Needles

16 Oct

I had to get a TB test today. Well, the first part of a TB test. I have to go back in two days to have the test read. I had to get the test because I joined a volunteer program in Oakland Public Schools and anyone who works there has to not have tuberculosis, apparently.

I’m supposed to have the results by tomorrow. That won’t happen because I waited for so long. I figure now I can at least tell them that I had the first part done. Yes, I put off doing this for as long as possible. Much longer than was reasonable. I was terrified of going to get this test done. I am terrified of needles.

Here are two anecdotes from my life in sports medicine to illustrate my phobia:

One: My first year as a grad assistant I worked soccer. In the first game, one of the players went up for a header and cracked heads with another player. This is pretty common. She got a gash just under her left eyebrow. She had blood all over her face. I started walking on the field and putting on my gloves but the ref hadn’t noticed what had happened. I yelled “Referee!” at him and he stopped the game. Ha. That made me feel like a boss. I took her over to the sideline and she finally stopped bleeding. This cut was at least an inch long and had pulled open at least half an inch. With a cut like that you can see a lot of subcutaneous gunk. Layers of dermis, connective tissue, etc. It’s kind of gross. I taped a gauze pad over her eye and sent her to the ER. None of this bothered me at all.

Two: In undergrad when I was working basketball, the soccer team’s trainer brought two guys over to the arena during a game. They were practicing that night and two players had knocked heads and both of them had cuts that needed to be stitched up. Very similar to the girl in anecdote one. After the game, our team doc asked me to stay and assist. Not even like up close assisting; the soccer trainer did that. I was just in the room to fetch stuff if need be etc. If you’ve ever had stitches you know doctors use this little curved needle, and the whole thing is pretty straightforward. Thread a suture through the skin, tie it off, repeat until the wound closes. This was horrible to watch. I tried to look away, distract myself with other things in the room, etc. I was lightheaded. I felt like I was having a hot flash. I made myself do it. There was never any doubt that I would do it. I could have made myself do it every day if I had needed to. But that would not have been ideal. Maybe if I’d needed to be around sutures more it would have stopped being a big deal, who knows. But that one time was definitely a big deal. It was a very quick and tidy procedure. There was no blood. I barely made it.

So to compare: two very similar situations, and the one that most people would find unpleasant didn’t bother me at all. The one that most people would find routine freaked me out. I was involved a fair number of other cut/suture situations*, but those are the two that stick with me the most.

*Including two different field hockey players who had cuts through their lower lip and needed stitches on both the inside and outside. Field hockey is surprisingly intense.

OK. Back to the matter at hand. To test for TB, you have some stuff injected under your skin. It makes a little bubble. It’s called a Mantoux test or a PPD test, I’m not an expert. I could be more of an expert, but looking it up on Wikipedia and writing this paragraph is making me queasy. I had to get up and get a drink of water after I skimmed the Wikipedia article. I had to look it up on Wikipedia because I had my eyes closed when I had the injection today so I couldn’t give you any firsthand info.

The last time I had a shot was a tetanus booster six years ago. I needed it for grad school. That one was pretty easy. I had our team doctor give it to me in the training room. He brought the vaccine in a little insulated lunchbox. That guy was a character. It wasn’t so bad. I just put it out of my mind until he’d seen all the athletes he came to see and then I told him I didn’t like needles. He laughed at me, which made me feel a little better for whatever reason. Then it was over and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. This TB test is different. I can see the bubble under my skin right now. I have to go back to the clinic in two days. I’ll have a pit in my stomach until I leave there on Wednesday.

The fact that it’s an irrational fear is the worst part. I have the metacognitive skills to know that this whole thing is objectively stupid. I’m also afraid of heights. Not nearly to the same degree, but it’s there. Living on the top floor of a highrise apartment building mostly eliminated it. But that fear at least makes some sense in my head. I could have fallen off the roof and died. It was at least a fear of something bad that could plausibly happen. I’ve tried to make myself not mind needles but I can’t. Since it only comes up once every several years I have the luxury of not thinking about it.

I don’t know why I feel the way I do about needles. I know that needles don’t cause much physical pain. I do know I’ve had this fear ever since I can remember. When I was a kid, the nurse at my pediatrician’s office had this little device to prick your finger in order to take blood. It wasn’t even a long needle, it looked like a Zippo lighter. Once I threw such a fit at being subjected to this device that everyone in the waiting room could hear me yelling and whining. My mom was highly embarrassed. I must have been five or six.

I’ve been lucky to be incredibly healthy my whole life. I haven’t needed to see a doctor since high school. I know that won’t continue. At some point I’ll have some kind of malady that will require doctor visits, bloodwork, maybe even an IV or something. An IV sounds like the most unpleasant thing in the world to me. So that’ll happen and I’ll deal with it. For now I’m looking forward to Wednesday and forgetting that needles exist for awhile.

I’m sorry that there weren’t any pictures to jazz this post up. There’s no way I’m hitting Google Images to look for needle pictures. And if you think that I’m just a big pussy who needs to get over it then I have a message for you from the jerk store.

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One Response to “Needles”

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