Monday, February 14, 2005

A Shot of Courage

Blogging for Books #8: Risk (Guest Author: Faulker Fox)

Risk is an inherent part of life. We take our lives in our hands each day just by getting out of bed. Risk is responsible for much of our pain in this world, but it's also the source of all of our pleasures.

For this Blogging for Books, write a blog entry (2,000 words or less, please) about a time when you took a risk in your life on someone or something - a new romance, a new career, a new home, etc. Were you successful beyond your wildest dreams - or did you crash and burn?


A Shot of Courage

I am not a big risk taker. I learned this back in junior high school as I was crossing an icy parking lot and my friend Lisa, laughing and cupping her hands around her mouth, shouted out to me, "Lilly, you are such a careful stepper!" And I am, for the most part. Some of my friends are wild risk takers, and when they tell me about the time the parachute failed to open correctly or the time hitchhiking along a lonely highway in Kansas, I listen to every detail. I try to imagine the sounds, the scents, the thoughts that raced through their heads, the rapid beating of their hearts, because to the core of my self I know that will never be me.

Except for the one time when it was me, poised at the doorway of the plane, faulty parachute strapped to my back. All I knew was that there was no way on this green Earth that I was leaving school. No way I would let the illness-invader best me, force me out of an Ivy League school just so I would be close enough to my doctor's office to go for my shots twice a week. The problem was that I had no medical support in the one-cow upstate town. I talked to the school's health clinic (motto: We're Dying to Help You), and they let me know that my prescription did not impress them.

"But I'm a student here and I have a prescription."

"Sorry, we only dispense insulin injections."

"What difference does it make what's in it? I just need a nurse to give me my shot."

"But it's not for insulin."

"We could pretend...?"

Next, I tried to hire a nurse from town. No nurse, no doctor, no candy striper would help me because I was a student and the school clinic had turned me down. I was strongly considering trying the veterinary school when I hatched my plan.

"You can't be serious," my doctor told me.

"As a heart attack… ha ha! O.K., you're not amused, no, really, I am very serious," I assured her.

She quirked one eyebrow in her quintessentially European way, all at once questioning my statement, my intent, and my sad American sense of humor. "It is too large a volume to self-administer. You get dizzy and disoriented after your shot here in this office. It is not safe for you to do yourself."

"I have to do this!" I urged. "I have to stay in school!"

"Why?" she asked. "Your health... perhaps you should take some time off."

"If I don't do this, I will always feel like I am behind and that it's because of fear."

We looked at each other while she considered. "All right," she breathed. "The nurse will teach you."

The nurse brought in a large tray loaded down with everything I never wanted to know about shots. Little bottles of differently colored fluids, rubber tubing, syringes and alcohol swabs. And needles. I felt myself fight to focus on the lesson on how one needle gets dull piercing the soft rubber tops of the bottles so a fresh needle goes on before you inject yourself. Just a little science experiment, I told myself as I floated above the surreal scene. La dee dah, mix in a cc of this, a cc of that, no big deal at all. Easy as pie. Soon, 10 cc's of terror sat glinting in the bright medical office lights.

"Ok," she said, "You're ready."

I didn't feel ready. As a child, I helpfully volunteered my brother at the pediatrician each year to be first for getting any vaccinations. My first question before a trip outside the country was always, 'Will I need a shot?' because that might be a deal-breaker. I had come so far in the past months in handling my fear of needles. I had to. I had had so many blood tests that the lady at the lab and I knew each other by name. Once during a particularly long draw, she looked confused for a moment and muttered, "It's stopped."

"What do you mean, 'It's stopped?'" Blood doesn't stop! It can't just stop, can it? Can it?"

"Hey, stay calm, you're starting to hyperventilate," she said as she bent my arm around some cotton gauze.

"I would say that's the least of my problems right now! My blood has STOPPED!"

Pushing my head down between my knees, she explained that all my blood hadn't stopped, just this one vein had collapsed. "We drew too much blood."

Unbelievable! I thought, both impressed and appalled. The Queen of Needle Avoidance had come to this.

I stared at the 10 cc syringe. It was the size of a roll of quarters and I would have to inject that into my own body twice a week. It would hurt and make me feel sick and dizzy and I would have to do it alone in my dorm room with no help from anyone. I would have to reach into myself and dredge up the strength to take this chance or give up my dream school.

A bubble of nervous laughter escaped my lips as I raised the syringe over my thigh, and I froze in mid-air. Suddenly, I realized that my old stand-by strategy for dealing with needles was not going to work. There would be no looking around the room, pretending nothing unusual was happening, distracting myself, Ooh, bright shiny objects... then - OW! - it was over. When giving myself a shot, I could not look away. I had to choose a spot on my body and focus very hard, my eyes burning warmth and expectation into it until the skin began to tingle, sending the lizard part of my brain into a frenzy, What are you doing to yourself??


