Here is the long awaited needle post. I would say "enjoy" but why should you gather so much amusement from my pain? You all are sick, sick I say! Read away.
And without further ado...
I hate everything about getting shots. I hate the hospital. I hate all sick and infirmed people. I have the smell of the alcohol wipe that they use right before the worst event of your life. I hate the needle. And I hate all the nurses who are not sympathetic to my condition.
Those of us with this condition, belonephobia (fear of needles) or trypanophobia (fear of injections), are commonly referred to as “needle phobes”. My particular type is a vaso-vagal phobe whose primary symptoms are fainting, sweating, nausea, initially high blood pressure and heart rate, followed by a sudden precipitous plunge in blood pressure; the patient tends to react passively. This is typically brought on by the thought, sight or feeling of needle-like objects (and sometimes blood). About 5% of the US population is affected by this, so I am not alone. But there is hope. Therapy for this condition consists of progressive exposure techniques or, which I prefer, simply provide anesthesia to the patient. Anyone who knows me can truly attest that I do suffer from this “condition.”
Alright… background set.
So here we stand… several of us about to embark upon a grand voyage to South America; and this fabulous voyage requires me to update my shots. Tetanus and a Hepatitis A booster. Fun!
Lately, I had been doing better. Jen and I got shots for both our Europe trip and for an Africa trip. I thought I had beat it. I thought I was no longer a needle phobe. But then my old phobe-friend returned. Let me lay some excuses first:
I had gone to bed at 1:30 am the evening before and woke up at 6:00 am that morning.
I had not eaten anything since 3:00 pm Florida time the day before.
I did manage to slam a Pepsi around midnight to help me drive home the previous evening.
I am starving, but oddly enough, I have a ton of energy, like “crack-addict-level” energy.
Jen and I arrive this beautiful morning at the Kaiser nurse’s station to get our shots. Jen has already gotten three shots previously and only needed one more. Me, I was in for two shots. Of course when we arrive the waiting room is chock full of the aforementioned “affirmed” and they all smell bad too! This is not good for our hero.
We sign in and take a number. The waiting begins. Waiting is never good for a needle phobe. It allows the phobia to grow and fester. Add in the excuses mentioned earlier and we almost have a situation on our hands. But the waiting continues…
We have now been waiting for about 45 minutes. I am not doing well. Finally, a short and somewhat rotund nurse calls my name with a slight accent, “Mr. Sheee-perd.” I rise gallantly to my feet and enter the dragon’s liar.
She directs me to a small chair beside an office table. I see the needles on the table. They seem to taunt me. They can sense my fear. And wait, there are THREE needles on the table. Uh-oh. The phobia has now won.
I try to ask the nurse the reason for the third needle, but fears are confirmed by reading the label, typhoid. I had reasoned with the travel nurse a few days earlier that I did not need the typhoid shot because I have gotten it when I went to Africa in 1998. Her argument was that it did not show up on her records, but she never confirmed nor denied my need for it.
Well, the nurse before me had one objective, stab me with every needle on the table. Why? Because they were there. I desperately asked her why I needed the typhoid and how long it was good for and what was typhoid and…. and… and… and all she said, “well the travel nurse says you need it!” She did not know. She did manage to find an info sheet on typhoid, but she handed it to me not for argument’s sake, not that I might read it and some how convince her that I did not need the shot. No, she handed it to me to shut me up. Remember her objective? She would not leave without completing it.
“Okay,” I tell myself, “I can handle one extra shot. Now let’s not forget to remind her of my condition.”
“Uh, I’m not so good with needles.”
“Roll up your sleeve!”
“Uh, meaning I have a tendency to pass-out…”
“You need hold up your sleeve.”
“Uh…is there another nurse around here?” RUN – RUN NOW. You can come back and find a better nicer nurse. RUN. Sweat, heart palpitations, a little nausea, room starting to spin.
“I don’t do needles…”
“Don’t be a wimp. Hold your sleeve up.”
