Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Fifo
I was maybe five or six when a needle broke in my buttock. At least that’s how I remember it. I remember being held down squirming. I don’t remember how the needle felt piercing the skin and the muscle, but I do remember the scene that erupted before the needle was eventually removed. I swear the nurse said: “It BROKE!” It probably didn’t break. I’m sure the image in my mind of a sharp spike of metal, cracked in half, its ragged end protruding from the dart buried daggerlike in my buttock, was the product of my imagination. Whatever happened, I bet it was because of how tightly I clenched my muscles as I dodged to avoid the needle. All I know is that a sense of heightened emotion spread throughout the room, emotion I interpreted as panic, and that after a first failed stick – oh joy – I had to get another one.
Years later, when the same doctor told the same nurse to draw up an injection for me, my sister rubbed it in: “That means a SHOT!” I knew what it meant – the last one I got, the one that broke inside me, was tattooed forever in my memory – but I didn’t start to cry until she said the word SHOT out loud. An injection sounded like a medicine; a shot was just a needle.
Which brings me to the flu shot I got yesterday. I took a cleansing breath and relaxed all my muscles while the nurse swabbed my shoulder with alcohol. Even after she reminded me of the last time she gave me a flu shot, when she made me bleed so profusely, I kept my mind tuned to a station of peaceful acceptance. In the bathroom mirror I watched her aim the microscopic javelin into what looked like someone else’s shoulder, allowing the stab of the needle to enter the belly of the muscle like a twig in a lax bowl of pudding. Sometimes pushing harder only makes it worse, like erasing fragile paper or receiving an injection. This time I didn’t bleed. In fact, I didn’t feel a thing. And I rarely tear paper anymore.