WITH DOZENS OF BLOOD DRAWS at hospitals and clinics under his belt, Ray and I know what to do.
We strap on our crash helmets.
He never raised a ruckus as a baby.
Then, he felt so lackluster, so beset by a form of leukemia, that he took sticks without flinching or crying.
That terrified me, made visions of a graveside service beside a tiny casket well up.
So, that Ray — now 5 — freaks out these days during blood draws feels right, feels like him flexing his life force.
Until six months ago, he and I survived blood draw drama by huddling in a special chair reminiscent of a 19th century classroom for the way the desktop flips up and down to corral the patient and provide arm support.
Ray cringed and bawled on my lap as I pretzeled my arms around him to quell jiggling during the stick.
Some phlebotomists — we love you, Dawn! — consistently hit the tiny, rolly vein in the crook of his left arm the first time.
But plenty missed it, too.
That escalates the theatrics, especially since botched sticks can blow out a vein and cause a massive bruise.
Then, late last fall, we met Abe.
Ray stopped crying. I started.
Abe invited me during our first visit to take a seat on an upholstered chair, not the 19th century-style chair.
I stared at the new staffer at this clinic with mixed feelings.
“Oh, you don’t need to touch him,” he said.
Who wouldn’t relax in the presence of someone so relaxed?
On the other hand, sharp needles and 5-year-old boys don’t mix well in my experience.
Wouldn’t a competent phlebotomist charged with getting a blood sample from a new patient take some precautions?
So, I sat in the chair with Ray in my lap, just in case things ramped up to lion tamer level.
Abe pulled on his latex gloves, spotted the vein, and kneeled before us — a miracle on the verge.
I did not catch on and viewed the scene with guarded optimism.
“It’s OK, baby,” Abe cooed.
He presented the needle, and Ray whimpered.
Phlebotomists typically do not let him look at it or know when the stick is coming.
Then, Abe cupped Ray’s elbow in the palm of his hand for support during the draw.
“It’s OK, baby. We can do this,” he said, looking Ray in the eye at eye level.
Ray whimpered a little more and stared sort of aghast at his bare arm as the needle slid into the vein.
Blood zipped up the tube into the vial, and Ray held steady without restraint.
No restraint. At all.
Abe pulled the needle out slowly a minute later and stood.
The power of this man’s gentleness ranks among the top five most remarkable things I have witnessed in my adult life.
My eyes turned to puddles as he dropped the used needle and tube in the sharps container, tossed his latex gloves in the trash, and labeled the vial.
When we visited Abe three months later in February for our standing appointment, I wondered if it would happen again.
Was it a fluke? Beginner’s luck?
I have deduced with help from my friend known as “The Greek,” that Abe gives Ray different cues on what to expect and how to handle the stressful event. The phlebotomist/kid whisperer brings no fear, no anxiety, and no force to his delicate work with children.
He gives them different cues altogether, cues that speak to gentleness, confidence, cooperation, and even playfulness.
After Ray’s second no pressure, no tears blood draw with Abe, I asked him about this.
“It’s my gift,” he said, looking up and pointing to the ceiling tiles in a more private version of the appreciation NFL players show on national TV after a touchdown.
Ray scrambled out of the chair about then and trotted toward the door.
But not before turning around and grinning at Abe.
“Thank you!” he sang.