A Pain in the Poo Factory 07
I must have been about four or five years old when my mother took me into a building in Canterbury road, in Canterbury, in the inner-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It was probably a church hall. It was loud and noisy; steel filing drawers slammed and footsteps and heels banged on the polished wooden floorboards. A powerful and inescapable stench of antiseptic hung everywhere. There were nurses in starched head-dresses. The nurses were too brisk to be friendly. There were lots of mothers and small children waiting in lines. My mother held my hand and waited in one of these lines. I did not know what was going to happen. We got to the front and my mother presented me to a man in a white coat who rubbed something wet onto my arm. I saw something sharp and shiny and suddenly there was intense pain, fierce and angry.
That hall in Canterbury road has since been demolished. But the place where it was forever became a place of harm, a place I would not trust. It’s an irrational but profound response to the responsible actions of my parents who had me vaccinated. And still, decades later I drive past the spot, and a gentle distaste still remains. Maybe that’s been why I’ve never been at ease with needles and injections.
However my sister Liz pointed out that she has the same sense of strong dislike, and she also recalls our dad as being a bit that way, too.
Years later, and it’s still with a feeling of dread when I’m in a doctor’s surgery, and the nurse comes to me with all the paraphernalia for taking a blood sample. It’s the smell of the antiseptic that sets me off. I tell her I’m a coward, and I ask if I’m allowed to yell and scream when she inserts the needle.
“Of course you can,” she says. “Just don’t move.”
“And can I have a balloon or a chocolate for being brave?”
I never did get either. But once I got a Batman sticker.
The best distraction is to give in to my curiosity. I once had an entertaining discussion with a nurse about why blood was red. Why not green or blue? Or a fetching shade of lavender? The nurse was agreeably sardonic.
“Well, we would all look pretty horrible if we blushed bright green.”
“We would, we would,” I agreed. “We would look incredibly jealous. And if blood was blue, we would all look like overgrown Smurfs when we blushed. Or extras from Avatar.”
And in hospital, needles are everywhere. Having your blood pressure taken is fine, and so is the little clip they put on a finger for taking pulse. But once a day, along comes a nurse pushing a little trolley. She comes to you, with an evil grin. She trembles slightly as she gazes at your veins with the drooling anticipation of a vampire waiting for bloody entrées to be served.
Well, none of the blood-extracting nurses were anything like vampires, of course, and neither did they drool. They had a job to do. At least in a hospital bed there are rails and blankets to grip and twist out of shape while waiting for the bee-sting. And so I got through them, one after another.
As consequence of having part of my colon hoicked out, I had to minimise the risk of blood clots forming after the operation. Fine I said. Were there tablets, capsules to take? Oh, no. They gave me two boxes of disposable syringes, and gaily informed me I had to do these injections myself, into my belly at home after discharge. For a whole fucking month, so help me God.
For anyone who knows about this stuff, it’s Clexane. The syringes are all neatly packaged. With their sleek yellow tubes encasing a clear sinister liquid, their steel grey plastic caps and their unmistakeable air of menace, they resemble miniature nuclear missiles.
Emma gave me some advice. “Pinch a fold of skin hard. It numbs it a little and you don’t feel it so much.”
That was good. I could even fight back the antiseptic smell of the alcohol skin swab.
“And the secret,” Emma continued, “is to do it as a gentle but definite jab. Get it in quick. Don’t ease in the needle like a lot of people try to do. A quick jab. It’s like a dart.” And so my stomach is like a dartboard?
She was my supervisor while I undertook Injecting Oneself Without Yelling and Screaming 101. It . . . wasn’t so bad. I didn’t like it. But I sighed, decided at some point I could rise above childhood trauma, and I pushed on with it. And in with it, too.
At home, Cathy helps. She doesn’t offer a balloon or a chocolate when I negotiate another successful jab. It’s at around 6 pm each evening when I groan, fetch the box of Clexane, the sharps container, grit my teeth and get on with it. And then Cathy smiles and hands me a very nice gin-and-tonic.