Fear of needles

I’m not afraid of needles. Injections, blood tests, I don’t love ‘em, but I’m not scared of them. As long as I’m the patient, I’m okay. I could never have entered the medical field because I can’t bear to watch someone else being pricked and prodded.

Shaina’s earliest symptoms- long before we had heard of BPAN- included life-threatening seizures. Our priority was to control those seizures with medication. We didn’t realise that Shaina would need regular blood tests to confirm that we were giving her the correct dosage of anti-seizure medication. When we weighed them against our fear of her extreme fits blood tests sounded tame. We quickly realised that there would be nothing simple about drawing Shaina’s blood.

BPAN kids tend to have weak veins, plus Shaina has inherited her mom’s near-invisible capillaries. Our first year of regular blood tests was dreadful. The nurses would probe and poke her for up to an hour each time, trying to find a viable vein. Shaina was a banshee during those sessions. Tears would stream down her crimson face, and her breathing would grow shallow and erratic. Naomi and I would sing, hug, stroke and reassure her while our eyes shot daggers at the hapless nursing staff. Eventually, they would surrender and call for a neonatal anaesthetist to work her magic on our girl.

After months of working with a patient doctor, we found the sweet spot- a good vein in Shaina’s right foot. Still, our smiley Shaina clams up every three months when we walk into Dr Vicky’s surgery. Whenever Shaina faces a needle, I’m on edge. It’s hard enough to watch; I never wanted to be the person to jab her. We don’t get to choose.

One of the many challenges of Shaina’s condition is that her brain can’t tell she’s eaten enough. Shaina’s doctors grew concerned last year when her face ballooned and her weight rocketed. Her endocrinologist suggested Ozempic, an antidiabetic medication that helps regulate weight. I was happy with his suggestion- until he explained that Ozempic is a weekly injection. I’d seen Shaina’s needle-related trauma enough times to know that I never, ever wanted to be the dad who would inject her.

Naomi was, as usual, more pragmatic. She ordered the Ozempic vials, told Shaina to expect a small prick and did the deed. It wasn’t easy, but it needed to be done, so she did it. I applauded from the sidelines (Shaina instructs us to clap after medication anyway) and made sure not to watch. I was relieved that Mom was happy to administer The Needle. I am happy to do my share of the broad range of tasks to assist Shaina- as long as you leave me out of the shots. I switched off the part of my brain that whispered, “Your time will come”.

This week, it did.

We arranged for Naomi to get away for a few days. I’ve managed the whole medicine regimen in her absence before, but now the list includes that dreaded injection. Babysitting, carpooling and managing Shaina’s unpredictable sleep dissolved in the face of the looming trauma of jabbing her. Naomi offered a nugget of advice: “Do it first thing in the morning and get it over with”. That’s classic Naomi- Take the bull by the horns. I’m the opposite- I’ll delay the tough stuff until it cannot be postponed further.

Naomi called daily for a status report. I was pleased to update her that the house was still standing, the children hadn’t starved, and Shaina was on schedule with all her meds. As soon as I’d hang up, I’d remember the hurdle that still lay ahead: Ozempic. Her shot was due on the day before her mom would fly home.

Sunday morning. Zero Hour. I was in a state. Would I know how to work the “pen”? How would Shaina react? What if she hated me for hurting her?
I took Naomi’s advice and loaded up the injection as soon as she hopped out of bed. When Shaina saw me coming, she dashed off, ducking her head as she ran. No sweat; she does that for oral meds too. I quickly caught her, explained what I was about to do (very important for kids with neurological challenges), squeezed her upper arm as Naomi had trained me and thrust the needle into it. Click, click, click. It was over. Shaina hadn’t so much as whimpered. She smiled, insisted I applaud, and walked off to wake her brother.

Earlier, when I uncapped the injection, I was surprised at how thin the needle was. Then I surprised myself at how calm I had been through the process. Shaina’s casual acceptance of her weekly shot had been a relief too. I guess we all invest too much time, headspace and energy worrying about monstrous fears that turn out to be pinpricks.

My weekend goal was to survive Shaina’s injection

Published by rabbiarishishler

Husband, father and rabbi of Chabad of Strathavon in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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