a blog by J.M. Cottle
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Facing needle phobia

Warning: This is part of my effort to conquer needle phobia, so it may trigger you if you are a fellow sufferer. Proceed with caution.

Before I pass out, I know it’s about to happen. My neck gets hot and prickly; the world blurs and shifts; sounds become muddy and the light goes dim. The base of my skull turns to lead and I drift backward and downward, drawn by its weight. I have to sit down, head between my legs, eat something, breathe slowly, cry for a few minutes. Or fifteen minutes.

But if I ignore the signs — if I think I’m stronger than the pull of my own skull — I begin to daydream. I imagine what it might be like to pass out right here, right now, on the table where I’m filling out paperwork for my new job, as if the video we’re watching about blood-borne pathogens is a boring documentary in science class. I throw up on the table while unconscious, and then have to explain to the EMTs that no, it’s okay, I don’t have to go to the hospital. I just have a phobia.

Daydreaming is peaceful. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

The woman next to me says, “Hey, are you okay?”

I lift my head from my paperwork and the harsh light rushes back. My arms are numb and my mouth tastes like bile, but I check the table — a little drool, nothing more. No vomit.

“I passed out,” I explain. “I have a needle phobia.” The first time, I had to ask what happened, but this is the third time, so I know. My head sways with the force of the blood rushing back to it. I start to shake.

“At first I thought you fell asleep because the movie was so boring, but then you started breathing strangely.”

I touch the table again, checking for signs of throwing up, but there are none. It’s hard to tell daydreaming from reality sometimes. I sit on the floor and feel too weak to stand again for a while, answering questions from the nurse and then the EMTs. I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want you to prick my finger. I’ll try to stay calm if you have to but… Please don’t prick my finger.

Then I listen to the video without looking at it, finish my paperwork, and get on with my day.

The video was comparatively tame. There were a few people lying in pools of blood, but blood alone doesn’t normally bother me anymore. I started to feel lightheaded and prickly when they talked about the HEP B vaccination, but I pressed on, not wanting to cry during my orientation, and then someone rolled up their sleeve and the needle neared the skin… That is the last thing I remember.

Doctors have never taken my phobia seriously. They have told me that I should just be glad I don’t have diabetes and that little kids react better than I do. Maybe this dismissive attitude was supposed to help me get over my phobia, but instead of getting over it, I avoided doctors altogether. I never studied abroad for fear of needing injections. I postponed a necessary wisdom tooth extraction for a year because the thought of an IV in my arm made me weak and brought tears to my eyes. Just writing the words “IV in my arm” right now is making my arms shake. Excuse me, I need a few minutes to compose myself.

After I passed out during my new job orientation, I realized that I wanted to do something about this — I had to do something. I started reading about it and learned that it can be more dangerous than other phobias, because it can cause your blood pressure to rise and then abruptly drop, making you pass out, or it can cause you to avoid medical treatment that might save your life.

Many people who claim to share my “fear of needles” don’t realize this. They think that feeling uncomfortable or disgusted when a needle is actually in their arm somehow means they have a phobia. A phobia is not a simple fear: it’s an irrational fear that’s blown way out of proportion until it disrupts your life. When you eat soup for a week because your wisdom teeth hurt too much to let you chew but you still won’t get surgery, that’s a phobia.

I have a whole list of examples I could give you. I was about eight years old and the doctors held me down during a blood test. I woke up from surgery at nine years old and tried to pull out my IV. In one day I had to have a vaccine, a forearm skin test, and a finger prick, and my arms fell asleep and I couldn’t sit up for half an hour. When I finally got my wisdom teeth out, the Valium and the laughing gas couldn’t calm me down and I sobbed and shook until the IV anaesthetic kicked in.

If I’ve established that needle phobia is a serious thing, though, I would rather move on, because my hands are getting too weak to type.

