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Monday, January 20, 2014

Shots in the Stomach

I have always been afraid of needles. I know exactly when the fear began: when I was 12 years old, I underwent surgery for a genetic intestinal issue called Meckel's Diverticulum. Afterward, I was hospitalized with IV's in both arms. For whatever reason, the IV's were constantly slipping out of my veins, and the blood or fluids they were pumping into me went into my tissues instead, causing my arms to balloon up. Again and again, I underwent the pain of the nurses reinserting the needles and tubes until both arms were black and blue and swollen.

Flashing forward several decades, when I underwent a heart procedure recently the nurses could not get the IV's started in my arms. At one point, I had a nurse on either side of me, each poking and prodding with their needles, complaining audibly about my collapsed veins as tears streamed down my cheeks.

So imagine the look on my face when I was told I needed to undergo immunotherapy - and I would be taught to give myself two shots every other day in the stomach.

It seems that my allergies are beyond the control of medications. I have liver damage which is believed to have been caused by the use of allergy medications over an extended period of time - nearly four decades. My system has built up an immunity to the medicines and especially since my major allergen is mold, there are very few resources left that can help me.

So the answer appears to be to inject myself with mold every other day through one shot, and inject myself with pollens every other day through another shot.

The old method was to go to a doctor's office once a week and have a nurse give the shots. The patient had to remain in the waiting room for 20 minutes to see if there was a reaction, which could be life-threatening. It meant driving to the doctor's office, waiting, and then driving back to the office or home.

Not anymore. Now they teach the patient how to give themselves their own shots. It means staring at the needle to find the pointed edge (unlike sewing needles, there isn't a point in the center, but along one side), holding the needle so the point goes in just right, pulling back on the plunger to see if blood floods the syringe (if it did, it hit a vein and the needle has to be pulled back out and destroyed, and I have to go through the process again and try not to hit a vein next time) ... And once the needle is inserted and no vein was struck, I have to inject the allergen into my body. Then do it again with a second dose.

I had to undergo training on the Epi-Pen, in the event that I suffered a reaction after the injections - if I could no longer breathe, if I became dizzy, if my throat began to swell... Which involves injecting myself in the thigh with a needle that provides adrenaline. If you watched the movie SALT with Angelina Jolie, you might remember her thrusting the needle into her leg. The entire audience cringed.

All of this for someone who is afraid of needles.

It has been a couple of months since I began giving myself the injections. There have been times when I have mangled it horribly and have bruises that look like I've been in a boxing ring. Other times, I bleed. But then there are days when I get the hang of it and I'm quite proud of myself for persevering.

Will all of this find its way into one of my books? You betcha. There is nothing scarier than a hypodermic needle.