I think around 4 years of age most of us can readily access long-term-ish memories and use them to surmise patterns about everyday life, for example, like how most kids eventually realize forks really suck when eating cereal, and how spoons don’t really quite understand the intricacies of spaghetti. One prominent pattern that began emerging, for me, was the link between going to the Dr’s office and getting some sort of painful injection. Once I solidified that connection, I became absolutely terrified of going to the doctors and would plead with my mother to not go and risk getting a shot.
I would eventually tucker myself out. Crestfallen and lying on the floor I would end up submitting to my mother’s orders.
An injection is a daunting event to a child, right? It’s purposeful pain inflicted without instigation. You can try and explain the concept of viral attenuation or immunization, but there’s no way a child is going to understand it. All they see is a needle. And because they can now attribute the needle with pain, they are able to objectify their fear of them, which leads to the anxiety of needles. Sometimes the anxiety and fear hit critical mass. It can drive people–and certainly kids–over the edge. And that is exactly what happened to me.
The moment I walked into the doctor’s office I could feel my stomach drop and begin to churn with anticipatory dread. That wasn’t a typical reaction based off of past appointments, as my particular doctor’s waiting room was stocked with “fun” things, like games and toys that elicited a positive response. Usually, I’d be all up in that business, but I had uncovered the truth. They were trying to lull me into a false sense of security. They were trying to subdue me so that they could stab me with their over-sized bevels. There was no going back now. So, I just sat in my chair, eyes looking coldly forward as my hands gripped hard into my seat to try and off-set the mounting tension.
Eventually, a nurse opened the door into the waiting room and called out my name. This sent a wave of nerves reverberating through my body. I released myself from the chair and headed into the examination room with a sullen trod.
I situated myself on the exam table as instructed by the nurse and waited for my Dr. to arrive. When he finally did, I was apprehensive and not very forthcoming with answering any of his questions, even though he had a very friendly and professional demeanor.
Once we finished with the pleasantries the doctor picked up my chart. It was within this Manila paper folder I would learn if I were to be receiving an injection on this visit. I watched with bated breath as he carefully reviewed it. And with the simple flip of another page he transformed from my doctor to my very own judge, jury, and executioner.
After that moment, something odd happened to me. I went into a sort of social lockdown for the rest of the exam. I don’t even remember it. I was too busy trying to control the anxiety and the fear. The odd part was how calm I outwardly appeared in contrast to my inner turmoil. I was somehow successfully tricking myself into thinking that the whole thing wasn’t really a big deal, that I could handle it.
But the next thing I remembered was the Dr. saying the exam had finished as he began opening a drawer to pull out the needle and other necessary equipment for the injection. In that instance I could feel the psychosomatic effects double back on me with a new resurgence, and in doing so, my anxiety finally breached the surface as he laid out each piece. My heartbeat thumped in my chest and my breathing became shorter. Became quicker. I found myself on the precipice of losing it. And when I saw him finish assembling the inoculation device and raise it toward me, I lost it.
I jumped off the table with reckless abandon and bolted for the door with the frenetic manner of a caged animal trying to escape captivity. It all happened so fast that my actions didn’t register with my mother and doctor until I was already well into the hallway.
With the adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream I recognized the door to the waiting room. I knew if I could just get to it I could sound the alarm and incite widespread panic and hopefully an uprising. I could escape
I was closing in on the door fast, leaving a trail of cacophonous screams only heard in a jungle under duress. I was less than five feet away when my mother swooped in at the nick of time to stop me and embarrassingly return me to the examination room.
I could still feel the adrenaline pulsing through me as I was pinned to the exam table by three full-grown adults. I felt like the Incredible Hulk as I battled the nurse, my mother, and my doctor.
In my blind rage the Dr. had managed to inject me without me even feeling it. And this part I am not embellishing. I didn’t feel a thing. There were still tears of rage in my eyes as I sat up and rubbed my hand over my now band-aided arm.
No one said anything for a while and I don’t remember much after. But I do remember walking through the parking lot with my Mom in silence after we left the doctor’s office. In that moment I felt very small and very foolish for making a big deal out of nothing. I had discovered new levels of shame and embarrassment. My mom carried a vacated look on her face, as though she couldn’t believe I was capable of such shame inducing behavior. To ease her embarrassment over the situation I tried to assure her that I understood just how silly I was. But in retrospect, I probably only compounded onto the fact of how ridiculousness the entire situation was.
And I haven’t been scared of injections since.