It is estimated that on the continent of North America, 10% of adults and 25% of children have some form of anxiety, fear or phobia of needles. There are a variety of ways that these problems can manifest and a variety of reasons why people end up with them in the first place. Fortunately, there are actually many things that can be done to help ease these issues so that those who suffer from them can still get the good medical care that is vital to living a happy and healthy life.
The big problem is actually finding people within the medical profession who are willing to understand and empathize with this situation. Many people, both within the health care field and in our world in general, have been conditioned to think that having any form of a fear of needles is just cowardly and “stupid”. The big problem with this line of thinking is that it actually results in people who are afraid of needles not seeking or receiving the treatment they need. And if that is happening, it means that the numbers I stated at the start of this article are false in the worst possible way: because the number of people who are afraid and not getting help makes those numbers higher.
Here is a fabulous TED Talk with Dr. Amy Baxter about this issue that I wish everyone would take some time to watch. This video focuses mainly on the effect that indifference to needle phobia during childhood has on society, but as such it does also touch on how that fear tends to carry on to adulthood and on how the fact that if this happens it is a serious issue. Also, Dr. Baxter’s numbers are even worse then mine. According to her, 25% of adults and 2/3 of children are afraid–and without proper treatment, that fear does not go away by itself.
This is a problem we cannot continue to ignore!
My First Blood Test In 18 Years:
The thing is, depending on the level of fear someone feels about needles treating this problem can be done with relative ease and minimal drama. The key, at least from my experience as someone who -needed- help with this, is to find out what it is that actually makes someone afraid. I had several concerns:
— How much is this going to hurt?
Solution: I had the option of using EMLA cream to numb the area where the needle would go. There are a variety of topical agents that can be used for this throughout the world if you think you need one. Do a bit of digging (there’s a great resource for needle phobia here.) and find out what’s available in your area. I didn’t end up choosing to do this, BUT the nurse and I agreed prior to my test that if we learned pain is my problem, I would do this in the future.
Luckily for me, we learned that’s not my big issue. For me getting a blood test in my elbow hurts about as much as when my mom clips my big toes. Something I can’t do because of cerebral palsy and balance issues. Do NOT feel ashamed if pain IS your issue! Pain tolerance and pain triggering are both very personal issues that effect everyone differently. I can handle a blood test–especially now that we’re using music to keep me calm–but I can’t handle holding a hot cup of coffee worth crap!
— I don’t want to see the needle
For me, this one is huge. I. Do. Not. Want. To. See. The. Sharp. Pointy. Object. About. To. Be. Inserted. Into. My Body. My research has informed me that there are people who reject the idea of anything piercing their skin. Think about it! Up until about 200 years ago the idea of anything piercing our skin was a horrible thing. It has been suggested that some people have genetically passed down aversions to this. For me it just feels weird and makes me anxious. However, others appear to experience vomiting, tears, urination, shortness of breath and even fainting due to this.
For my problem, the solution actually presented itself as we were getting me ready to get the blood test. Sunglasses. Yes, I realize that a person can just look away, but for me sunglasses allowed me to maintain a more normal position and still kept me pretty clueless about what was happening. Once I knew that the spot for the test had been cleaned, I just closed my eyes (much less weird to do that behind sunglasses!), listened to my iPod and let Kendra (the nurse) insert the needle.
— I have massive pre-needle anxiety that can make the procedure a LOT worse if it’s left to run its course.
Keeping my mind busy prior to the draw, both at home and while waiting, is something that made a huge difference in helping me to remain calm and therefore have an easier time with the overall process. At home I deliberately drank 3 large glasses of water throughout the morning to make sure I would be well hydrated. I put moisturizing cream on the area where the needle would (likely) be going so that the skin would work -with- the needle. I did exercises to ensure maximum blood flow. And I listened to my iPod while having my elbow wrapped in my heating pad for 10-15 minutes before we left.
At the Doctor’s office, I listened to my iPod while I waited and visited with my brother until it was time for me to go in. I kept my coat on until it was time for the test, preserving the warmth I had set up at home and by wearing the winter coat while traveling. Because my balance isn’t great, we had me sit in the doctor’s roller chair and used the examining bed as a place for my arm, rather than having me lie down on the bed (since it’s high and that makes it hard for me to get on there and stay still.)
Kindra and Dr. Wilson (whom I believe is studying with Dr. Andrawis?), along with my brother Mikey, kept me focused on talking about things like the trip my boyfriend took from Pennsylvania to visit me last week, what we all wanted for Christmas, and where Mikey and I would go to lunch after the draw. This allowed them to mix in any instructions about what we were doing without me losing the calm I had gained from my iPod. Once we were all ready, we put my headphones back on, I extended my arm and looked moreso toward Mikey. We turned my music on and the test’s physical prep–putting on the tourniquet, applying sterilizing cream, finding a vein–happened, followed by about one second of mild discomfort (again: YMMV! This is how -my- test went.) The overall test itself–tourniquet to putting the sticky tape onto the cotton ball, took about two minutes with a butterfly needle. That’s pretty quicky, considering that my brother counted four vials swapped when I asked him about it after.
The added bonus of my experience is that Dr. Andrawis had the foresight to actually get the blood needed for the tests he would want for a yearly physical, as well as what we needed for my arthritis. While I am now confident that I could go and get another blood test much easier if I need one, that doesn’t mean I want to get poked any more than is actually necessary. I don’t need to love the feel of something going into my veins–I just need to be able to be able to sit and chill while it’s being done. It’s better for me, my family, and the nurses and doctors who want to help me.
Preventative medicine, including blood tests, is awesome! It can help us catch or even avoid problems before they are able to get out of control. By doing this, we also have the opportunity to reduce or avoid procedures that suck far worse then a one of the mill blood test ever could.
For those still suffering from needle anxiety, fear or phobia, I will end with these three thoughts:
1. You are not alone. Look at those stats again. You might not know who your fellow needle haters are, but we do exist and you’re not crazy! Also, it’s not just a “little kid” problem where you need to “grow up”. Consider this: needle phobia is special because it is a phobia that we need to face (unlike, say, clowns) but which we don’t get to face on a daily basis like someone might face an elevator. Ultimately, though, it is a fear that can either save or destroy our lives, so face it we must!
2. There is nothing shameful about being afraid. Anyone who tells you otherwise is stupid! Fear is the body’s reaction to something it has acknowledged as a threat. Would you just sit there and let someone run you through with a sword? Hell no! But that’s what happened centuries again. Piercing weapons were totally the norm. So does it really come as any shock that some of us subconsciously react like we’re gonna die if we get poked? Not in the slightest.
3. There is help and there is hope! Again, I urge anyone with strong needle fears to watch the video I posted and to check out this link that goes to a comprehensive needle phobia page. I also strongly encourage you to take time to talk to your doctor about this fear. (And if you get an idiot, find a new doctor! If they can’t tactfully and empatheticly help you with “I’m afraid of needles.” how are they going to be if something that’s actually BAD ever happens to you?) The purpose of medicine is to reduce pain and suffering in any and every way possible by protecting our bodies from disease, disability and damage. If something doesn’t have to hurt, it shouldn’t.
I won’t say “If I can do it so can you!” because I know this is something that works differently for everyone. I -will- say, though, that it -can- be done. You just need to work with your doctor, nurse(s), phlebotomist, etc. to figure out what issues you are dealing with in regard to your fear and to find adequate solutions to help alleviate them.