Memories of Needles

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

Show me someone who winces at the thought of hypodermic injections and chances are strong that such fears were birthed by some smart aleck kid who happens to be one or two school grades older.

I’ve persuaded myself to “man up”–after all, it now seems that injections are a way of life until reaching the exit. (Not until I was age 50 or so could I manage to keep such fears under wraps, and sometimes not even perspire.)

Dr. Don Newbury

 The current emphasis on inoculations against COVID-19 has led most senior adults to get their shots at the earliest possible opportunity, needles be hanged.

When I entered first grade in 1944, I was barely aware of needles. I’d heard about their hiding in haystacks, and my old mother saying something about a “stitch in time saves nine.”

The school year had barely started when conversations buzzed about a nurse coming to our school to give inoculations for measles and mumps.

You never heard such descriptions of pain. After all, second graders had experienced the “herd inoculation” a year earlier, so they had months to concoct stories that scared the “bejeebers” out of naïve first-graders.

Will this be the day? Fears of the nurse appearing THAT DAY persisted for a couple of weeks. This gave the plucky second grade “veterans” ample time to heap untruths upon our innocent ears. “Reckon she’ll use her crooked needle this year?” one asked. Another said a needle had broken off in a child’s arm the previous year, and still another claimed the needle was bigger than veterinarians use on horses.

To this day, the smell of alcohol reminds me of 1944, when our class of some 30 first-graders was marched into the school auditorium, where there were screams, tantrums, teeth-gnashing and a couple of smothering spells.

Not to be forgotten, either, is the prankster who brought a catsup packet to school, smearing it on his arm as if the inoculation had caused great loss of blood.

Obviously, TV personnel sent out to make news clips at inoculation sites today don’t know so many of us have horrendous memories of getting inoculations back in the day. Almost invariably, they show close-up shots of needles being jabbed in, often with accompanying expressions of distrust on the recipients’ faces.

Just once I wish they would show a novice “shot-giver” (as I’m sure many of them are) injecting an orange. I’m told this is how they learn.

I’d much rather watch “Shark Tank” reruns than see folks being injected. First grade experiences, I guess, made me that way.

In the 1970s, Carter Blood Center in Fort Worth handed out bumper stickers.

I applauded the intent, but felt their word choice was ill-advised. It read: “Hurts a little, helps a lot.”

I cringed. Is it really a good idea to suggest that it hurts at all, even if only a little? The message was short-lived.

Today, there are “real troopers” when it comes to such matters. I doubt that many children dread taking injections these days.

I know that my great-niece, Harper Odette, is in that category.

A while back, the six-year-old suffered what they call a “green stick fracture” in a playground fall. It was essentially the same injury her 12-year-old brother, Austin, had sustained earlier.

She “ho-hummed” her way through procedures at the hospital emergency room, where her dad Philip was the one who could have used a sedative.

When the nurse injected the “mild sedative” to Harper before her surgery, she seemed to fell asleep immediately. The nurse admitted that it usually took a while longer for anesthesia to kick in.

Philip continued to study Harper’s face, leaning closer. “Boo,” the youngster shrieked.

Finally, this joke about a patient undergoing anesthesia for the first time.

“This makes one feel like he’s drunk, doesn’t it, doctor?”

“I wouldn’t know,” the doc responded. “I’ve never had anesthesia.”

Dr. Newbury is a long-time public speaker and university president who writes weekly.  Email: Phone: 817-447-3872. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury.

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