Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Trypanophobia: Needle Phobia, fencing and my blood work

After a visit to the emergency room yesterday and my doctor this morning regarding heart problems and more, everyone was agreed on one thing: That I needed a full series of blood tests, and soon. However, what no one had yet faced seriously was the one thing which prevented that bloodwork from being taken: namely that I suffer from what many would consider an extreme case of Trypanophobia; a recognized condition in the DSM IV, but more commonly known as “Needle Phobia.”

The real problem is athough 10% of the population suffer from some aspect of Needle Phobia, medical practitioners rarely take it seriously, are never trained to deal with it and do not have the adequate medical equipment or procedures available to treat someone with it. My doctor (or rather my soon to be ex-doctor) after 12 months of repeatedly telling him my severity of Trypanophobia and the two ways I had found of overcoming it; basically did the old, “You just don’t want to have a blood test so buck up and don’t come back to my office until you get that bloodwork done.”

That’s an attitude I run into a lot, and it is stupid. You know why? Because Needle Phobia kills. Dr. James G. Hamilton, the first doctor to extensively research Needle Phobia in peer reviewed journals did so because his own father was one of the 23 medically reported deaths from just ONE of the ways needle phobics can die from getting a needle. His father went in for a routine blood test and suffered the most common Needle Phobic response, a rapid drop of blood pressure (these are people who often faint) which sent him into cardiac arrest. Half of all needle phobics fall into this category. I don’t (wish I did). Hamilton has recorded 63 different symptoms which can occur with needle phobia including: "transient psychosis, combativeness, random motor movements, rolling eyeballs, involuntary loss of bowel or bladder control, seizures, clenching of the jaw muscles, loss of responsiveness and transient coma."

There are however hundreds if not thousands of deaths or permanent injuries from the other three types of Needle Phobia, primarily because in a severe case, treatment will always be avoided all together (including such things as dying rather than take an insulin injection). Hamilton with Lamb interviewed 1500 people with needle phobias, finding that, instead of “bucking up” many people would simply go into extreme fight or flight responses including: "the woman who refused to have a Cesarean section because she didn't want the injected anesthesia; the man who jumped out of a second-story window at a hospital in Knoxville, Tenn., rather than have blood drawn for testing; the patient who tried to punch the nurse who was preparing to give him a shot, ran outside and swung a branch at the pursuing nurse until he passed out. He could remember none of this when he came to a few minutes later."

There are four types of Needle Phobia: Vaso-Vagal (5% of population) which is a passive response in which blood pressure drops, sometimes to lethal levels. This however is the easiest of the types to overcome. The second is known as Associative (3% of pop) in which the approaching procedure produces abnormal anxiety and is usually created by a bad needle experience. This can be helped by different forms of therapy but it can also be created at any age with one very bad experience (I know a person who developed it after three nurses tried 16 times to put in an IV line). Resistive (2% of the population) is the third, which is characterized by high blood pressure, adrenaline and a “fight or flight” response. The most important aspect to treating this type is to make the patient feel IN CONTROL and build trust. The fourth kind is Hyperalgesic (1% of the population) in which due to inherited pain sensitivity, needles are excruciating painful for these people. This can be overcome with using different anesthetics including topical and oral. There is also an associated disorder in which one is fearful of ALL invasive procedures. There is also “Vicarious Needle Phobia” where a person can be fine having a needle done on them, but will sympathetically respond when it is done to a loved one (like fainting). As for needle phobia, some research shows it is heredity, some an acquired phobia, some research suggests a combination of the two.

Unfortunately, my needle phobia combines the three rarest types along with an invasive phobia. Everyone has different pain threshold. Some people, like my father, can have dental surgery without an anesthetic or drive a bus for eight hours while having an infected internal organ (he drove his bus to the hospital, told the passengers another driver would be along soon, and then was rushed by the ER team to immediate emergency surgery). I am the other extreme. All of my long term GP’s have stated that I have the lowest pain threshold they have EVER encountered and am acutely sensitive to whatever goes on inside my body. What that means in the case of needles, for example, is that if a doctor needs three vials of blood, once the needle is inside of me, I am usually restrained and screaming every time he attaches another vial from the pain of the needle moving inside my vein. That is if with my and Linda’s help he gets past the “fight or flight” response because I have dealt enough with the Associative fear to actually make it inside a room where blood can be taken.

I have worked many times over the years to try and find a way to deal with my needle phobia. As you may have noticed from some of my other blogs, I am not a person who likes giving in to anything (even gravity, damn you, I WILL fly!). But from a few early experiences I knew that once a needle enters the room, Beth is no longer in the building. Instead there is a bundle of complete and irrational terror which will do anything to escape. When I was in second grade my friend at the desk next to me showed me his new clickable pencil shaped like a syringe. Two seconds and several desks knocked over later, my screams of terror convinced him (and the teacher) not to ever bring that pencil to school again. Until recently, I would try every few years several times with a “new therapy” to get a blood test. Nothing ever worked. One of the major problems was that my fight or flight reaction was so severe that almost no amount of medication would show a noticeable effect.

Things changed after I moved to Britain and found a doctor (Dr. E), an extraordinary man, who agreed that as long as I would keep trying, we would find a way to get a blood sample. He like virtually every health professional before and since had genuinely never seen anything like me (When you are screaming blue murder, crying, begging, your body arched backward off the bed while throwing off five grown individuals who are trying to hold you down because you are “trying” to restrain youself and get this blood test, medical personnel tend to stare, blink a lot and go, “Ohhhhh, you have a needle PHOBIA!”). After two failed attempts in his office he decided the most important thing was to prove to ourselves that it COULD be done. The plan was he gave Linda (my partner) pills to knock me out completely, then she would call him, he would come to our house and without a tourniquet take a blood sample, all while I remained unconscious. Well, we took his pills, along with some valium and washed it down with liquor and I was out like a light. He arrived, Linda told him what I had taken, he muttered something dosages and getting arrested and all went well until the needle entered my arm. The pain shot me awake with a scream of “I can feel it!” Linda, already anticipating this possibility was across me, holding me down while I screamed. He got the blood sample, I fell back into unconsciousness and that was the first time in 14 years of trying that I had gotten a blood test. After knowing it WAS possible, I began to get regular blood tests from him, eventually working out a protocol where I would have 20 mg of diazepam (valium), Linda would hold my arm and stand beside me, I would listen to my music on the headphones, use a topical anesthetic on my arm. When ready I would count down, then give the nod to Linda and the doctor, completely unseen and sometimes unfelt, would draw the blood. And I started to clear up a lifetime backlog of surgeries, dental work and other medical procedures.

