For the needle-phobic, it's our time to grit our teeth and shine

Firefighter and paramedic Nikko Humphry administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Hospice of Spokane volunteer Ron Genova on Jan. 11. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Firefighter and paramedic Nikko Humphry administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Hospice of Spokane volunteer Ron Genova on Jan. 11.

One of my earliest memories is of waiting at a clinic for vaccines as a toddler, spotting an open door and bolting. When I was 7, I got sent home from the dentist because I refused to open my mouth for a numbing shot. At 9, I threatened to kick a doctor who was attempting to sew shut a gash in my knee.

Even now, in my mid-30s, I feel the same soul-deep urge to get the hell out of there whenever someone comes at me with an IV, blood draw, shot or suture.

If you're like me, congratulations for making it this far in a column that's already referenced needles eight times. Take a moment to shake off the panic and wooziness, because I need you to stick with me.

Fellow needle-haters, we've got a job to do in the coming weeks and months. It's going to be difficult. It's going to require planning and fortitude.

We've got to get the coronavirus shot. Twice.

The United States is hurtling toward a half-million people dead of COVID-19 while I'm writing this in mid-February. The vaccine will help us prevent further death and suffering, and by extension get us back to cramming into concert venues, eating in rooms packed with strangers and hugging our grammies.

The exact percentage of the population that needs to be fully vaccinated for us to reach this blissful state of not-spreading-coronavirus-everywhere-all-the-time isn't entirely clear, but epidemiologists agree it's high — at least 60 to 70 percent.

For a certain portion of the population, the obstacle to getting the shot (shots, ugh) is simple: our intense phobia of needles. It's a real effect: A 2019 analysis in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that 16 percent of adults didn't get a flu shot because of needle fear.

But in a situation where everyone's participation matters, we can't all sit this one out.

First, we've got to make a plan. If you're a needle-hater, you've totally canceled blood draws and dentist appointments with fake excuses because you couldn't get your head in the game. Can't do it with this one, especially when the vaccine rollout so far is mild- to mid-level chaos in many places. You don't want to wig out a delicate system or risk wasting precious doses by not showing up.

The fun thing about phobias is we can't just logic or hope our way out, or we would do that and be done with it.

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Get scheduled as soon as you can so you have plenty of time to prepare and you can't procrastinate your way to not doing it. Mark it on the calendar and memorize the date. Reflect on what motivates you, and start motivating yourself to show up.

Maybe it's protecting yourself, a loved one or your neighbors. Maybe it's supporting science, or posting that post-vaccine selfie with pride. Me, I know I'm easily bribed. I'm thinking coronavirus shot No. 1 will merit ice cream... and coronavirus shot No. 2 will also merit ice cream.

The next phase of planning is knowing what help you might need. The fun thing about phobias is we can't just logic or hope our way out, or we would do that and be done with it.

I plan to schedule my shot (which will likely be this summer) at the same time as my husband, who is unfazed by needles and sympathetic to my extreme wimpiness. I always tell nurses about my fear — and since nurses tend to be exceptionally patient and generous humans, they usually respond with reassurance and comfort.

If you know a routine or approach will help you, be bold and ask for it. After announcing my phobia, I usually follow with explaining exactly what I will need to get through the process. For shots, warn me but make sure I'm not looking. For blood draws, keep talking to me. (I interview all my phlebotomists.)

If you don't know your coping mechanisms, the internet is full of mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises and other strategies to try. And if the situation is dire, counseling can help well beyond a single shot, though it takes time.

Whatever you've got to do, now's the time to do it. We are millions strong, and those weirdos who don't mind getting shots can't get through this pandemic alone. Let's band together in bravery, fellow needle-haters. The world needs us. ♦

Tara Roberts is a writer and college journalism adviser who lives in Moscow with her husband, sons and poodle. Her work has appeared in Moss, Hippocampus and a variety of regional publications. Follow her on Twitter @tarabethidaho.

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