The Truth About Needles

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I’m thinking about needles.

About how, if you asked me twenty-seven years ago to stick a needle into my finger, two, three or four times a day, I would have found you mad. How the first time the doctor showed me how to pinprick my finger when I was found to have gestational diabetes, I shied away, nervous and afraid. How, when I first was told I needed insulin to forestall my gestational diabetes, I exercised like a crazy person – two, three, four hours a day – any amount not to not have to stick a needle into my skin. How with the second pregnancy I put aside that fear, and learned to give myself insulin. How, for the past three or four years I’ve been injecting myself with Byetta twice a day and how I didn’t even flinch when the nurse brought out another slightly longer needle for a new drug, Byreudeon.

“I know needles,” I tell her.

I remember drawing blood from my dying father’s hands, a long process given the many callouses that had formed on the tips of his working man’s fingers, pricking him again and again to reap the tiniest drop of blood to measure his glucose readings. I remember tapping the vials of insulin to remove the bubbles, swabbing his stomach with an alcohol wipe, and injecting him. I remember thinking how as a little girl, such a moment would have been unimaginable, me the squeamish one, wary at the sight of blood, shielding my eyes from the slightest bit of movie gore.

“Most people don’t feel that way,” the nurse tells me, as she hands me the needle for the new drug. “Most people try not to take the drug, just to avoid the needle.”

I remember how a friend, who has watched me inject myself, asked for my help in injecting a drug she needed, how she asked me to come over to her house to watch her put the needle in her thigh. We joked about how we were both now ‘shooting up’ but the truth is, the idea that I can withstand a needle without fainting or whining or complaining makes me kind of high. It’s not something everyone has to do, of course, or something everyone (or anyone) wants to do. But it’s something that I – the one-time scaredy- cat, the one who blanched at blood – have learned to handle. It’s a skill I have, a badge I’ve earned. I can take a piece of hard sharpened steel and stick it into my skin.

In the small room with the nurse, I practice mixing up the new drug, and then shove the needle into a hard orange pillow for practice.

“You’re so optimistic about your diabetes,” the nurse smiles. “I wish I had more patients like you.”

Here’s the thing about needles. I fucking hate needles. But I know I have a choice. Either I refuse the needle, refuse the sticks, refuse the tests and let diabetes win. Or I make the hard bargain to inject myself, keep my sugars low and manage my A1C’s. It’s a bargain I make every day before I stick the needles in. I won’t let the needles win. 

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