Of course, every time we went for a procedure, we would explain to the medical staff at that location all over again, be told to “suck it up” or, “everything will be fine” or “We know all about people with needle phobia” only to arrive to have them give me 10 mg of diazepam and think that was going to solve everything. Luckily to Dr. E and Linda, we were well stocked. With one specialist, I had to go twice for a procedure which required me to go under, as depending on what was found, it could take multiple hours. Only they couldn’t get me sedated enough to start the anesthetic. In situations like this Linda ends up taking charge as she tells doctors and nurses how to proceed. “Give her these” she said, giving them more diazepam; having already discussed possible lethal doses with Dr. E. We went up to 60 mg before I could be restrained enough for the anesthetic, then my body overcame the anesthetic and woke up DURING the procedure. The next time I had to go in there, they must have doubled or quadrupled the dosage: they took it seriously, I was out like a light and there was no problem.

Thanks to the one anesthesiologist, who with advance notice, actually researched the subject, and ensured that I got a Teflon IV injection tube: no needle. And she used pills AND nitrous oxide before trying to inject me. Often Needle Phobics are the people who either invent or understand how to use technology to help their problem which to them is life threatening. Dr. Keith Lamb, a co-author on a book about Needle Phobia with expert Dr. James Hamilton is himself a needle phobic. In 2004 he twisted and tore his knee but was unable to get it operated on for three months until he could find an anesthesiologist who would work with his needle phobia. The needle came into use in 1853 but now it is slowly getting the boot. Thanks to Pfizer, there is inhalable insulin. Mark Allen has invented a “micro-needle” the width of only two hairs. Air injection, patches and ultrasound are other ways that are starting to avoid the need for needles, at least in delivering medication. There is not yet another way of getting blood.

Ever since my episode at the Battle of Seattle, the need for me to get extensive medical tests has growing immediate. However, my doctor, though outwardly sympatric, had still not acted to find out if any one, including himself, was willing to work with a needle phobic patient since the heart/collapsing problem was first reported to him four weeks ago. I had another “incident” the day after a fencing workout last week and Monday, after fencing, noticed that my heart rate was not going down. Hours after fencing, when I went to bed, with sedatives to slow my heart, it was still beating at 130 beats per minute (my resting heart rate should be 55-65, a slow jog should be about 130). Tuesday morning, it was still over 110 beats per minute. I called a medical help line and they said to go into emergency. At emergency 18 hours after fencing, my heart rate was still over 100. However, it was stable and as I was seeing my doctor this morning, it was decided he should do the referrals to heart specialists. Thus full circle, I am back this morning facing my doctor who tells me, “You are starting to annoy me.”, refers to my competitive fencing as “that lifestyle choice”, tells me not to fence, then tells me that I should try repeat the experience (passing out during fencing) so ER can “record the experience before handing me the forms to go to a lab with the message: don’t come back till it is done (Protocol for dealing with a person suffering from needle phobia includes having a crash cart nearby in case of arrest – I have never seen this along with any other of the protocols for needle phobia ever followed).

I am now freaked and confused, since going hours at a time with 130 beats per minute worries the ER, but not my doctor. And until I get the blood tests, my non Dr. E (new doctor here in Canada) will not send me on for a holter, echo or other heart tests. Enter Linda, wonder woman, who in 20 minutes on the phone finds a woman in a pediatric (Childrens) outpatient unit where people HAVE dealt with needle phobia, they will do the test and today, for some reason, the waiting room is empty. We grab a ride out to the hospital, having slathered topical anesthetic on my arm (it’s called EMLA, I believe God made it just for me) and 25 mg of diazepam in my blood.

We are soon ushered into a room by a no nonsense female nurse/technician with an eastern European accent who has probably a trail of terrified kids in her wake. Actually being in the room with a needle has put me into shock and I am curled up on the bed teeth chattering. “Look at you! You are worse than the children” The woman tells me leaning over. “Here, you want your teddy bear?” She asks very sarcastically, offering me a stuffed toy. This would be very emotionally painful if I hadn’t already heard the likes a few dozen times before (it was a woman like her, who tried to take a shortcut by repeatedly attempting to put an IV into my hand that regressed about 2 years of Dr. E’s work – my screams were heard through the entire floor of the hospital. She never got it in). I rouse myself from my panic to bat the stuff toy away and say to her, “Look at you, you are incredibly condescending.” She left with a huff and a REAL professional came in, Nurse D. Nurse D was patient, and calm and worked with me through the various stages, including where I needed to have her just by me so I can try to relax and trust her, that she wouldn’t try to force a needle into me while I was still (which is often attempted). She had a special ultra small Teflon needle and tube system which meant once in, the tube wouldn’t move as she changed vials, which meant I wouldn’t be able to feel it once it had gone in. At one point Nurse D said to Linda, “Maybe next time she could have a valium before coming in to calm her down.” Linda dryly replied, “She’s had five.”

“Oh? Oh!!!” (they start to “get it”)

Meanwhile the eastern European nurse had gotten impatient, decided to try and speed things up by coming bac, grabbing my wrist and holding it down. I am getting blood taken from my “Epee Arm” so I lift her with ease which terrifies her and she leaves again. (Linda kept saying, “Just relax, she won’t come back” – afterward she told me when I resisted, my veins disappeared entirely as my tendons and muscles rippled against the skin). Nurse D is standing there with her kit. I am listening to my music and I start the countdown, gripping my other hand into a fist as tears start trickling down my cheeks. I am determined to do this, but Oh God, I wish, I wish I didn’t have to. I count down from 10 and then tell Linda, Yes. And Nurse D starts to work. I am holding my body as stiff as a board and screaming, “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes”, hanging on as long as I can (about 30 seconds) before I can’t take it anymore and am wailing and crying and begging them to take it, oh please, take it out. And then it is done. I am sobbing and thanking Nurse D. And she promises that she will do ALL my bloodwork in the future. The whole episode took 15-20 minutes. It was, Linda and I agreed, a medium experience. Not the best, but certainly not the worse. Somewhere to start. And now, I know, I can get bloodwork done in Canada (we were discussing having to fly back to the UK to get Dr. E to go it).

