A large patient arrives at the laboratory after hours to have blood drawn. She slowly follows the only tech on duty down a short hallway and around a corner to a phlebotomy area. The tech hesitates as the patient studies a narrow drawing chair. She turns and wedges herself in the chair with some effort. The tech struggles with the tourniquet, which is too small for her arm.
I was that tech, thirty years ago. I remember this patient vividly, because for a second I thought she wouldn’t fit into our chair. I wasn’t sure how I could help her. I didn’t know what I would do if she became stuck, fell, or passed out, being alone in the lab. But she was gracious, perhaps used to hospitals that simply weren’t built for people of her size. Patients that large seemed unusual in those days.
No longer. According to Gallup, most recently, West Virginia has the highest obesity rate at 34%. Maine is in the top ten at 29%. Health problems in “obese” states include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, knee and leg pain, and heart attack. “The most obese states in America have higher-than-average rates of residents facing serious health challenges, thus likely elevating healthcare costs.” Even in “thin” states (Colorado, etc.) one in five are obese.
These patients are more difficult to draw, harder to handle when passed out, and less agile, while needing more healthcare than thinner patients. They cause more lifting-related injuries for emergency and nursing teams. They are more susceptible to some hospital-acquired infections.
To accommodate these patients, hospitals acquire special wheelchairs, beds, tables, toilets, blood pressure cuffs, even surgeons. Laboratories can get wider phlebotomy chairs, but more staff? Does your laboratory have a lifting team? At least, an emergency buzzer in the phlebotomy area seems reasonable.
My family recently watched Breaking Away from 1979 and remarked on two things. My wife and I were surprised to see a physician make a house call. (Did they still do that in 1979?) My sons, however, exclaimed, “Look at how THIN everyone is!” We were, indeed.