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This Won’t Hurt a Bit

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I was a severe asthmatic when I was a child. Allergies would trigger an asthma attack, which would become bronchitis and sometimes, pneumonia. I ended up in the emergency room several times, with an oxygen mask over my face and needles in my arms. I’ve developed an aversion to needles almost as intense as my aversion to hospitals.


It’s strange to me, because I can view the possibility of physical injury (I’ve experienced a lot) with equanimity. Even though I’m familiar with the pain that results, I still pursue dangerous activities: bike racing, horseback riding, taekwondo sparring, cooking. (My boyfriend once asked me if I could please take up a non-helmet sport—like competitive knitting.) So it’s not the general idea of pain that bothers me. Needles don’t even hurt that much. But I can’t bear them.


God forbid that I should ever have to give myself a shot. I don’t know if I could do it. How do diabetics give themselves insulin shots? What courage. If I see a needle coming toward me, I can’t help flinching and pulling away. If I could, I would run. But needles seem to be very much a part of my life.


I’ve had quite a few IVs. In the ER, and before operations—like a familiar enemy, the big needle is there. They stick it into your arm vein (usually right above the elbow). This needle will first put you to sleep and then make sure you receive the fluids and medication your body needs to survive the trauma of invasive medical treatment. So it’s a good thing. I should be happy to see that needle.


But when I see the large steel sharp thing coming for me, I become five years old. I wail. I whine. Sometimes I cry. I ask, “Is this going to hurt?” They always say no, it will make me feel better. I always say, “Tell me before you put it in.” (Some nurses like to distract you, then shove the needle in when you’re not looking. I hate that.) I have to say it’s never as bad as I think it’s going to be. But I always think it’s going to be the death of me.


I get allergy shots. When I started, I had to go once a week. Having lasted through over a year of allergy shots, I now only have to go once a month. I get three shots on each arm. I still turn my head and tense my body and grimace as the doctor injects me. I also occasionally go to an acupuncturist; acupuncture has been a remarkable and effective treatment for my pain and imbalances in the body. I still hate each tiny (practically painless) needle as it goes in.


I do find that attempting to explain my phobia to the doctor beforehand helps prepare us for the shock we experience together when he sticks it in and I scream. Sometimes I talk about myself as if I were advising a wrangler how to handle livestock: “It’s better if you come around where you can be seen and approach from the front. That’s right.” Sometimes they try to talk to me to calm me down when they see me getting upset, as if I were a house pet. That’s not a technique that works for me. I want to know just before the needle goes in, so I can start holding my breath. Aside from that, I need silence so I can maintain my warrior-like mental preparation.


Yes, I know that the use of needles in medicine resulted in huge progress and reduction in mortality. Obviously needles are a brilliant medical innovation and the best method for delivering medications, nutrients, and serums into the bloodstream as painlessly and as quickly as possible. But I can hardly wait until anything that needs to be delivered into my body can be inhaled, sprayed on my skin, or drunk—preferably with some vodka.

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