- 24 September 2021
- 13 min read
Will Your Phobia Stop You Getting Into Nursing? Overcoming My TrypanophobiaSubscribe To Advice
Mel talks to us about her Nursing journey and explains how she beat her fear of needles to carry on her career.
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My Path To Nursing
I studied at Wolverhampton University as a children’s Nurse, I worked on a medical children’s ward, neonatal unit, special schools, for a medical company in the community and now as a complex care and TPN home care Nurse.
What Is Trypanophobia?
The name combines the Greek term Trypano meaning “puncturing” or “piercing” with phobia, meaning “fear.” It is an irrational, extreme fear or aversion to blood or needles affecting around 25% of people.
I will explain my experience with it the best I can but I can only use words. Unless you've experienced the feelings yourself, it may be hard to comprehend. The phobia took me to places I would never wish to go again, it was like going to hell.
I’m not sure exactly when it started, I imagine from childhood.
The last reaction was from a blood test not long before I was cured of my phobia.
I remember walking home as my GP is just up the road, luckily, I probably wouldn't have been safe to drive!
I thought I'm not sure any procedure is worth this reaction on my body.
It was like my body had been through a massive stress and I felt completely drained and emotionally down.
Years ago I used to have reactions even before the procedure. I somehow managed to get rid of that and can be quite calm before but still got the reaction during and after.
I feel like I almost faint.
It's this absolute terror and total panic.
I begin to shake and almost go unconscious.
I have fallen unconscious before but I learnt to stop myself as I got older, I would make sure I was lying down after a needle for example and not stand up till I felt able too.
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A Burgeoning Problem
I was once on holiday and cut my toe on glass in the sea.
It was about the only time I’d had to access any healthcare, as I’ve always been in really good health.
So I thought it was typical that I happened to be abroad and cost me a lot more then it would with our lovely NHS!
I hobbled to a pool to get it cleaned as my friend had advised there was a lot of blood.
I remember everyone telling me to move from where I was sitting to get out of the sun.
If I had moved, I would have fainted.
It was not the sun that was the issue but trying to clean the sand out of my bleeding toe that I couldn’t deal with!
A local Doctor was called.
I ended up speeding off on the back of his motorbike in my bikini to have my toe looked at!
I had to have antibiotics and I remember apologising to him.
He said he could tell I was having real difficulty dealing with it but that I was very polite with it.
This time, I actually didn’t faint but physically vomited, so I suppose there can be different reactions people can have.
I know one friend who starts heaving like she is going to vomit at the sight of a spider.I also had an interest in Chinese medicine and thought it would be interesting/relaxing to have acupuncture…
I can definitely say I did not have a relaxing experience!
A load of needles were placed in my back and then the Acupuncturist went next door.
I was fine for a few minutes, then found I was having to try and use meditation techniques to keep myself calm.
I carried on until I couldn't face it any longer and had to call him back in to take the needles out.
I obviously wouldn’t have gone if I felt this was going to happen, I didn’t think the needles would affect me as not piercing to draw blood.
This is the one time the phobia did affect my work and it wasn’t even anything that had happened at work!
I ended up feeling so ill after the acupuncture that I couldn’t go to work that afternoon.
People would tell me needles don't hurt, I know this, it wasn't about the pain, I was aware my reaction was completely irrational and I would do my best to ignore it.
In fact, I never let it stop me.
I had all the vaccines I was meant to and the three hepatitis b injections with a blood test required for Nursing, despite what happened.
I went to the desk in occupational health to make my next appointment after the vaccine.
So, it nearly did stop me.
Deciding To Quit Nursing
I actually left my Nursing course when I was a student for about a week.
I had decided that I couldn't do the job with this issue and I didn’t see any way of getting over it.
I didn't understand much about the way the brain works compared to what I do now, I didn't realise that there are ways to get over it.
This is why I am writing this piece.
My thoughts were “how could I possibly do this job and assist with certain things when they make me have this extreme reaction?"
It wouldn’t be very professional and what about the pressures on my colleagues let alone what it did to me.
I remember having to assist Doctors with taking blood from children and I could hold their arm but just not look directly at the needle in their arm.
However, the last straw for me was during my surgical placement, It wasn’t just needles for me but gory, painful situations.
An incident occurred where a young girl was admitted.
She had to have her finger amputated after it had got caught in some machinery, she had the biggest bandage you’ve ever seen on her finger.
I had to leave the room when it was removed.
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What Changed My Mind?
It was only because of my amazing personal tutor that I didn’t leave.
My mind was completely made up before I had a meeting with her.
She saw me in her office and convinced me that I could still be a Nurse with this issue, she highlighted all the other good points about me and even said if her children were in hospital, I would be the kind of Nurse she would want looking after them.
She said I would get over it, I still wasn't sure about that, but I knew I’d managed to get used to seeing people have blood tests done.
