I thought what I feared most about chemo was losing my hair. But the other night, when I got into bed and closed my eyes, I had a realization, a realization which led to what I can only describe as a mild, midnight panic attack:
I hate needles. I really hate needles. I look at a needle, I get a cold, clammy feeling.
“What if I faint when they put in the IV for the drip?” I asked Mike as he drifted off to sleep, just after midnight.
“You’ll have to tough it out,” he murmured, mostly asleep.
“WHAT?” I raised my voice, trying to wake him up. “You can’t ‘tough out’ fainting! It’s a physical reaction. The needle goes in, I go all pale…”
Mike answered me with a snore. He does not lose sleep over needles.
I lay in bed and remembered the last time I “toughed it out.” I gave blood at the blood bank, a couple of years ago. The needle went in, the blood started to flow, and the next thing I knew, a bunch of nurses surrounded me, pressed an ice pack to my forehead. “Stay with us,” they told me…and I tried, I really tried.
They told me never to give blood again.
“You can be the one who hands out the cookies,” they instructed me.
I come by this fear of needles honesty. When I was just a chubby girl of eleven or so, the doctors thought I had mono, and insisted on a blood test. My dad was never, ever, even slightly involved with non-emergency medical care for the kids, so it was odd that he drove me to the hospital lab, but he did.
Maybe my mom sent my dad because it was the weekend. Maybe my mom sent my dad because she thought he would make it fun. Maybe my mom sent my dad because she didn’t want to be associated with a phobia she just knew was coming, and wanted at least one thing not to be her fault.
On that day, my dad was in charge. Maybe he was nervous because he wasn’t used to taking kids to the doctor. Or maybe my dad thought that getting blood drawn was really no big deal, so he could joke about it. Or maybe my dad thought it would be funny to make me nervous as hell. My dad had a very broad sense of humor.
I sat in the front seat of the car cuddled next to my dad as we went to the lab. My dad had one hand on the wheel as he described how they take blood. With the other hand, he demonstrated just how thick he thought the needle might be, using his thumb and forefinger. “They take the blood with a very big and large square needle… “ he’d say, “…about soooo big!”
“And, guess what?” he’d say laughing, “I’m sure I won’t feel a thing!”
And even though I didn’t believe a word he said, and even though I laughed, I became more panicked by the second. By the time I sat in the chair with my arm extended, I started to feel weird, and while they poked and prodded and tried to find a vein, I started to feel weirder. At one point, the technician asked me to please “stop moving my vein,” while he proceeded to move the needle around against the crease in my arm, like the second hand on an analog clock.
They had given me, an innocent fat kid, an amateur.
I can only assume they didn’t like fat kids.
And that’s why I faint when they come at me with a needle.
So, for the first time since I made the decision to go forward with the chemo, when I should be sleeping (or at least up worrying about something not quite so childish), I am up worrying about what it will be like sitting with a needle in my arm for two and a half hours.
I want to be badass during chemo, and fainting is so not cool. And that is also why I don’t want anyone to take me to chemo. Sometimes, it is better not to have witnesses.