One of my favorite ways to get to know somebody is to ask them about their greatest fear. It’s the perfect question to break the ice after an introduction, or first date. Some people are afraid of spiders – others fear abandonment and being lonely.
My biggest fear is a tiny one; needles. Even as a millennial in my 30’s, I have yet to outgrow this fear, which was developed during an incident as a toddler.
In Ohio, Columbus Parks and Recreation offered free vaccinations to the local community. Our family took advantage of this program because it was friendly on the budget and close by to our home.
These trips placed an unholy fear in me, which felt a lot more like a trip to prison than the local recreation center. One such trip was the reason for my mortal fear.
One day, Mom packed all of us in the car and took us for a ride. At the time, I couldn’t have been more than a few years old. However, I remember the day vividly. It was the first time I remembered getting vaccinated.
After packing up the stroller, she walked us inside the building. Instantly, I was afraid. Behind the doors of a large room, I heard nothing but cries and screams from children. Were we going inside that room?
To call this experience “traumatic” would be an understatement.
Eventually, it was our turn to enter the room. We sat down in front of a table full of painful looking instruments. In an effort to comfort me, Mom held me on her lap while the nurse prepped the needles.
Eventually, the nurse held out my arm and gave me a sharp poke. Lightning-like pain flashed from my arm. The nurse had struck a nerve.
The screams that left my young mouth were unconsolable as the pain raced through my body.
That day, I was too upset to eat the cookie the nurse offered me. It wasn’t her intention to hit my nerve, nor do I hold it against her. This doesn’t negate the fact that even as an adult, I have a mortal fear of getting poked with a needle.
The years went by and my Mom did her best to relieve me of the fear I carried for needle pricks. Her efforts worked a lot better on the other children than it did for me.
My older brother, in particular, once received a shot and she tried to use the same trickery, used to convince him it was painless.
After they returned from the doctor, she told me how brave Steve was to have received his shot, which was a special shot used by the doctor.
The “boop shot” was quick and painless, Mom said, making a “boop!” noise to show me how quickly it would be over.
On my next visit to the doctor’s office, I was determined to discover what the boop shot was all about. Unfortunately, the doctor had no idea what I was talking about when I asked if I was going to get a boop shot.
In terror, I realized that I wasn’t going to get the boop shot, sparking panic as the doctor prepared a regular needle.
“The boop shot!” I screamed. “I want the boop shot!”
Holding me down, they gave me another painful shot and I felt betrayed for being told a story that wasn’t real, like the moment a child realizes Santa isn’t coming.
I never adjusted to the pain of vaccinations. As I grew older, my fight simply got stronger and it became harder to hold me down while I screamed. One incident required the involvement of five nurses (not including the doctor) to hold me down as I screamed in protest.
I think the lesson behind these stories is a reflection of how much a small incident, or needle, can cause lifelong trauma.
Is my fear of needles irrational? Possibly. However, it all originated from one short instant where a nurse missed the mark and hit a nerve.