Since most people in the medical field don’t have it and deal with needles all the time, people like me are un-understandable. This is because people as bad as me never go to a hospital. I have been in large cities where I was the first extreme needle phobic person EVER that any anesthesiologist has seen or worked with or even heard about. Most surgeons, specialists or doctors come back and say, “Knowing what I know now, I never would have believed (X prodedure) would have been possible.” (and then they go over and thank Linda; rightly so).

For those who have not met someone with needle phobia or cannot imagine it, I hope this helps. If you cannot and think me "a wimp", let me put it this way: I have had a man hold a loaded gun on me, I have fallen off a cliff and ripped my leg open to the bone, I have been in a car skidding out of control into a intersection on a red light, I have faced what I thought was my imminent death, I have been in a car where the driver drove into oncoming traffic, and I have been lost and alone at night in sub zero weather as it snowed without provisions and I have never once come close to the terror I get from being in a room with a needle or that moment I tell Linda “Yes.” Trypanophobia really exists, so spread the word, particularly if you are in the medical field.


Sober @ Sundown said...

Ouch! That was a stressful read. I hope you can get a referral to see the specialists to figure out what is going on with you.

Hey, I am happy you went to the tournament in Seattle. It was a good experience for you. I doubt you let anyone down.

Keep us posted........

Anonymous said...

My son has a needle phobia (he's 12, and fences epee). It is indeed difficult to understand It isn't as if he's a wimp and no amount of bribery or ALMa patches work. In the past when have taken him for blood work (before i "got it") he would "manage" up until the needle was imminet and then he would freak and curl up into fetal position.

He takes valium for dentist appointments followed by the gas.

to date he has had no blood work done as we have not found anywhere that was able to do it.

indeed it's a tricky phobia for people to understand!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Sober: thanks for the support, I was really low last week, but now that this is a real and ongoing problem that depression has turned into....panic - haha - particularly when the doctor started talking about a heart shunt - what? I didn't post any pics on this blog because I know it would be a trigger for me and probably others to see a bunch of needles - when I watch DVD's of ER - the show is only about 18 minutes long after I skip all the needle and body invasive procedures (I just like the people drama).

Anon: I feel for you and your son, it is not a condition I would wish on my worst enemy. I was probably about 9 or 10, and they were taking a blood test of our whole family; my father was using his "You will do this and stop fooling around" voice to me, and then his, "Do this now!" and then I think, looking at sobbing face he "got it" and that no matter how much I loved him or wanted to be a "good girl" - I couldn't do this.

This site:

used to keep a list of needle phobia aware medical personnel. There are ways to boost emla's efficency (like covering it with seran wrap and taping it down) but if his fear is of the needle itself, or the body invasion, then the topical anestethic is secondary. I usually use valium, then the gas, then a needle once I am either out or good and loopy (and unable to react) - but it took quite a consult to get this done - and I have yet to find anyone who will use the gas for blood work (though in the UK, the whole get knocked out and then the GP shows up at your home worked brill!).

I hope you find a great medical person and something that works for your son - I tried the doctors to give me a med-alert braclet in case I was in an accident that said; "Severe Needle Phobia, do not give needles without significant oral sedation" - they didn't go for it.

elizabeth said...

I remember being little and having to go to the doctor for a vaccine.I was screaming and holding onto the leg of his desk and both he and my Mother were trying to pull me out. Total freak out.

I'm better now. Still afraid of them - but can work it out. I just break into a sweat and fell gripped with terror. Then it's over and I can go home and act tough again.

But seriously, I KNOW you are not a wimp. It's a phobia. A phobia is not rational and is hard for someone without one to grasp.

kathz said...

You're not the only person I know who suffers from this and the other person I know with this problem is certainly not a coward. It's a question of how pain is experienced and that's not the same for everybody - or even the same for individuals at all times in their life.

I was mildly afraid of needles in my teens but that was different - a result of having glandular fever, needing blood tests and having veins which are hard to locate (I remember one occasion when the phlebotomist took more than ten attempts - both arms - and then asked why I was nervous!). I was lucky - I found I could overcome it by becoming a blood donor (some years later) and convincing myself to relax. I told myself that lying down, not looking and enduring the pain might save someone else's life - and it worked for me (but that was because it wasn't a serious problem). It also meant I was looked after by people who are (a) highly experienced and (b) grateful - so they really do try to help and make the experience as comfortable as possible. Later, the relaxation exercises they teach you in classes to prepare for childbirth helped in all sorts of circumstances. I'm not suggesting any of these would help in your case but it's just possible it might help someone else reading the blog.

Mind you, I still hate looking at needles.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Well now you know why I would never be a drug user - I have two different blood bruises from the injection site and a bruise the size of a small fist under the skin (I guess when all the muscle tenses up it is a bad thing?)

I use a form of self hypnosis which is why I use the count down - which helps - but only so far. Linda showed me the bruises where she was holding my arm. But it is done for now - I am just hoping the doctor doesn't say, "Oh yeah, there was one more test I forgot I needed."

Vampy said...

I happened to be surfing the web to find some way to cure my Trypanophobia when I came to this blog. I know how it feels to be in "Fight or Flight" mode. My Phobia is between Associative, Resistive and Hyperalgesic. It really gets on my nerves since, Irony of all ironies, I work in a hospital!

I had to have a TB test not to long ago and the nurse tried everything! (My family even tryed bribes) I did manage to get the test but not without 10 mg of valium and one heck of a fight!

JACKIE said...


Anonymous said...

This article really hit me.... my fears all started with a "nurse in training" and me being the lucky 7 year old who was her first shot... back then i was calm and rational while getting shots but this woman was so bad it took her a grand total of 20 times to administer it right and by then i was a crying blubbering child with an (as my doctor called it) "irrational fear"... my family would bribe me all the time just to get my bloodwork done... i can recall hitting and screaming as i got a shot (it took 5 nurses to hold me down)... and i was only 9! Im 16 now and i was diagnosed with a hyper thyroid and they have to do my bloodwork 4 times a year... slowly ive relaxed more and one day as a nurse took 6 vials of my blood im proud to say i didnt scream or punch.... i just cried and took it... if you ever get a nurse in training...say no.