The best recommendation for conquering this phobia is to figure out where it comes from — extra sensitivity to pain, fear of the needle as an object, fear of the involuntary response your body has, connections with past traumatic needle procedures — and to address that. Most needle phobics can be helped by anaesthetic creams and devices that lessen or entirely eliminate the sensation of the needle going in.

For me, I am terrified of the idea of anything piercing my skin, whether I can feel it or not, and it doesn’t help that needles do hurt me a lot and that I tend to lose control of my body when I so much as see a picture of one. I want to know exactly when to expect the prick and the pain, but I don’t want to see the needle itself at all and I certainly don’t want to see it going in.

I didn’t have time to get a prescription cream or buy anything when I had to get a forearm skin test for my job yesterday morning. All I had was a breathing exercise, my person’s hand on my shoulder, and an understanding nurse. I lay down on my back, cried a lot, shook a lot, completely forgot my breathing exercise, and reminded myself that at least it wasn’t a blood test, and within a few minutes I could sit up again.

“I did really well this time,” I said with an unsteady voice, wiping my tears.

“Wow, really?” The nurse smiled as if she was just glad I hadn’t kicked her when she stuck the needle in.

The best thing I believe that I can do to conquer my phobia is to continue to have experiences with needles that are not so bad, like the one I had yesterday. I have little control over the attitude of the nurse, but it makes a big difference. Watching medical dramas has made it easier to see videos of needles, so I will keep doing that. Whenever I see a picture or a video or read a story and my body begins to react, but there is no danger of a needle actually coming near me, I can use a breathing exercise and remind myself that in this moment I am safe.

Look at that. My arms are a little weak and numb, my head is a little light, and my skin feels a little crawly, but I didn’t cry once while writing this post. Take that, phobia. You won’t beat me.

If you’re suffering from needle phobia, these pages might help you out. It took me a few days to get through them because I kept having reactions while reading, but the information was worth the effort.

  • Phobias and Fears: Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help has general information about phobias and a few notes about needle phobia specifically to get you started. No pictures or especially triggering language.
  • The Needle Phobia Page is extensive and specific. It was the most helpful thing I read, but I had to stop several times due to triggering language. Can’t really be helped. No bad pictures though. I highly recommend reading the whole page.
  • The Needle Phobia Information Site is by a doctor and has a section I like about how medical professionals could avoid causing most cases of needle phobia in the first place. It also talks about determining the source of your fear and dealing with that.

7 Responses to Facing needle phobia

  1. In psychology, the established treatment for phobias is incremental exposure and desensitization. So, in your case, watching medical dramas is a first step. Or seeing cartoon pictures, and then progressing to graphic pictures or live-action movies. And so on and so forth.

    Of course, it’s a great idea to try and get to the root of the phobia itself. But when you think about, it’s already an irrational fear, so why rationalize it?

  2. I have a needle phobia as well. My symptoms are different, though. I don’t faint, I just feel nauseated for hours after the exposure. I also think the needle marks are absolutely revolting, and usually have more severe reactions to that than to the actual needle.

  3. I know of a fantastic product they may help. Injex is a needle-free delivery system for diabetics. It is perfect for children who fear needles or for grown adults who do not like needles. The system is absolutely pain free! You will no longer need to be poked with needles to deliver your medication. Check out the website for details at Injex21.com

  4. Today I was due to be put to sleep in order to have an injection in my foot. I battled with my phobia for weeks. I got to the hospital, got in my gown etc. Then heard the nursing staff laughing & joking about needing a GA for a needle. Saying how stupid it was. All the fighting with myself & the little demon phobia, collapesd, dissolved in an instant. So I walked out. I had explained to my consultant, I could’nt lie still & allow them to do the procedure. We decided that putting me to sleep would be best. I vomit, shake,cry,hyper ventilate & my blood pressure rises, heart rate shoots up. I too have a ‘fear’ of things piercing my skin. So I still have a sore foot & I feel humiliated by my treatment. Can’t go back

    • That is really terrible, I’m sorry to hear that Sharon. :( Some medical people can be such jerks about it. Maybe you can try another place? Perhaps talk to the staff before you get into your gown and everything? You deserve to get your foot taken care of. And if you (or your insurance) pays them to give you GA for an injection, they have no right at all to be mean about it — they’re serving you, not the other way around. They often forget that.

