After pushing the Hand-Held Control between my left thigh and the side of the infusion chair and adjusting the pillow I’d just rested my left arm on, I thought about whether I should settle on a cup of machine brewed coffee, or cranberry juice, from the Nourishment Center. It was before lunchtime, so I decided on coffee. It struck me that these are now the first things I do whenever I sit in the infusion chair, and I started to wonder if I follow a routine whenever I sit in an infusion chair. I’ve been sitting in an infusion chair twice a month for the last ten months for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses your immune system to fight cancer. It uses laboratory-made substances similar to components of your immune system to stimulate and boost your natural defences and how they work to find and attack cancer cells.
After a short wait and three sips of coffee, a nurse appears and readies me for, and then starts my infusion. They announce as they leave, see you in thirty minutes; if you need me for anything, push the red nurse button on your Hand-Held Control. Even though I’ve sat in the infusion chair twenty-plus times, I’m still not exactly sure what the nurse does. I’ve never looked at what they’re doing; I only steal a glance at what they did when they leave the room. I have a needle in my left arm connected to a catheter connecting to an IV bag holding my chemotherapy liquid hanging from an IV pole with an infusion pump and other medical equipment that sometimes beeps and chirps. I wonder if never looking as I’m being jabbed with a needle is a sign that I have needle phobia. By now, I shouldn’t have anxiety about having a needle poked into my vein or any worries about looking as it punctures the skin. I have, on average, a couple of hospital visits a week, and they all involve a needle.
The Pet scan is close to being my favourite procedure. It’s a positron, emission tomography, imaging scan that uses radioactive tracers; that’s where the needle is involved. During a scan, you lay motionless inside the scan machine tunnel for thirty minutes or more. As to which is my favourite procedure is a toss-up between a PET scan and an MRI. The MRI scanner uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to create a cross-sectional image of your internal organs and structures. The equipment is inside a large cylinder that has a movable table. The table slides you into and out of a tunnel inside the cylinder. You may be in the tunnel for ten or more minutes at a time, and you’re warned not to move because the slightest movement can blur an image during the capture. Your nose touches the top of the cylinder, and you’re wearing earplugs because of the loud clanging noises from the scanner. After a series of scans, a liquid contrast dye gets injected into your vein for the final scan.
At the start of my MRI brain scan, the technologist, as they were helping me onto the movable table, cautioned me about moving my head in the tunnel. When I was lying prone, they nudged and jostled me so that my head was in the correct position when I entered the cylinder tunnel. All the shuffling and squirming caused my hospital gown, which was like all hospital clothing and wouldn’t fasten at the back, to ride up in the front. I avoided any embarrassment because I couldn’t look down. I was motionless from the shoulders up because my neck was resting on a foam u-shaped pillow, and my head was encased in something akin to a crash test dummy helmet.
I still have several months of hospital visits that involve a poke with a needle, so I need to come up with a strategy to overcome needle phobia. It means taking one small step at a time. I can’t be afraid of going slowly, only of standing still. I should construct a mind conditioning stepladder where each step will be a different degree of thinking about and interacting with syringes and needles. I’ll model it on Dale’s Cone of Experience. The bottom of my Cone of Needle Phobia will be an abstract modelling activity, and each step up the Cone will lead to a direct, purposeful conditioning experience.
For this to work, I’ll need to stay with each step until I feel my anxiety peak and then gradually reduce on its own. When I’m confident and relaxed, I’ll move on to the next step. I may need to work at an activity a few times before I’m ready to move on, but it doesn’t matter how slowly I go, so long as I don’t stop. And when I reach the top of the Cone, I’ll be so eager to watch a nurse stick a needle into a vein in my left arm.
Cone of Needle Phobia
Mum must not have had a needle phobia. I remember how excited she got when the Red Cross rang to ask her if she’d come into the blood bank to donate blood. Mum had a blood type compatible will most other blood types, so she often gave blood. She couldn’t wait for her blood donor day to come, and when it did, she put on her going into town clothes, made sure her blood donors card was in her handbag and then headed off to the Newport station to catch the train into town.
Back then, the Blood Bank was at the top end of Flinders Lane. The Lane was still waiting for gentrification and was the centre of Melbournes’ garment and clothing trade and soft goods import warehouses. Most people thought of the Lane as a working man’s street. Mum, at one time, worked as a seamstress in a Flinders Lane dressmaking workroom that was close to Spencer Street Station, which is now known as Southern Cross Station. Mum would have walked along Flinders Street from the station to the blood bank instead of walking the Lane; not wanting to be reminded of her days as a seamstress. She would enjoy the walk down Flinders Street, without doubt, the Ball and Welch department store, the remodelled and modernised Majestic Theatre known as the Chelsea Cinema, the State Theatre and the neoclassical Herald and Weekly Times building provided her with a pleasant distraction.
The Red Cross stamped mum’s card after each donation. She began to reach blood donor milestones and receive badges and certificates. Whenever mum got home from giving blood, all we heard about was how many more stamps she needed to reach another blood donor’s milestone. Collecting a stamp for each pint of blood became the thrill of the hunt for mum; she couldn’t wait for the phone call asking her to give another donation. But it wasn’t just about the stamps. Mum would tell us, over and over again, about the lovely cup of tea and plate of biscuits, which were probably either Monte Carlos, Milk Arrowroots, Royals, or Scotch Fingers, she had when she waited with the other donors in the recovery lounge after giving blood. If mum had needle phobia, then the pleasant thoughts of a lovely cup of tea, and more stamps in her blood donors card, replaced her anxiety and fear. I need to ask the Nourishment Center at my next infusion if they have any Arnott’s Tic Tocs, Tim Tams, and Iced VoVos.
I was calm and anxiety-free as I sat in the waiting area waiting for my first Urology appointment. I was thinking of iced VoVos, and how this would be my first hospital visit in so long, where I wouldn’t have anything jabbed into me. I heard my name called and was soon sitting alone in the examination room, waiting for the Urologist.
Me: G’day mate.
And then I heard the snap of a latex glove and a voice asking me to lower my shorts and undies and to bend over and rest my elbows on the seat of the examination chair. The Urologist gestured to a tissue box and rhetorically asked, do you need to clean up a little. I cleaned up a little, sat back in the chair, and started squirming until I realised it was the Vaseline I was feeling. I started thinking about Iced VoVos as the Urologist shared his thinking from the examination. He concluded with seems like we need to schedule a follow-up MRI. I asked him if he thought I should construct a Cone of Latex Glove Examination Phobia.
I now feel the need to play a game of Injections Syringes & Needles. I need to remember that it’s important to fill the syringe with the right medicine, not too much and not too little. After the game, I’ll distract myself by doing a few Tim Tam slams with a lovely cup of tea.