Anonymous said...

I also have 'Needle Phobia', only I don't have itquite as easy as you do-- I also have a fear of sedation, or anything else that would make me tired/put me out, or things like laughing gas. I'm not sure exactly what that's called, but it means that I don't get to be calmed down before hand. I'm seventeen and my mother has just realised that i'm deathly afraid of needles. It's not the pain-- I can hardly feel it, it's that fact that something's in me and it's not supposed to be. I start struggling and flipping out, bursting into tears, before going rigid and clenching muscles I didn't even know I had. The nurses only made it worse by tying me to the chair with the tournequets, to keep me from struggling. Doctors need to be more aware of it, especially since such a large amount of people are afraid of shots.

Elizabeth McClung said...

With the no sedation, I would try the oral pills knockout and have it taken in your sleep if you can find a doctor willing to do that.

Update, with so many medical tests I have had many more bloodwork and needles and two more hanging over me. One involved 16 bloodwork tests. The only way this was possible was by going to the pediatric outpatient hospital and finding the people with the most experience in working with severe needle phobias (nurses with very sick young kids who have to give them a lot of tests/blood work develop special techniques to do the bloodwork painlessly). Explain the situation and ask them to use a needleless butterfly.

I find that asking the person to stand by my arm until I begin to trust that they will not move or try to take my blood until I give permission takes my terror down from level 5 to like level 2 (every bit helps).

Knowing that a) getting a needle is possible and b) there is someone medical in your city that you can trust and who understands you takes a lot of the fear and cross phobia's away (like fear of getting sick, fear of breaking an arm, fear of cavities).

Needle phobias really really suck and anyone who has one - I do know how horrible and awful that is, I am NOT saying "buck up" or anything like that - But if anything here is useful to you - go with it - I wish there was an easy solution, you find it, let me know but if you need medical treatment, at least these are some ideas.

Jesse said...

I can't believe how much of this post rings true for me. I have Associative Trypanophobia. I have an impending root canal (resulting from not getting a cavity filled for fear of a Novocaine injection) in 10 days and even researching my phobia online has caused so much anxiety that I've had to stop several times. The specialist I've been sent to is the usual dentist. He's prescribed a small amount of sedatives thinking we'll just "power through it", not knowing how many offices and hospitals I've walked out of because of that exact reasoning. Why is it that no matter how much you educate yourself and your doctor they still don't hear you? They don't understand that it's not the sight or the feeling of an injection. It's not the pain (for me anyway) it's just the thought, and I've yet to find something to numb that. Anyway, thank you for your post. It made me feel a little less crazy and alone.

Anonymous said...

Hi there. I'm also in a similar position. I have a great girlfriend /wife who supports me and who is happy to hold onto my arm whilst (with the aid of alcohol) I have my blood taken by a very good friend who happens to be qualified in phlebotomy. My first one in 25 yrs was last month (blood test) and certainly not as bad as I imagined - the alcohol helped! The next step I guess is a possible canulation for the purposes of an operation to remove a cyst/ this space, this is the biggest one I'm worried about. Is there good understanding from medical professionals re needles? Well my twin is a 'Sister' - medical and although very supportive, really doesn't get it I believe. She's great tho and has at least supplied me with plenty of Amatop and EMLA to lessen the 'blow'.

Anonymous said...

hello my name is rick! here is my story! when i was 9 years old i was on vacation and had a infection in my ears and throat!! my mom warned them to keep needles away from me! but for some stupid reason this nurse brought a 2 inch needle into the room! I WENT CRAZY! they held me down and stuck me right into the BONE OF MY ARM. so for the past 32 years i will not ALLOW any needles to be used on me not even if im DIEING!!!!!I have been needle free for a very long time! i have gone through great lenths to avoid medical care period!!! I HAVE NO MEDICAL INSURANCE BECAUSE THEY WANT TO TAKE BLOOD AND GIVE ME SHOTS! I WILL HURT ANYONE WHO BRINGS NEEDLES AROUND ME . so i stay away from these brutal doctors and nurses! NEEDLES HURT LIKE HELL!!!! IM HAPPY LIVING MY LIFE THIS WAY TO BAD OTHER PEOPLE CANT SEE HOW WRONG IT IS TO ABUSE PEIOPLE WITH NEEDLES. NEEDLE FREE 32 YEARS AND WILL HURT ANYONE WHO BRINGS THEM AROUND ME.

Anonymous said...

I have a very severe case of Trypanophobia as when I was little I had to have the small pox jab or MRS or something I was just a second away from getting the wrong one after that 2 Doctors an 1 Nurse were given a warning on accidental meddling in drugs and 1 Nurse was fired from the hospital and received a ban from nursing for incompetence, and accidental meddling

Anonymous said...

I am extremely trypanophobic and have faced the same thing with my doctors, complete lack of sympathy and beleif. I didn't actually know it could kill'd think that they'd take it seriously after discovering that wouldn't you? Even my friends don't understand the severity of the phobia. They just think i'm being silly even when I missed school for a week to avoid the compulsory tuberculosis inoculation. What scares me the most is there is a strong history of diabetes in my family. The thought of having to live with insulin before every meal makes me sick to my stomach, dizzy and even makes me faint sometimes. I would seriously rather take the pain and not use anaesthetic or be at risk of serious diseases than have another injection :(

Hopefully the phobia will be more widely recognised and they will develop other methods of innoculation. My doctor refused to give me an alternative method of testing for glandular fever to a blood test. I know i'm not a doctor but surely they could take a urine or saliva sample?

Anyway, enough of my rant! It just nice to know i'm not alone and i'm not crazy about this weird phobia i have. Thank you

Mistere Sceadua said...

I thought that I had it bad.

I'm so glad that other people have this! I cried, saw spots, and had muscles spasms when I got a "little prick" (in the words of my mother) for a blood test. Thank the Lord Almighty I didn't have what they were testing for, that would have been immediate surgery after waiting for three hours for the friggin' blood test.

