Human pincushion

Human pincushion

I hate needles just as much as the next person. Always have, always will.

A few nights ago I had an abdominal MRI to figure out what’s causing the pain I’ve been having for the past couple of years. For now, we suspect either scar tissue from my VP shunt, pancreas or an issue arising from my gallbladder removal a few years back. The use of contrast required me to have a picc line put in. I have absolutely terrible veins, they never play along. I dreaded it.

A bit of context

A few years back, in hospital, when I had my 2nd bout of viral meningitis and before my initial diagnosis, I had 8 attempts at drawing some blood. Something, which was traumatic both for me, as well as the person doing it! I’ve made that my tolerance number and am determined to get through anything lower. Anyone who beats that many attempts, will take 1st place and so far, no one has. Plus, it makes for a “funny” story when I tell it to anyone else needing to take my blood. (Not funny for them but more for me watching and hearing them react to it). I normally end off with “No pressure!

The first attempt went nowhere and a second radiographer was called. He was a bit more confident and determined, chatting away and attempting to put me at ease. However, when he started looking at my wrist and hand for alternate entry points, I tensed up. There are just certain places a needle should not enter, those are two of them. Anyone who has ever had a drip put in, in one of those two places will understand. Even your foot would fall into that category. Painful as can be and I absolutely hate it! Plus, when they say, “sharp scratch“, that’s not quite what it feels like.

What works for me is not looking and taking as deep a breath as I possibly can, as the needle goes in.

I subtly encouraged the use of either a heat pack, which makes my veins pop up a bit, or even an ultrasound machine. (Normally it’s recommended that you drink a fair amount of water beforehand but, this was a nil per mouth for 4 hours prior, MRI). He nodded but continued to feel for “a spongy pushback” from my veins. I explained that an ED doctor told me once: “If anyone needs to do this again, advise them to use an ultrasound machine to avoid being poked a few times”. Hoping he would take the hint.

He ended up failing 3 times between my two arms, one in my left wrist, before he gave up and called in one of the radiology doctors. The problem we all faced, aside from my veins playing hide and seek, was the requirement for contrast to be used. So, after two further attempts via ultrasound, we got the damned thing in via my right wrist!

While the radiology doctor had his first attempt though, apologising for what he had to do after so many failed attempts, I told him: “Brain surgery is worse, so don’t worry about it”, trying to make him feel better. He looked at me with empathy and asked, “You’ve had brain surgery?”. I smiled as I explained I have Hydrocephalus and have had 5 thus far. “That’s something I’m so scared of, you know, being diagnosed with something life threatening. Sounds like you’ve been through a lot…”. I just smiled and nodded my head.

Everyone is usually apologetic in this situation, me for having bad veins and them for not being able to succeed at the first try.

Silently willing myself to get through the test I was about to have, thankful that I’m not claustrophobic and wondering if we’ll finally get some answers. However, it’ll either mean surgery or seeking a 2nd opinion – I don’t know if I have the appetite for either option. On top of that, right next to that train of thought, I wondered how my upcoming appointment with a Neurosurgeon (Dr N) next Tuesday, will go. We’ll be discussing the results of my brain and spine MRI a few weeks back, and hopefully my vision loss episodes too, following my visit to the Neuro Ophthalmologist.

I smiled at my reality while waiting for my MRI to be done, picc line in. Looking at the all too familiar surroundings of these rooms, noticing the dented door where, undoubtedly a hospital bed (possibly a few) had knocked into it. I’ve been to so many of them, different hospitals, different countries and it dawned on me – this feels like “home“. I don’t know if that’s just sad but IT IS my reality. Hospitals are familiar to me, more than most things in my life.

When I was called into the room, I jokingly told the second radiographer, “6 out of 8 is not so bad – the record remains unbroken!“, he laughed and said, “Yes, it could have been worse but that was still too many“. I told him, “It could always be worse“, as they strapped me onto the table.

It can feel like it’s a continuous battle and it is. Ill-health is never easy to deal with, especially when you have unexplained symptoms. When you lump it all together, with no formal diagnosis for each individual complaint, it makes you a complex case in the eyes of the doctors you seek help from. You’re left feeling all sorts of emotions because of it, largely helpless and just wanting it all to go away or end.

BUT, one issue…one week at a time…


  • Peter

    February 11, 2021 at 3:58 pm Reply

    I too am a human pin cushion. Over my 55 years of life I have had countless numbers of IV’s, medicine injection and such. My veins are a type called “rollers”. When medical staff of all segments try to inject me with needles the veins move to one side or bend. I have had countless numbers of “medical school” students try to inject my with no success at their first attempt. Some of them have tried more than once. Some have made comments similar to “I gotta find that vein!” I only give them two attempts. That is being extremely kind in my opinion!

    • Skyewaters

      February 11, 2021 at 8:06 pm Reply

      I guess mine are “rollers” too! It’s annoying.

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