A while back I took my wife to the hospital for a CAT scan.
After we checked in at the front desk, we waited in a room where my wife talked to a nice young man who tagged and labeled her like a prize bull at the county fair. He took us to another room to fill out forms that asked if she was experiencing testicular pain or if she was perhaps pregnant. Then they guided us to a third room to put in the needle through which they would inject contrast.
All routine hospital stuff.
The trouble started when the nurse couldn’t find a vein, so she fetched an expert, called a phlebotomist. The expert also couldn’t find a vein, so together they called the phlebologist, an expert’s expert on all kinds of troubles with veins. The phlebologist pronounced my wife’s veins perfectly normal, but — being an expert’s expert — refused to touch the needles himself and do the phlebotomy. So the three of them argued until they decided to call in the phlebosophist, an academic specialist who knows about theories and beliefs about veins, hoping he could resolve their dispute.
The argument grew louder, and phlebophiles of all kinds crowded into the room. I could see the phlebophobes slink by outside: the noise attracted them, but they turned away with gray faces when the heard the topic of argument.
The phlebometrist was called to measure my wife’s veins, and a phlebographer to sketch them as a visual aid. This last one made a very nice drawing, with “here there be dragons” and three-masted schooners in the margins, and one of the nurses said he should send a copy to National Phlebographic.
They argued angles of approach, some holding out for a lateral phlebotomy, others insisting on a full-frontal phlebotomy. A few even wanted an exploratory phlebectomy just to find out what was really wrong with her veins, and wanted us down in the phleboratory, stat.
Several men in dark cloaks with pronounced widow’s peaks and glittering eyes drifted silently into the room: some settled in to watch, while others flipped upside down and hung from the ceiling by their toes. They seemed ominous to me, so I nudged one of the nurses and asked who they were. She replied they were phlebomites and phlebotites, but she could never remember which kind hung from the ceiling.
At this point I stood up and said, “Excuse me.”
They all stopped arguing and stared at me. “Who are you?” demanded the phlebosophist.
“I’m her husband,” I answered.
I could see the distaste on every face, and the phlebosophist spoke for all: “Oh, a phlebian.” I could hear the contemptuous word chase itself around the room like the squeaking of bats. “Phleeb.” “Phleeb.” “Phleeb.”
I jumped and snorted loudly as my wife kicked my ankle. “You’re snoring,” she said.
I looked around the empty room. Some kind of medical monitor bleeped in the distance.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she answered. “They just went to get a phlebotomist.”
I made a quick excuse and left for some coffee.