Bijoux said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I too, have needlephobia, and have tried every therapy to get rid of it with little success.
* Desensitization
* Talk Therapy
* Breathwork
* Biofeedback

I have the type of panic that comes on quickly and if I try to relax, I faint (even laying down and squeezing my leg muscles which is supposed to work)
I have have been so frightened I have had convulsions and peed in my pants as well scared everyone around me by flailing around and hitting my head. This is a very serious debilitating phobia. I have avoided healthcare unfortunately due to the medical processions inability to help me.
If I can take ativan (4-8 mgs) I will not convulse and can usually do a small procedure like a blood draw, if the needle stick is only once.
Thanks again for posting this!!!!!

Will said...

The post is probably months old, but I hope it's not too late to share.

I share a fear of needles. Many years before, I would have had to be held down to get needle work, and sympathetic doctors would look at me and coo, but not much after.

Trypanophobia could be caused by childhood trauma. It was for me. As I was sick as a child, I had to go through many hospitals, and treated and taken to blood tests. But it wasn't the simple hypodermic that I first experienced. It was the first time I experienced the dextrose.

The dextrose has absolutely no excuse NOT to be painful. It is injected in the vein, particularly in nerve centers. As I was sick most of the time, I went to the hospital and felt the dextrose most of the time.

To this day, I am still terrified of the dextrose.

The second traumatic experience was the skin test, where the patient is subjected to MANY painful needle probings to find out what his allergies are. It wasn't just one, but multiple sessions of multiple injections.

I underwent regular blood check-up, what with family medical history and all that. Eventually, I came to control, if not cure the phobia.

There are many sympathetic doctors, but many more nurses and medical staff who wouldn't give a damn and shoot you (they would even adjust the needle while still in your veins).

The good news, is at least, there ARE MANY doctors who do know AT LEAST the proper way to inject with the LEAST pain as possible.

But it remains a phobia. And I would NEVER imagine going back to the dextrose.

Anonymous said...

I know that this is an old post but thank you. I have a needle phobia and have been looking for ways to combat it when I came across your article. I've come to realize that it could be a lot worse for me but I still hate it.

My phobia started back when I was about 9. I, being a kid, was scared of needles. It wasn't really anything out of the ordinary though. When I went to get one of the routine vacinations in my school, the nurse asked if I would like to see the needle and stuck it up point first about 2 inches in fornt of my face. It's odd cause on and off from there I was ok with needles, until I reached about 15. Then thinks kept getting worse and worse.

Then just last year our college had a clinic for the mumps shot cause there had been an outbreak (wow, 6 whole cases). It was really important to my boyfriend that i got it so I promised I would. Unfortunatly this was decided 3 days before the clinic started. I physically could not eat those days, cried constantly, and when the day came, I went into shock. The closer I got in the line-up, the worse it was. I started going numb, hyperventalating, shaking. After the 3rd time of leaving the lineup and yelling at the school pastor (it is a christian school) for scaring me, my boyfriend offered me an out. While I had told him not to give me one, i wanted to do this for him and he was suppose to make me, he was actually worried about me developing post traumatic stress.

This is my proud moment. I still went through with it. I had an incredible nurse who understood that I was terrified and took her time with me. She talked me through it and told me how to hide my head, breathe slowly, and she waited till I was ready, without letting the needle come into view. There was a policy that the health unit had saying that you had to wait on a chair right beside the clinic area (It took up our entire main student area, so you were stuck inside near a dozen different nurses given them all at once) for 20 min incase of side effects. She doubled my wait time, but let me leave and sit outside, as long as I promised to stay with my boyfriend, who was there with me for the whole thing.

I wish I had gotten her name, or at least the building that she normally worked in. You couldn't ask for a better nurse, I'd drive for hours just to have her do all my needle work. This helped my phobia a bit but now as it's been a year, it's back in full force again. I want to get rid of this thinkg. I'm studying psych and we watch a lot of movies in class about drug users and such and I can't watch them. If my practicum is in a hospital, there are routine injections that i HAVE to have. My goal was to donate blood by the end of this year in hopes that that will help get rid of this fear. In the future, what will my kids do if I can't be there when they ar immunized, and trust me, there are a lot of routine ones in schools now.

With this, I know that I'm not alone, and that things could be worse. I can do this and some of your tips may just help. I can't donate blood yet, I'm not sure if I ever will be able to, but I have to find something. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

That was horrible!

I'm a boy, I'm 13 and it sucks everytime that I have to get an injection.

Doctors and nurses never take it seriously, they're all like "Oh, c'mon you're 13!" or even "How is it possible than even little girls don't fear injections like you?".

It sucks!

The only time I didn't got any injections I was pale, sweating and gasping: "Look at me and tell me that I'm not afraid of needles!".

People would mock me before that experience.

I'm still trying to overcome this, thanks to your story I believe that there's hope.:D

Mistyunion said...

Help! My mom won't take me seriously. I'm twelve and a mild assosiative, resistive Trypanphobic. I'm a girl who hates vaccines and shots and thank god, I hadn't had to do any bloodwork yet. I have panic attacks when I get my vaccines and that fight or flight thing really kicks in. When I was around 5 I went to the dentist to fix some cavities and the doctor stuck 3, three!!!! , inch needles, into both sides of my mouth without! anethesia due to inability to pay. Now, in seventh grade, and in FL I needed to have my vaccines updated and I had my first panic attack. The nurse and my mom had to pin me down in order to get the third and fourth needles into me without me bolting out of the door. What's worse is that one of my clssmates was in the next room checking up for an infected toe. He heard it all. I really don't know what to do. My mom says that I'm just scared and will get over and she doesn't belive in phobias because she's apparently one of thoose lucky few that have no phobias or hadn't met with their phobia yet. What should I do? I can't get her to believe me and she insists on treating me like I'm phobialess. My dad doesn't do anything. Help!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Mistyunion: I recommend printing out the medical article if the link still works - while they might not take you seriously - most people take the Journal of medicine serious - and if that says your symptoms match a possibly life endangering much less traumatic phobia - they need to take it seriously. I would also call a pedeatric (I might have spelled that wrong) ward - the ward for kids - and ask them if they deal with needle phobias, who deals with them the most, and have that nurse talk to your dad. She can tell you that they are real and suggest options (like having the blood drawn by her in the ward with a butterfly needle and emla - a butterfly needle is so small they use it on newborns - traumatic but not like the dentist you describe

Erica said...

