a tightrope. “That Catina was a funny lady,” I said.

“Yeah,” James said, chuckling mannishly.

That night, he resisted the toothbrush as usual.

“Man, we can do this the easy way or the hard way,” I said.

James burst out laughing.

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