The NICU: My Own Personal Hell Is Repetitively Stabbing Babies.

It’s sort of the exact opposite reason of why I went into pediatrics in the first place. Because I like babies, damnit.

I especially like babies who keep their blood inside their bodies.

… unless I need said blood, in which case I like just clicking on a “lab draw” order, pretending the Magical Blood Fairy shows up and waves a magic wand, and – poof! – the results magically pop up in the EMR.

But my faith has been shaken: it’s hard to believe in the Magical Blood Fairy when you’re staring at your hand holding a needle the size of an invisible artery.

It’s almost as hard as then actually managing to draw blood out of said invisible artery.

this isn't working is it

no but i liked that you tried and that you know when to give up

My attendings are undeservedly optimistic.

Last week, my attending pulled me aside after rounds.

“Listen, I just want to tell you that you’re doing an AMAZING job. Maybe the best intern we’ve had all year. Really super job.”

“Oh, thanks.”

So that was clear: she was about to compliment-sandwich me.

I hate compliment-sandwiches.

“But… “

There it is.

“It seems you haven’t gotten an arterial stick yet.”

“Yeah, no…  I haven’t.”

“You have to have 3 arterial sticks as an intern, you know.”

“Sure, I mean – I’ve tried – a lot! – but I just.. I haven’t had any luck. Or maybe I’m not a procedural kind of person?”

I was hoping she’d nod and agree.

In the subspecialty I’m going into, I will not have to do art sticks.

It is inhumane to babies for me to continue to try.

These are all good reasons for her to agree I should just stop.

“Wrong answer. You’re going to get an art-stick this week.”


“You look like you don’t believe me. I really want you to believe me.”

“Ok. I’m… going to get an art-stick this week.”

“Good! Don’t worry, everybody goes through this. Once you get one, they’re ridiculously easy. This will be your week!”

It was not.

Every single new admit, the attending would give me an exaggerated head nod which was my cue to grab everything I needed, confirm collateral circulation, sterilize the wrist, expertly poke the baby… and…


… usually create a hematoma.

when you make a mistake

After so many failed attempts, I just don’t know what to tell my attending.

I can’t really say “I think the babies are going to unionize and file a formal complaint against me.”

I also can’t say “I know you really want me to get this. But I think I’m causing more harm than good. If you could just stop thinking of me as a competent person, I think every baby in the NICU would be happier.”

I mean, she’s trying really hard. She’s the kind of attending most residents can only dream of! She really wants me to have this magical experience where I get the ABG and then turn into an awesome medical resident who can do procedures.

She would be so goddamned happy if I could just STICK THE NEEDLE WHERE IT BELONGS.

self pep-talk gif

But no matter how hard I try, the evidence is against me: I seem to be the kind of less-awesome medical resident whose days largely consist of me antagonizing innocent newborn babies with sharp instruments that I am in no way competent at wielding.

… So, right: +10 points for efficiency, minus several billion for the growing daunting weight of the knowledge that I will be going to hell.

… perhaps we’ll call it a wash.

3 thoughts on “The NICU: My Own Personal Hell Is Repetitively Stabbing Babies.

  1. You’ll get it.

    You may never need to do art sticks after this month, but there’s an important learning principle here, “Move towards the fear.”

    Keep trying. Don’t quit, even internally.

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