Oh my goodness. I think I have what you have and I get so much crap for it from everyone I know even my parents. They think I exaggerate when I say that I would rather have a gun in my face then have to be told I have to get a shot. I am so happy for you that you have someone that can help you through it. I dont know what I am going to do for myself its super scary just going into a doctors office let alone an exam room exspecialy when I know what they want to do. I flip out and find an escape route asap. Good luck. Im glad you have Nurse D and worked with Dr. E they sound wonderful. Good luck.

Jen said...

Thank you, thank you for posting this. I'm a severe trypanophobic, to the point where I have almost died twice because I cannot bring myself to get the medical care I need. I find it so frustrating that my family does not understand how severe my fear is. I also am frustrated by the lack of knowledge and compassion for trypanophobes in the medical community. I had a doctor call me a "chicken" and laugh in my face just last week because I refused blood work. He then told me, "It's not my problem if you want to be a wimp about a little prick. Go ahead and let your medical issues go undiagnosed. It isn't my job to force you into anything." Needless to say, I'm in the market for a new doctor. I'm looking into some hypnotherapy. I want to get pregnant sometime in the next few years, and it would not be fair to my child to deny myself the medical care I need during my pregnancy. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for your post. I know it's old, but I related to much, and empathized so much with your pain that tears streamed down my face as I read it. I admire your courage. You're braver than I am.

Aylyese said...

I'm a little late in the day but my diagnosis is not that old really, and I preferred to ignore it rather than think about it - until a few days ago. I am a resistive vaso-vagal trypanophobic. It took my sister and wonderful husband a great deal of time just to deal with the resistive side. Simply put, I won't let a simple doctor within cooee of me with a needle, but I can let Pathologists and anesthetists do it - if stretched, a registered nurse. That is because these people have the most experience and can hit the mark first time. If the person involved misses, it will be a long time before they can try again.

Only a few days ago I had a routine blood test for pregnancy. Sadly I discovered not all pathologists are equal. We used the butterfly because my last pathologist (whom the hospital that diagnosed me would call in just for me) could put the needle in and not touch it again until it was time to take it out. This one held it the entire time and the vaso-vagal syncope reflex was severe. I was non responsive and she was about to call an ambulance when someone mentioned my 2yo who was also in the room with me. His name reached me and I made the effort to focus on him, so they got to lie me down so the blood could get to my brain again. I tend to think of myself as rather unlucky because I am dead certain that 99.99999% of medical professionals in Australia have absolutely NO idea of what trypanophobia is and all have the "suck it up" attitude. On the bright side, my little episode on wednesday has helped open someones eyes to the reality of our problem.

After that, I figured it would be a good idea to make a fact sheet on it to hand to any medico that needs to use needles with me. I will be giving one to the hospital to stick in my file on the 18th. I still have to get a canula put in my arm when I have the baby. But I am going to insist on monitoring after that reaction. Perhaps seeing the reflex on the monitor will help open some more eyes in this country.

We really need to fight for ourselves, because no one is going to take us seriously until they understand it properly. I hope you don't have to face any needles any time soon. I am already nervous about my next and its still over 3 months away!

Owen said...

This is the first I heard of trypanophobia, and I think I have it. I feel highly anxious about procedures with needles, even reading about it makes me queasy. I have completely passed out at two blood tests and two blood donations. According to relatives, my fear is due to having been abused with needles as an infant, of which I have no memory. I wonder if desensitization therapy would work. Even writing about it right now gives me that light-headed reaction, like I'm going to faint... gotta shake this and talk about something else!

Lara said...

Hi, I'm 14 and I have a needle phobia, the Vaso-Vagal by the sound of it. When I first read this blog and heard you can die from the blood pressure drop I was terrified. Then as I read on and heard the alternatives for relief and calming and was more assured. I've had blood taken once when I was 8 and it was traumatizing. I had that numbing patch and I still had 2 people hold me down kicking and screaming. The thing is I didn't feel it but I was scared of it so I just wanted to avoid it even if it didn't hurt. I think the part that got me was when the nurse said don't look at the needle. I repeated it in my head and then I thought, a peek wont hurt and AGGHHH!

I had immunisations last year. I managed to get through those okay. 5 in total. First lot of two I dropped blood pressure but didn't faint. second lot of one I was completely fine. And third lot of two I fainted during the second needle.

I was meant to have another needle this year, tetnus, whooping cough etc. The Boostrix. Well it's still looming, I managed to miss it due to travel but it'll come back later. The day before it was meant to be (they always fool us with the wrong dates) I couldn't sleep, I kept imagining it going into me so I'd hug my arms and then remember that if I had a needle I'd be too scared to hug my arms.

I know I have to have a blood test in the future to see if I have the breast cancer gene, and then if I do I have to have an operation and ugh. I wish I could just make a small cut, on my face or something I don't care and they'd just collect the blood that oozes out. The idea of that doesn't even bother me. Lets hope there's a blood test without needles developed in the next few years.

Thank you for the read and the chance to post a comment I wont be judged on. Best of luck for the future.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or no, I have ALL FOUR types of trypanophobia. My parents don't understand and my doctor (whom I hate) and his staff don't care.
I got a blood test last year, and was OK-ish, if you would like to call going into shock and nearly fainting "OK". A few weeks ago, i nearly fainted after karate class, when my friend told me that I would need three shots when I went into eleventh grade (I think the same three that you need to get into kindergarten).
I fear for my health (and my life).

Anonymous said...

Thank You!!!! I am a deputy sheriff who basically isn't afraid of anything but NEEDLES! I almost got suspended last year when we were forced to have T.B. tests. My Lieutenant tried to hold me down and I fought with him and the nursing staff to the extent that they gave up and I was worried that I might actually get fired and/or charged with threatening them and fighting. I felt terrible afterwords and cried my eyes out. My Major finally gave up and let me go without having the test. I was made fun of and no one understood the seriousness of my phobia. None of the techniques I have read about work for me. Sedation pills are a joke, there is no, "think of something else" or "just look away". I will actually physically fight anyone over a needle. I haven't had any type of blood work or injection for at least 15 years. I am 41 and having some serious medical issues but I know there is no sense in going to the doctor because I can't get any tests done. It's ironic that most people think officers die from gun shots or car wrecks but I'll probably die from lack of preventative health care.

