Too afraid to get treatment?

medicalphobia

At first, a doctor might believe I’m just an average patient. But the minute a needle comes out, all bets are off.

A boyfriend of mine thought I was exaggerating when I told him about my needle phobia, saying what I’m sure just about anyone who suffers from this condition has heard a million times: “Well, nobody likes needles!” The next time I had to get blood drawn, I asked him to come with me. He thought I wanted him to hold my hand. He — along with an extra nurse who was called in – ended up having to hold me down to keep me from running out of the room.

While it’s a funny story, needle phobia isn’t a joke. Not only is it real, affecting an estimated 10-20% of the population, depending on what sources you check; it can also be deadly. I may have had to be restrained on several occasions, but many people with needle phobia won’t even go to the doctor’s in the first place.

It’s an issue that might seem somewhat frivolous. But when you think about it, if you look at lists of the most common phobias, there could be a lot of people who are putting off or refusing medical treatment because they’re afraid of some part of that experience.

In addition to needles, other common healthcare-related phobia triggers include: blood, hospitals, illness, doctors, and dentists. Some of these phobias may come from previous negative or traumatic experiences, while others may be related to deeper fears, like a loss of control. Needle phobia, it turns out, may also be genetic or evolutionary. Some people affected by it also experience an acute feeling of pain when a needle goes into their skin. When I read about this, I completely recognized myself. I know so many people who say that they barely feel a thing, but I’ve always found that injections genuinely hurt.

The funny thing is, despite the suffering they cause patients and the frustration they doubtlessly cause healthcare professionals, in many cases, these issues can be solved relatively easily.

When I was pregnant, I learned that, in France, you have to have at least one prenatal blood test per month – and sometimes more. I couldn’t imagine how the intense panic I was going to feel would affect my future baby. I’d heard somewhere that there are topical anesthetic creams for children who don’t like shots, so I asked my physician about them. To my surprise, he nodded and wrote me a prescription. I wondered why this poor man, who’s been tortured by my extreme reactions to needles for years, had never thought to suggest this. It seems like most medical professionals don’t.

The cream changed my life and, from what they say about the effects of stress on a fetus, might have saved the life of my developing baby. Not feeling the needle (and not looking at it, either) meant I was able to sit calmly through the whole experience. Well, okay, I was still pretty tense, as more than one nurse remarked. But now I didn’t need to be restrained!

There are other solutions for medical-related phobias, including a number of therapy methods, breathing techniques, and sedation. Fear seems to be a part of many patients’ experiences, but it seems rare that anyone in the medical community tries to tackle it. This means, fellow sufferers, that we have to do it ourselves. If you have a phobia that keeps you from getting medical care, don’t be ashamed. Instead, get informed – you may end up finding a way to overcome it, or at least get through your next visit to the doctor’s or dentist’s.

by Alysa Salzberg

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