Like a lot of people, I emerged into adulthood with a fear of needles. My childhood experiences with grouchy people wielding syringes had left me so traumatised that just walking past a clinic of any sort would make me nervous.
Likewise, the faint smell of surgical disinfectant reminded me of childhood wounds in need of stitches, usually at some unsocial hour by a doctor who had been dragged away from his dinner or a game of cricket or his study of medical abnormalities preserved in formaldehyde.
Way back then, the doctors I encountered didn’t see the merit of focusing on the niceties of good bedside manners when dealing with children.
I still have vivid memories of a school nurse restraining my arm in her vice-like grip while she stabbed me with a syringe fitted with a needle that scared the bejeezus out of me. My arm hurt for a week afterwards.
Then there was the dentist who threatened to pull all my teeth out when I began squirming as he pierced the inside of my mouth with a needle that was so long I was convinced it would reach all the way into my brain and send me to sleep permanently.
Despite my fear, I’ve donated blood three times – at the request of friends who sought to replace the blood used by their relatives during surgery. Had they not asked me to help, I doubt I would have done so of my own accord.
Each time as I lay on a donation couch, the thought of the blood flowing out of my body through a needle in my arm scared me so much that I convinced myself (after less than five minutes) that the nurse who had disappeared after hooking me up had forgotten all about me.
She was probably in a vacant examination room telling a colleague all about her hot-blooded date from the night before, while my life was being drained into a plastic bag that would soon burst and make a huge bloody mess all over the donation room floor.
But it’s not all bad news. You see, for some inexplicable reason I find that needles don’t have the same power over me as they used to. The first time I looked a needle in the eye, so to speak, was when I underwent acupuncture treatment for a chronic pain in my lower back.
As I lay on an examination table, Mr Wong began sticking his long, thin acupuncture needles into my body. The pain was minimal, similar to that associated with a bite from a small ant. As I slowly took on the appearance of a human pincushion, I experienced a pleasant tingling sensation radiating from the base of those needles. I wasn’t anxious in the least. Heck, I even watched closely as Mr Wong put some needles into the back of my hand.
When my acupuncturist left the room for a few minutes, I waved my hands backwards and forwards and watched as the needles swayed like bamboo in a strong wind.
“A hypodermic needle is slightly thicker than the needles used for acupuncture,” I told myself.
“Maybe it’s just slightly more painful too. My childhood fears probably make needles seem more painful than they really are.”
Two weeks later, I stood outside a beauty salon, where I had an appointment for an anti-ageing technique called microneedling. In a few minutes, I’d allow a stranger to repeatedly roll 162 tiny needles all over my face. I’d been told that the minute punctures in my skin would promote the growth of collagen and give me a fresher, less wrinkled skin.
I seriously don’t know what sort of mind-altering drugs I’d been taking to agree to that lot.
The woman who “rolled” my face that day was bright and vigorous. Possibly too vigorous. She used that roller as if my epidermis were made of thick buffalo hide. Up and down, left and right, and diagonally she rolled as if her life depended on it.
I began to bleed. I know so because I saw the discarded medical wipes that my enthusiastic beautician tossed nonchalantly into a nearby bin.
Is it normal to bleed with this procedure?” I asked.
“Yes, bleeding is good,” she responded
“Bleeding is good?” a voice in my head said. I doubted I would ever hear anyone use that statement again.
When I emerged from the salon a short while later, I looked as if I’d been baking in the sun for a few hours. My skin had taken on the hue of a cooked lobster and felt tender and taut.
I may have overcome my fear of needles, but I’m now feeling needled by a possible fear of looking old.
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