Aviatrix said...

I would suggest that they arm you with a needle too, so you could think of the encounter as a fencing bout with teeny tiny epees. But you'd kill them all without them touching you.

D said...

I'm a needle phobic myself and while looking around for ways to lessen it I came across this blog...why is it that medical people recognize claustrophobia and others but not trypanophobia? Heck even my spell-check doesn't recognize it as a word! I'm pregnant with my second child, sadly my previous midwife has moved to another state (about a 3 hour drive or Id be running my happy butt straight to her) so I've kinda gotten slapped with a different one this time who wasn't there last time I was pregnant. This woman DEMANDED blood work...okay I get it pregos typically get a battery of blood work done at all times of their pregnancy. No way in this earth or any other! We managed to get blood drawn last time only once and they had to make due with only 3 tubes of blood. Rather than the freak-out reaction that just keeps escalating after a certain point my brain shuts down. Porch lights on nobody's home kind of thing going on. So when it got to that point the phlebotomyst just removed the needle and called for icepacks. It was still about 20 mins before I was even responsive and there apparently was talk about calling for an ambulance to take me to the hospital. I wasn't even responsive to my husbands voice and trying to kiss me or anything. Nada.
Back to the more current fiasco...woman demanded blood work. We worked out that Id get minimal blood work the day of the ultrasound at the hospital where I could be laying down for as long as I needed to afterwords. Plans changed last minute (as in when we were leaving the docs) and she decided to do the blood work right then and there! Sat down was okay sort of but after that things get a little blurry. Room spinning feel like throwing up blood pressure high and pulse waaay higher than it should be. The blood-nurse (same as last time) realized right quick what was going on and grabbed ice and stuck it on my neck to keep me from passing out. Clearly the blood work didn't get done and the crazy lady saw with her own eyes WHY there's only one or two cases of blood draw in my ENTIRE medical history and those were noted to have 'required restraint and liberal dosing with muscle relaxers and such things as nitrous oxide'...anybody who has this phobia knows how scary it can be and the medical practitioners really need to take needle phobics more seriously. Hello? people DIE from this, heart explodes. Or they go into shock, are catatonic for extended periods of time, ect. Especially pregnant women it can be really dangerous for the baby shes carrying!

And before the whole 'your a wimp' and 'suck it up' thing gets applied to me, I had my first child with NO drugs topical or otherwise. No IV no nothing. Completely natural and I was up and taking care of my little squishy baby less than an hour later. Ive also dislocated more joints and torn ligaments and tendons than most people do in a lifetime all with no pain meds. To all needle phobics out there: keep going, we will eventually get recognized as legitimate by the medical community and maybe then it'll get better.

Tina said...

What can I say I think we are twins............................I still have not had blood taken and need gas for any major surgery. For anything else wrong with me I will wait to collapse on the floor and be taken by ambulance before I will willingly go.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I think I have Trypanophobia too; I used to need blood tests once a month, and it usually took me three hours to finally calm down enough to stop trashing the room! I just can't stand the pain, and I hate the thought of anyone putting something inside me (I was abused as a child, which probably has something to do with it!) I would quite happily take blood/ inject myself, but I'm a control freak and can't stand other people doing it! I've just been diagnosed with Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and will probably need a spinal fusion; MORE NEEDLES! I'm dreading it! It's good to know I'm not alone though- most people think I'm a wuss. Good Luck! x

Jess said...

I am so thankful that you posted this because so many people call me a wimp and childish because im terrified of needles. the worst part of it is, me and my mom have just found out i have psudo tumor cerebri. Ive been able to use my ipod and close my eyes to calm myself to get blood taken and even had to have an injection for an mri that i had no idea i had to get. ive come a long way because when i was 16, i got sick with something my doctor said could kill me if i didnt get the shot. i looked her in the eyes and told her i knew where i was going, i wasnt afraid to die and i wasnt getting that shot. needless to say five nurses and my mother had to hold me down in order to get that shot and they almost didnt finish. i had a bruise for a month from where all my muscles tensed up. but back to the psudo tumor, it turns out i have to have a spinal tap or i could loose my vison. the worst part is, my nurologist, i dont think, has ever delt with someone with a needle phobia... i dont think i will be able to calm myself enough without medication for that.

Jon W. said...

I've been on a very long journey exploring my own needle phobia. I am a 30 year old male in fairly good health (mentally and physically) but have been driven to thoughts of suicide due to the thought of getting blood drawn.

I spent 5 sessions with a Psychologist and we did some exploration into my specific case. There is nothing specific in the past about the onset of my phobia but I personally think I'm phobic due to having constantly spent time in the hospital with relatives (grandparents, great grandparents) as my mom was the caretaker (one and only) for all these relatives so I naturally got brought along to see procedures, pain and suffering (not from needles but they obviously were involved in everything medical).

I've been practicing exposure therapy with the help of my wife and purchased some diabetic needles from the pharmacy. These needles are very small 30guage but I used them to learn I'm not particularly afraid of the needle if as an object. I can hold it and play with it and do pretty much whatever with it.

I then was able to work up the courage to rest the needle on my skin. Once there was a comfort there I was able to stick the needle all the way in my arm. This is when I discovered that it's not the "pain" from the needle that I'm afraid of. I had always thought it was the pain I was afraid of but the pain is very minimal. I've had much more pain getting my eyebrows plucked and getting the plaque scraped off my teeth. There's a small pinch but in reality it's extremely minimal in the grand scheme of things.

I've come to the conclusion that my fear completely revolves around 2 things at this point - a slight fear of blood and a major fear of not being in control. There is a huge trust issue there with me whereas I am strickened with fear when anyone tries to come near me with a needle. I could even draw my own blood if I needed to but I'll be darned if I let anyone else do it to me.

Due to my fear I have avoided getting treatment for high blood pressure for at least 5 years. I've been doing my best during this time to lose weight and eat well but the BP is still high 5 years later. I know that my organs (and life) depend on me taking the next step and getting medical treatment.