I stare blankly at the nurse. There is no way that I can hold my sleeve up and remain conscious. So, I fix the problem. I take off my shirt. Don’t panic everyone. I am not stripping in the nurse’s station. I merely remove my button up shirt and leave my white undershirt on.
As I remove the shirt, the look of disdain the nurse shoots at me still haunts me in my dreams. She obviously (and quite rudely I might add) rolls her eyes in disgust like this must be the most outlandish thing she has ever experienced. It just may have been, but spare me the look lady!
I get the shirt off and the nurse snorts, “Look, you’re still holding the shirt.” We are at a crossroads here. I understand that I am “holding” the shirt, but it is resting in my lap without any human intervention required. I am not reaching my good arm (the one that will hopefully break my fall when I pass out) across my body whilst holding a sleeve only inches from a dangerous needle that we surely puncture a vital organ when I fall to the floor.
Regardless, the shirt is now removed and little miss sarcastic nurse decides it is the appropriate time to administer “the alcohol wipe.”
Instinctively, I get as close to a prone position as possible. This is of course frustrated in that I am in a chair. I manage slide my butt to the edge of the chair, extend my legs and slump backwards. Almost flat, but not quite.
“What are you doing? Sit up straight!”
Remember, we a vaso-vagal needle phobes are passive. I respectfully sit-up and get alcohol wiped, but I’m done... eyes closed, deep breaths, cold sweats, please don’t vomit, please don’t pass out.
The funny thing is, I never really feel anything. I guess that is a good thing. I do not feel the needle prick into my flesh. I do not feel the death serum seeping in my vein. I do not feel the needle slide out. I do not feel them band-aid up the hole left in my arm. I think it is because, at that point, I am usually preoccupied with other things.
First shot administered. I am conscious.
I open my eyes upon her prompting, “That wasn’t so bad?” Yeah, if you don’t notice that my blood pressure is critically low, all color from my face is gone and there is a considerable amount of sweat pouring from my body and yet to touch my skin would reveal a death-like clamminess. Sure, that wasn’t so bad!?!
“Well, that was your typhoid. Now I am going to give you your tetanus. The typhoid was like a baby shot. The tetanus will hurt a lot more.”
What is she thinking? Where did this nurse go to school? Has she absolutely zero bedside manner? Wha…uhh… can I… aaauuuuhhhh…….
“Give me your other arm,” she commands. And then suddenly she realizes, hey, this guy ain’t doing so well. “Do you want to come back and get the other shots later?”
A little fact about tetanus shot. It hurts. It hurts going in. It hurts going out. It hurts even more two hours later. And even more two days later. Usually a good nurse will ask you whether you are right or left-handed and give you the shot in the other arm because of the associated pain and stiffness. As you may have figured already, my nurse is not a good nurse. I am still debating on whether to report her actions to Kaiser management.
I passively give her my right arm as commanded (yes, I am right-handed). More alcohol wipes. I make my deep breaths loud, mostly so I know I am still conscious and kind of so that she knows I am conscious.
“Relax your arm,” she says with a hint of compassion in her voice, “It will hurt less that way.” Compassion removed.
Eyes closed, deep breaths, cold sweats, please don’t vomit, please don’t pass out.
Second shot administered. I am conscious.
Another command to relax my arm. Another alcohol wipe.
Eyes closed, deep breaths, cold sweats, please don’t vomit, please don’t pass out.
Third shot administered. I am conscious.
I rise to my feet. I am standing still, the room is definitely moving. I stagger towards the exit to the waiting room. I hear a faint call in the background, “If you no feel well, take two aspirin.” And with that I burst through the door to needle freedom.
Jen might have a more accurate account of what happened next. I managed to make my way to the chairs and promptly resumed the prone position. Jen was called away to get here one shot.
My arm still hurts. And I have cold sweat nightmares. But I am now safe to travel abroad. Was it all worth it? I hope so. Ask me when we return from South America.