Needles are scary

When I was going to nursing school, I remember that the first week we started with the very basics, things such as how to change the sheets on a bed and how to uncap a needle. In that very first week we weren't even trusted to give some type of citrus fruit an injection; all we little baby nurses could manage was to practice taking the cap off.

Well, of course, the second I took the cap off my needle I promptly stuck myself in the finger with it. And cried. It was not my finest moment, but when in this column do I ever discuss the moments I'm most proud of? I once bought lunch for the person ahead of me in line who had forgotten their wallet; there, I am not a terrible person, and I saved the receipt to prove it.

My needle-stick incident didn't begin my fear of needles, but it certainly didn't help. Now, I'm not someone who faints at the sight of a needle or blood (a good thing, since I decided to continue with that whole nursing school thing), but I think anyone sane has a good, healthy fear of a needle being pointed at their flesh.

Some people think that it is impossible to be a nurse and also be afraid of needles. True, I give injections to people all day long. I poke them in the stomach, the thigh, the arm, and frequently state those dreaded words, "roll over and pull down your pants." I am not squeamish about this in the least. The only thing that might give me the heebie-jeebies is giving someone an injection in the face, so I guess I don't have a future in giving Botox injections. As long as the needle is facing away from me, I really don't have any problem with it — at that point the needle and I are on the same team.

Part of my job sometimes involves teaching people to give themselves their own shots.

"It's actually really easy!" I chirp at them, calmly walking them through the steps and congratulating them on their first successful shot. I do not admit that this is something I would never be able to do, and if the need were to occur, I would have to draft my neighbor into doing it for me.

This week I finally went through with something I had been putting off since January: I had some labs drawn. I had actually put this off for so long that I had to sheepishly call my doctor's office and ask for new orders to be written since the original ones had expired. I didn't really have a good excuse ready for her as to why I had not already had my lab work done. "Uh "… I've been working a lot," I told the medical assistant. She didn't buy it: "Don't you work at the hospital?" Yes. Yes, I do. My excuses were obviously springing leaks faster than that inflatable kayak in my parents' garage that my dad diligently patches each year.

I went into the lab and moved quickly through the process. One second I was registering and the next I was sitting in that scary brown chair with the moveable armrests. My hands were sweating, as were other, more odorous places. I could feel it trickling down my shirt. "Make a fist," the phlebotomist gently directed. I was barely able to comply; the fear was making me go limp. I'm a little like those fainting goats: When my body senses sudden anxiety, it just wants to collapse limply onto the floor. "Little poke!" and he was right, it was a little poke, I could barely feel a thing. My heart raced, I babbled incomprehensibly, and it was over. It was easy, the phlebotomists are excellent at what they do. But next year I'll still probably put my labs off for eight months again. Needles are scary, and I feel a little betrayed in those moments that we're not on the same team.

Zoe Abel has a pretty awesome gauze and tape band-aid to show for her big adventure. You can contact her at

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