Avoiding the sight of blood

Feb 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

About to book return flights for Kigali, a memory comes back of an evening in the city last summer.

“Hold that”, said the doctor.  He handed me a length of rubber.  “Now, twist it around your arm. I need a vein if I am to take blood”.

“I will faint”.

“No, you will not faint.  Look the other way”.

A pinprick and, in seconds, a swab was dabbing my arm.

“There you are; that was no problem”.

There had not been time to think about it; it’s the thinking that causes the harm.  The last blood test here was five years ago.

Going for a check up at the doctor’s had not been a good idea. The lungs were listened to, the blood pressure was checked; the questions were answered about exercise and diet (mostly honestly). ‘I’m going to escape’, I thought, ‘I’m going to escape’.

As I got up, he had said, “One more thing, I see the cholesterol was 6.9 last time, much too high. I think you should come back for some blood tests next week”.

My heart had sunk.

I have a morbid fear of needles and blood and guts. I have problems with talks on drug addiction. I avoid medical documentaries so strongly that I will leave the room if there is one on television. I once nearly fainted at a lecture on medical ethics.  Listening to a pathologist’s evidence in a trial left me the colour of the courtroom wall.

I had reported to the health centre at 9.00 expecting the worst. A 30 second procedure took twenty minutes – fifteen of them spent with me recovering.

I went to a meeting afterwards, a pale shade of grey.

“Are you a man or a mouse?” asked a colleague.

“A mouse”, I said “definitely a mouse”.

It’s the thinking that causes the problems.

A friend was cycling his bicycle down our road one windy day when a wheelie bin blew across and knocked him from his bicycle. His face was covered in blood as he pushed his bike in through our gate. I cleaned him up and applied antiseptic spray without the slightest feeling I was going to collapse. I just didn’t think about it.

The answer had been not to think.

Not thinking would probably be the answer not only to fainting at the doctor’s, but also to most other things that are troubling. Moving along on auto-pilot, just responding instinctively to things that arise, like being a white mouse in a laboratory test: life would be much simpler

Man or mouse? Mouse is much easier.

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  1. Ah – but it might not be the blood that’s your trigger. It could be the whole medical set up – the smell, the corridors, the hospitals, the procedure, the palaver. Gets me nauseous in a way that bumps, bashes, blood and breaks don’t seem to.

  2. It is the anticipation that does it. I never look at a needle going in, no matter what difficulty they have finding a vein. Bring a hot water bottle with you and put it near your puncture point or let your arms hang down to make the veins expand and rise.

  3. It is definately always the thinking that causes the problems…

  4. It sounds as though it’s actually easier to be a man. Being a rodent costs you much mental effort and anxiety:-)

    I consider myself tough about blood and needles, but I certainly don’t look when they’re going in. I also had to give up giving blood because I fainted every time – not when the needle went in but afterwards, when I was equipped with hot tea to spill everywhere. I don’t think i’m eligible to give blood here anyway because of the BSE thing.

  5. It is thinking that does it. I’ve visited people in ICU lots of times with tubes and wires everywhere. I’m fine till I pause to consider where I am, then I have to discreetly find a chair. I could never have been a hospital chaplain.

    Thoughts of being a mouse prompted the old question of whether one prefers to be a happy pig or a miserable Plato.

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