  5. My Story!

    My Name is Rick Thomas age 48 Years old I am what you call a Dangerous Severe Needle Phobic witch is a Real Medical Condition! for the past 48 Years I have never had a vaccination or Blood work or any Needle procedures Ever Done on me. Back in 1976 I was on Vacation in Wisconsin with a severe Ear Infection and I was taken to a local doctor in town but I had no idea this Doctor was going to Give me a Shot of Penicillin with a 2 inch Needle and Totally got Violent and very angry and was thrown to the Ground by 4 Doctors and I threw them in the Air against the wall and Ran the Hell out of there the Doctor and Nurses from what I was told got Hurt with my Temper! so for the past 48 years I live in Fear and Anger because I Refuse to Ever have a Needle for any Reason even if I am Dying! I Have No Medical insurance and NEVER WILL!!! I Never go to clinics or Hospital and stay away like the plague! I know this might sound extreme but this is my life and I will not Except being a Lab Rat for anyone and I live my life in fear Every day. I have never been so Angry to see Children go through Hell of Vaccinations These Things are very Painful and your Hurting Children and adults everyone has Rights including children but if the Medical field Keeps Treating patients in this manner More and more people will avoid medical care and stay far away. This past week I had a encounter at a local Walgreens of a woman who walked up to me and grabbed me by the arm and I went into full rage telling her to f off keep that crap away from me. I mean what I say I will Never Ever let Anyone stick me with a Needle because they will be very very sorry they tried its funny I have had all these diseases and I am not dead! case in point the following!

    Chicken pox 1967
    measles 1966
    Mumps 1981
    German Measles 1976
    Whooping Cough 1994
    Shingles On my Face! 1994

    None of those Vaccines prevent you from getting these diseases and the shots will cause you to ramp up the diseases you would get later in life but sooner then you think. its part of a Depopulation agenda to get people to die off sooner!

    Advise For Adults & children.

    1. Never Hold or force anyone to take a Needle They Have Needle phobia
    2. if you see a person who has this condition Refuse to treat them and have them seek Help
    3. Children will soon have Rights to refuse Needles and parents will no longer be able to force this on them. I am working on this goal
    4. More and more Family’s are Refusing Vaccinations and that’s a good thing Never Refuse to treat patients because there not vaccinated

    I Understand Hospitals need to care for patients but this subject Has Bothered me for the past 48 years and there is no need for the neglect of patients living with this fear and for the medical field to ignore and force this on people!

    Please Google Needle Phobia A Real Medical Epidemic That 10-20 percent of the world has! 

  6. I have a severe needle phobia,and i need a sinus surgery in two weeks.a malformation of my sinuses has made me terribly sick for 9 months so this is great news…but I’m terrified of getting the iv and waking up with it in…I’ve been scared of needles since i was an infant,but a few months after my 16th birthday it got a lot worse..I needed a blood test bc i was sick and had been mosdiagnosed,so I told my doctor about my phobia and he just said it’s not so bad.him and a nurse ended up holding me down while I screamed,cried,shook,and begged them to stop. Ever since my phobia is worse than it’s ever been..my surgery is in two weeks and I have already cried for days! Everything about needles scare me,even the vandals they put on after makes me gag. I’m pretty sure of they can’t gas me to sleep before the iv ill end up screaming, crying, begging, throwing up, shaking, and going into a completely panic attack again…I trust my new Doctor, but I wouldn’t trust anyone to give me a shot. I’m hoping and praying my anesthesiologist will gas me to sleep first and have it put before i wake up…I understand my phobia is completely irrational, it won’t hurt that bad,and ill be okay..but I’m still beyond worried and scared…wish me luck…

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