Rosemary McLeod on her lifelong fear of needles

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9 June 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Those calling the shots need an injection of understanding for people facing lifelong phobias, says Rosemary.

If you find watching TV news a trial these days and leave the room or bury your face in a cushion to avoid watching, me too. Those of us with trypanophobia are sorely tried since Covid appeared.

I’ve just discovered this impressive word for my lifetime fear of hypodermic needles and injections. That up to two- thirds of people could be fellow sufferers is a relief, because I’ve always felt it as a personal shame, all about me.

It started with my first polio injection. We lined up to get jabbed by a nurse – they still wore white back then – with a vicious looking hypodermic needle. That didn’t mean anything to me until a boy ahead of me had a trickle of the pink solution come out of his arm – along with a bit of blood.

After my jab, I thought I was OK until I felt sick and keeled over. I’d fainted. I spent the rest of the day in the staff room lying down, feeling sick and being quietly ignored. Someone, a teacher I guess, drove me home. I don’t even know if I told my family.

That set the pattern for the next jab. I fainted again. They gave us something to drink in a paper cup the time after that, and our TB jab – which again we weren’t warned about – was a quick stamp with many needles that didn’t bother me.

These were compulsory inoculations, by the way. Nobody argued about it. All my life, I’ve covered my eyes when injections appear in movies or on TV, and sometimes had to leave the room if the jab was lovingly extended long enough for nausea to kick in. Details describing the jab alongside visuals only makes matters worse.

I’ve complained about it. I’ve yelled about it. I find the nightly jab shots on TV maddening and unnecessary, and I suspect they’re only making people like me queasier than ever. We get it. Jabs. But in every bulletin?

I refused blood tests, too, for years. I finally compromised when I wanted flu shots, by having them in my backside. The loss of dignity was worth it.

All that avoidance was a luxury, it turned out, and ended with the complicated births of my children, all involving punctures all over the place by sharp metal objects. Other surgeries followed. I still held out, resisting shots in my upper arms where the jabs went all those years ago. Until recently.

It takes a very small amount of imagination to get why some people – up to an estimated 16% of us – are still avoiding Covid jabs. They have the same phobia as me. I’m not sure it’s irrational, either. It’s no joke to have your skin punctured with a sharp object, however tiny.

But I’ve had my Covid shots. For the first time since I was a kid, I had an upper arm injection, and now know I can do it. But I don’t have to like it.

There’s no point in bullying people like me, arguing with us, telling us we’re stupid, least of all waving a needle around in front of us to show it’s “harmless” though they recommend aversion therapy. Joke. Try finding a good therapist, wait a couple of years for an appointment, then try paying them.

Some things do help. Not treating us as if we’re unreasonable is a start. Sitting or lying down helps while you have the jab; you can’t faint if you’re not standing up, and not being hurried is good. Keep your eyes shut, do deep breathing, or talk flat out about anything at all while it’s happening.

It’s over quicker than you think, and the next time won’t feel anything like as bad.

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