My first approach to resolving my dilemma is to find a doctor that will respect my fear and will do everything in their power to make me comfortable and help me overcome this fear. My mother found a female doctor (I never would have previously considered a female due to embarrassment) that she thinks will be an excellent fit for me. She's the kind that sits down.. gives you a hug.. talks it out. I'd feel much more comfortable knowing I'm going to be treated like a person rather than a patient.

If I feel comfortable I'm going to urge her to put me with a nurse / phlebotomist whom will help me with the rest of my exposure therapy. It's going to take time and some patience for the medical staff to work with me.

Listen - I completely sympathize with all of you. It seriously saddens me that we've all got this amazing problem that gets such minimal (and negative) attention from the medical profession.

I've had CT scans done 3x in my life and each time was repeatedly asked if I had chlostrophobia so that they could help make the experience better in the event I did. I don't have chlostrobophobia but have never once been asked or even received a reaction when I mentioned my trypanophobia.

I encourage you all to see a professional and talk it out. You will find that you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Once you figure out what aspects of needles you don't like then I hope and believe you will be able to work through them.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I'd never call ANYONE with a needle phobia a wimp. I've had to have 21 vials taken and moved a several hundred pound table with one arm, I was arched that bad. I've screamed so long and loud in ER all the doctors came (and most patients).

People with Needle Phobia are realistic and very brave. They know what the problem is, but have been ignored or talked down to for years. Most people think walking into a burning building is crazy, but there are firefighters with Needle Phobia and they say needles are worse. Facing a phobia because you want a better life or know you have to do it, is brave, getting the blood drawn or even attempting is brave. No wimps here.

Elizabeth McClung said...

They CAN do a spinal tap or other procedures under 'light sedation' (like the kind you get at the dentist), but they often aren't bothered - get an advocate and call, call, call - I know a woman with cancer who wouldn't get a lymph node test because she has a Needle Phobia - her friend has it too and called for her and got the test for her after a couple months of calling until finding a sympathetic doctor.

Cricket said...

I am years late to this party but just stumbled on this post. I have been dealing with this since chilhood and while my mom and some people understand it is just a way of life for me, not everyone, incuding my husband can understand or grasp how absolutely paralyzing it is. I was literally laid on a table bleeding profusely convinced I was going to bleed out and die but was more terrified of a simple needle than of the thought of death.

I had to get hypnotherapy to get through my pregnancy because I blacked out and seized during the first draw. Instead of 3 vials of blood they got almost 1 before they had to stop. For the finger prick I sat in my car in the parking lot and punctured my own finger with an industrial size staple just to avoid them doing it. I am not proud of these actions but they are the ones I have taken.

I beg for pills in the ER when a simple shot would take away the pain near instantly because I fear that needle more than anything. It is so hard to get others to understand what the feeling is because I myself cannot even explain to them the why or what of it all. I know it is silly to fear that small thing, logically it makes no sense at all. I am a face it head on type of person but when it comes to needles my flight wins out every-single-time.

The hypnotherapy helped me a great deal for a little while. I managed to get through the pregnancy and even did several months of depo shots, but each visit got harder and harder and more time passed. A year after having my daughter I had to have sinus surgery and while I was very nervous and aprehensive, I still showed up. When the first needle went into my nose it was game over. I have never been able to recover completely from that.

I am thinking about doing more hypnotherapy to see how it will help me again since I am at least now at a point where I can talk about needles and not break out in sweat and get that knot in my throat. You know the one I am talking about!

I have been fortunate to come across some doctors who have been understanding and patient with me but the vast majority are completely oblivious. When you try to do them the courtesy of explaining that not only will you pass out but you will black out so be prepared and all they do is laugh it off like you are exagerrating, it is really disheartening. When I come to and they go on and on about how I have traumatized them and their staff all I can do it say "I WARNED YOU" and vow never to go back to them.

As I mentioned above I am a face it head on person so I have made it a point to be very open with my daughter about how needles effect me. I have also made it a point to personally take her to every appointment when she gets a shot so I can do my best to prevent passing this on to her. I focus completely on her and it has worked. She is like her dad and needles don't bother her at all. She actually volunteers to get shots in front of other kids to show them they don't hurt. I am so proud of her but I would not allow her even once to be in the room with me when I have to get a shot for anything. I don't think she could handle seeing me not handle it with as much grace as she does. I fear it might trigger the issue in her.

In all fairness, it is not just needles with me though. It is punctures in general so anything that breaks my skin short of a papercut has the possibility of evoking the same response in me. Ironically though I can deal with it on other people and it doesn't bother me in the least.

It is nice to know that you are not alone in the world with this and while it is more common than people realize you are still but a drop in the water of a giant ocean. This needs to be taken more seriously. Until then I will continue to live with the motto "If I were meant to give blood I would have been born with a spout."

Anonymous said...

Oh my word, I started losing it crying just by reading this post about trypanophobia!! I have this same reaction. A few years ago I got a shot (or tried to), and ended up going rabid in the presence of the nurse. She just didn't understand, just kept coming at me with that wicked thing. Someone was blocking the door, but I remember trying to push them out of the way so I could get out! I wasn't aware I could move that fast. A lot of it is blurred out, just because it was so traumatic. I need to get a blood test soon and I'm frightened sick, so much that I cannot sleep at night when I think about it. I would rather go through all the worse things in the world then see a needle again in my life. This is very VERY serious, and hardly anyone seems to understand. Try sticking an arachnophobe in a closet with a venomous spider, and not letting them out until they have been bitten. It's the exact same gut clenching panic. I keep hoping I'll get over it, but it's probably a lost cause at this point! Thank you for your post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I have extreme needle phobia that mostly manifests itself when I have to have my blood drawn. I go through the same song & dance with my doctor every time he wants to have blood work done: 1. It's about time that you get over this 2. At best I can prescribe a small amount of valium 3. Our staff is trained in dealing with your needle phobia - it's something that almost everyone deals with. I feel so hopeless knowing that I face zero support from the medical community and I will most likely have to jump through hoops each time I need to have this done. I just wish they would offer sedation for high stress/anxiety procedures like this (just like in dentists' offices with inhaled nitrous oxide + oxygen)