I decided to carry on and see how I got on.
By this point, I had already done around a year and a half of the course. Fortunately, giving needles wasn’t such an issue being a paediatric nurse, as children don’t tend to have many injections on a regular basis like adults.
Most things were given by IV, which I was ok with.
For diabetics, the insulin pens are not like needles.
However, my main concern was how I was supposed to give someone else a needle as part of my course.
It was a skill that needed to be achieved and signed off.
My personal tutor reassured me that it would be different giving a needle to receiving one.
She was correct, I managed to successfully give injections without any of the phobias coming up, this felt like a massive achievement.
When working on a ward, you have colleagues and a skill mix, which is reassuring.
Most Nurses are quite understanding and help each other out.
Obviously, when you choose a job you don’t want to choose something where you're going to be a burden on the other staff eg-vaccine nurse for example!
Although, like I said, giving injections wasn’t a big deal for me.
Getting Over Your Phobia
(These same techniques can be applied to any phobia)
What made me decide to try again and overcome this was when I found out I was pregnant.
I didn't think that reaction would be good for the baby as negative hormones I would be producing could get passed through the placenta.
I knew pregnancy involved a few blood tests.
Solving this problem was so easy.
I wish I had done this sooner back when I was a student Nurse, I was only 17 then and I didn’t know much about these techniques.
It might be for some people that cognitive behavioural therapy or emotional freedom technique (EFT) works for them where you tap parts of your body, when I was trying to find my solution this was the route I was going to pursue.
However, it’s not so easy to do on yourself and I didn’t manage to find anyone nearby who could help me.
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Do you have any questions for Mel?
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I found a YouTube video but repeating “I have this fear” didn't feel right to me.
It was like I was going to make it even worse.
So I felt hypnosis was the best choice but everyone is different.
Hypnosis is really just being in a relaxed, receptive place.
Almost asleep, in the alpha brain waves, where your mind takes on the suggestions you place in it by what you listen to.
I downloaded the Paul McKenna app for phobia of needles.
I did it for at least two weeks, twice a day, before my next blood test.
Paul guides you through using a technique involving visualising.
As he says “Images that are bigger, brighter and bolder have greater emotional intensity than those that are duller, dimmer and farther away." It's about making the negative images further away.
So, the blood test happened and the only reaction I had was having a right laugh with the Nurses which is exactly what was said would happen in the hypnosis.
"The way you feel from moment to moment is a direct result of the way you are using your body and the pictures and sounds you are making in your mind.”
By programming my mind for the two weeks before I had changed my reality.
I decided to get the covid jab.
I actually booked it for the next day after I'd decided and then thought really I should have done the Paul McKenna hypnosis again before as it had been months since I had done it but I didn't get a chance.
So, I went along anyway and was pleasantly surprised with no reaction.
I want to encourage anyone with a fear or phobia to believe that you can definitely overcome it, whatever it is.
I didn't think it was possible years ago and that it was something I had to just deal with and it wasn't something I felt affected me very much as its not every day you have an injection.
However, when I look back, there's been quite a few times It's affected me.
Can/Should You Be A Nurse With A Phobia?
It is possible.
I worked as a Nurse for over 14 years with this issue as I have only recently got over it, and I didn’t feel like I was having to cause my colleagues any extra work.
Largely because I chose my areas of work to suit what I felt comfortable with, there may have been the odd occasion where something happened on the ward that I didn’t want to deal with, for example, a child got her head bitten by a dog and had to have staples removed.
However, it was a busy ward, so there were plenty of jobs for everyone, without me having to worry she was already being taken care of.
So, it is worth thinking about how it will affect yourself, your colleagues and of course your patients and then make a decision from there.
However, you may be pleasantly surprised at how easy and quick it is to get over your phobia altogether, it took me two weeks.
So, this would be your best option and then you aren’t so limited plus don’t have to deal with the unpleasantness of the phobia anymore.
Also there is a plus side in that you will be able to have empathy with your patients, I definitely had this and could understand what they were going through, even if it’s something unrelated.
Having been through difficulties yourself helps you understand how it is for others in similar situations.
One example I can think of is when I was training school staff with nasogastric tubes, one of the school staff said it made her feel queasy, to me it never made me feel like this but I knew a lot of other things that had, so I could see where she was coming from.
Also experience from the “other side.’
The one other time I did need medical attention, when I had a bike accident involving cutting my head open, I remember being so grateful to the Nurses who saw me in A&E.
The way they treated me when I was at my most vulnerable was wonderful, I had so much respect for them.
I felt like they were amazing human beings!
I didn’t have much experience of receiving Nursing myself until this moment, I think this made me want to work in A&E, to make a difference.
So I actually did a few bank shifts and loved it.
There’s definitely some truth in the saying that Nurses make the worst patients!
Maybe the worst patients make good Nurses because we want to make it a better experience for others, as we know what a difference it can make to them?