Then long, long moments of slowly pushing a liquid roll of quarters into my flesh.

My freshman year roommate had spent the first week of school clueing me in to the fact that boarding school had made her very worldly and mature. My request that she help me with my shot by being in the room at the same time every Tuesday and Friday set her maturity level back a good ten years.

"Oh gawd! Oh GAWWWDD!!" Tracey squealed.

"Jesus," I muttered, "I'm not asking you to do it. I just need you to be in the room."


"You have to be here for safety, in case I pass out. Just stay this time and by the next time I will find someone else to babysit me." I told her not to look, and she buried her face in her pillow moaning in misery just imagining what was going on in the room. My hands were shaking as I followed the recipe, moving from vial to vial, accidentally dropping the fresh needle on the floor and fumbling in the box for a replacement. When I told her it was over, the pale, sick look on her face left me wondering which one of us was more likely to pass out.

By the next week, I had a new boyfriend. Bob's flaws were many and varied, but whatever else could be said about him, he was there for every last one of my shots. He found out about them when I asked for help bringing my bed down from its loft position over my desk. I had discovered that my upper glutes were my best injection site, but after my shot placed what felt like a golf ball in the back pocket of very tight jeans, I could not climb the ladder to my lofted bed. I was never sure how to regard Bob's fascination with the shots. At first it seemed to be an engineer's interest in the mechanics of how it all worked - the careful angling of each vial to avoid air bubbles, the rolling of the syringe between my palms to warm it, the slight pull back on the injection to check for blood in case a vein had been hit.

Later on, Bob invited whoever was around to come see me give myself the shot. "Oh, is it six o'clock already? Wait a sec - Hey, Les, man, you gotta come see this!" Since most of his friends were ROTC, I found it funny how many of them lost their tough-guy cool the instant a needle made its appearance. If they seemed to take it in stride, my cheerful offer, "You want one?" would elicit the squealing and head shaking my boyfriend found so funny. Only the gung ho Marine ROTC down the hall stood his ground without a flicker of emotion. "That's some damn fine work, soldier," he said to me. I never knew if he meant the shot or the ass, but I guessed I'd take it as a compliment either way.

After six months or so, Bob asked if he could give me my shot. He had seen me do it fifty times, I considered, why not? I watched as he carefully mixed the recipe from each little vial. He replaced the mix needle with a fresh one and tore open an alcohol swab packet. "O.K.," he said, "drop ‘em."

I turned and unzipped my jeans, lowering them a few inches. I waited for the OW! I waited what seemed like a long time. I turned to look at him and saw his hand shaking slightly. "Just aim for an old bruise," I told him. "Those are the best spots." Waiting… waiting…


"Hey," Bob said with surprised relief, "that wasn’t so bad."

"Sure, for you. I was the one getting stabbed," I laughed.

"I could give you your shot every time if you want."

It should have been music to my ears. Six months earlier that offer would have been a miracle, but I was shocked to discover I hated not being in control of my shot. The days of finding relief in games and distractions were long gone. I knew too well what my reality was and I needed to be in charge of it.


At February 14, 2005 at 7:05 AM, Blogger Jensgalore said...

Wow. I've given myself insulin shots, but they're nothing compared to what you describe. Not just a risk, but very brave.

At February 14, 2005 at 7:20 PM, Blogger Tiger said...


At February 15, 2005 at 7:38 PM, Blogger Elisson said...

SWMBO had to give herself heparin shots for several months whilst pregnant with the Mistress of Sarcasm...I'm not sure how well I would have done. Well-written story (as usual!)

And what Ivy League school was that, anyway?

At February 16, 2005 at 6:47 AM, Blogger ashleymclure said...

Yowch! I've had to give dogs shots, and I've had to give someone an epi shot. I've never had to give myself one, though. Don't know that I want to try.

At February 16, 2005 at 7:09 AM, Blogger Goldie said...

Wow! That took a lot of courage! And that was in your freshman year? Wow!

Very well written, too!

At February 16, 2005 at 3:09 PM, Blogger Regular Cinderella said...

What a fabulously told story!

You've certainly more courage than I have. I pass out at the word "needle."

At February 16, 2005 at 5:28 PM, Blogger Lilly said...

Hi All,

Just wanted to say I am really feeling the love. Thanks for reading & commenting!

Yes, it was freshman year. All this was going on as I was trying to figure out how to do my laundry without tinting everything purple, how to live with one awful roommate after another, and all the rest of it.

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