Landmark moment alert: I took blood for the first time!
It’s been 15 years since that day I got the TB jab, fainted in the school corridor and inherited my trypanophobia. I even gave myself a black eye once, keeling over face first into a doctor’s carpet. And then there was the time I fainted in the dentist’s chair and woke up disappointed that he hadn’t done the filling while I was unconscious.
It’s a horrible feeling to know that you’ll probably faint or throw up every time you’re faced with a needle. You feel ill and embarrassed and it’s a pain. Coming to medical school I was afraid that I’d make a fool of myself by fainting on a ward or in a clinic. I was more afraid of that than of all the books and exams and late nights. But I never thought of it as a good enough reason not to go to medical school; it seemed so stupid. It didn’t seem worth it. And so I came and crossed my fingers, and I did the CBT and trusted to my favourite strategy of ‘Yeah, let’s worry about that tomorrow’.
Over the last few months I’ve heard many people say they’d love to be a doctor, nurse, midwife or whatever but that they’re too afraid of needles. But I’ve also met a surprisingly large number of medical students who say they don’t like them either. In fact, according to an occupational health nurse here (the last lucky soul to stick a needle in me), med students kick up the biggest fuss of all. We’re wusses, although maybe it’ll make us more understanding when we do it to other people.
But things are a-changing. A year ago I didn’t realise how much help there was out there for needle phobia, and it really does seem to work (though I couldn’t tell you how). Having gone through the CBT process I seem to feel more in control of my body’s responses. I know I don’t have to faint so I don’t, and haven’t done for months. The slightly embarrassing applied tension technique gives me something to do in that nasty anticipation stage; I don’t whether it works by raising my blood pressure or just causes a distraction, but it helps. To the point where, last week at GP, I sat for a hour watching my friends learn to take blood from each other, and then did it myself with absolutely no bother at all. Gloves, tourniquet, finger on the bulging vein, needle, blood, the lot. The first time I ever intentionally broke a person’s skin, which is pretty mind blowing in itself. And I wasn’t even afraid of fainting – I was looking forward to it.
I’m not saying I’m not still worried about going into hospital and fainting – there are needles and there are needles. And then there’s surgery! And I still hate getting blood taken and I’m not about to start seeking it out. But perhaps it’s not as bad as all that, and maybe these things can be overcome with a little willpower. Perhaps we shouldn’t let fears hold us back.