Monday, 18 July 2016

What's your phobia?

A friend posted on Facebook this morning about seeing her dentist for some necessary repair work. While I made positive noises in a comment on her post, my insides were clenching at the very thought of dentists...

I have an intense phobia about dentists, and a spin-off phobia that I've come to realise comes from the dentist one - needles. People tell me I'm silly, it's *just* a needle, and there's *nothing* to be frightened about going to a dentist. The thing about phobias is that they're not rational. My rational mind is perfectly capable of telling me the same sensible things. Then someone sticks a needle in me and my blood pressure spikes, my palms sweat, my whole body tenses, and until the needle is out again, I'm a bit of a mess. Even more so with a dentist - with that, I am bathed in cold sweat, I shake, I'm white, and have all of the above going on as well. 

A year ago, I broke a filling - something that can't be ignored. I don't have a dentist in Sydney - and I've been here since the end of 2005... The filling that had broken was a temporary one that had been done in mid 2005 (pretty good temporary filling!). Dragon Dad was in Melbourne for work at the time, and I was due to head down for a couple of weeks, staying with a good friend of mine. A good friend of hers, and acquaintance of mine, is a dentist. I called her and explained my situation, only to find she'd just chipped a tooth and was about to make her own appointment. So, I asked her to make two back to back ones - explaining my utter terror and asking her to warn them at the surgery, and the need to have someone drive me... She did it, but I could tell she was humouring me. That didn't last. She sent me in for the first appointment, because once we got there, I'd started to get the shakes and she realised that sitting and waiting was only going to make it worse. By the time I got out - and our friend the dentist was VERY good - I was a complete mess, and couldn't speak. The dentist had noted a bunch of work that needed doing but said dealing with the filling would be all he'd do that day. He was quick, efficient, very gentle, and hummed most of the time he was working - except when he stopped to tell me what he was going to do next.

I survived. I always do. But it's always incredibly difficult, and knowing that one of the things I'm going to have to do once we're moved and settle is to set up a string of appointments to deal with all the other things that need to be fixed is something I just try hard not to think about. 

And the needles. Dealing with RA for twenty four years means there have been a lot of needles. Far more than the average healthy person is ever likely to encounter in a lifetime. So, based on the concept of aversion therapy, you'd think I'd have managed to get my head around dealing with them. I haven't. Moving from weekly shots of my biologic drug to four weekly infusions has dropped the actual number of regular needles to two every four weeks instead of five (there's a four weekly blood test too...). The flip side is that I have to sit with the bloody cannula stuck in me for anything up to an hour and a half, depending on how busy the clinic is, and how well the infusion goes. They do three sets of obs in that time - at the beginning, during and at the end, so I see the blood pressure spike and changes in my pulse rate each time. It's a real, physical reaction.

So, where did it come from, and why, after dealing with it for decades is it such a big thing...?

I grew up in country South Australia. At the time, there was a free, school-based dental service for primary school children. With what came to be terrifying regularity, a note would go home, and shortly afterwards, I'd be lined up at school along with the other kids for that day awaiting the taxi that would ferry us to the primary school across town that hosted the dental clinic. 

I'm pretty sure, in hindsight, that it was staffed mainly by rookie dentists fresh out of their university course, and that I endured a number of unnecessary procedures. These young dentists had no real idea how to deal with a frightened child, and to this day I can see that huge hypodermic of local anaesthetic being passed across my face in full view. Eventually, my mother pulled me from the program and found a local private dentist. I can still remember, with dreadful clarity, my first visit to her, and her shock to have me shaking and sweating in the chair. She let Mum stay with me and hold my hand, talking nonsense through the whole visit to try and calm me. She was very patient, but short lived, as she was subbing for the dentist who headed up that clinic, who travelled from Adelaide a few days a week to maintain the service. I was transferred to him, and he was also very good, totally understanding that I was traumatised and struggled with the visits. Later, as a young adult living in Adelaide, I found his home practice and would travel well over an hour to get there, rather than try and find another dentist and have to explain. 

Following my Melbourne appointment last year, I've become more and more aware of the deterioration of my teeth. It can be an associated problem of autoimmune diseases, and given I have fairly high maintenance - if neglected - teeth, it's not really surprising that there are a number of issues now. I have two front teeth with significant chips that need fixing, old fillings in front teeth that need replacing, some tender spots further back, and they're WAY overdue for a full professional clean. 

I'll just have to bite the bullet, so to speak. As I do each month for my blood test and infusion. And go on biting the bullet every time I have to deal with a needle, dentist or both. Because, no matter how well I try to prepare myself, my reaction happens. Because it IS a phobia, and the underlying trauma keeps it alive. It's good to know that my Melbourne dentist isn't going to just brush it off, but will tread carefully around it, as the nurses in the infusion centre have come to do. Ultimately, having it recognised and having health professionals prepared to work with it does help a little bit. 

What's your phobia, and how do you deal with it?


  1. Have you ever considered seeing a psychologist who specializes in phobias? Perhaps desensitization therapy could be helpful. Talk to your dentist about it, or maybe your family doctor.
    I used to be terrified of the dentist, which was also based in childhood trauma with the school dentist, and later the dentist at the hospital I was in for a very long time. Having a good dentist and seeing her regularly was really helpful. I eventually stopped getting the needle, unless the problem was very severe. I hate being frozen. I hate the feeling of it, I hate the taste of the numbing gel, I hate sitting around in the chair waiting for it to work, I hate having half my face being numb, and not being able to eat for hours. You get the picture. I discovered that the part of most procedures that involve things that are painful last at most a couple of minutes. I live with RA. I can take the pain for a couple of minutes. I do some way of sort of going away in my head when it hurts. It makes me feel more in control and aside from the very temporary pain, the whole appointment is over much faster. It also used to really freak out my old dentist and I sort of enjoyed her being more nervous than me. 
    PS my phobia is spiders. Even a photo of a spider gives me the willies. I deal with it by not talking about it. That said, one of the benefits of having a disability is that you have automatic aversion therapy when there are spiders on your walls and ceilings. This has taught me to not freak out. As long as they are small.

    1. I'm not good with spiders either. My mother liked them, so I was constantly coming face to face with the blighters growing up... We had a huge stand off about the large female one with the egg sac on the doorpost of my bedroom once - I told her it had to be put outside or I WOULD kill it, because I was not having all those thousands of babies hatching and coming to roost in my room!
      I've not looked into specialist treatment for phobias, no. In amongst all the constant medicalisation that happens when living with a chronic illness, it's another appointment to fit into all the other ones, you know? I know you do! So it lives in the too hard basket...

    2. Yup. And then later, they boaught a house in the Aldinga Scrub - a nature reserve south of Adelaide in South Australia where there are a few blocks of housing. It had been designed and built by an artist, and had a few unconventional touches - like the dark brown, marbled wallpaper in the bathroom and toilet. It was magnificent camouflage for the exceedingly large huntsman spiders than came in from the scrub - basically harmless (although a bite from a large one wouldn't be nice) but big, hairy and fearsome looking - so they couldn't be seen, but you could HEAR the buggers walking on the walls while you were in the bath or sitting on the loo!!! NASTY.

    3. I don't feel good. I need not not read any more stories of Australian spiders. :)

    4. LOL! Yeah... I won't tell you any more stories. Suffice to say we have some nasty spiders here, but most of my encounters have been with the benign ones - not that that helps, they still have eight legs!

  2. biting the bullet is what i finally had to do (dentist and doctors) and well now i have 16 doctors and some teeth stuff coming up. i got over mine, by seeing a therapist who helped me deal with the issue. But the good news it works. The bad news, the therapy is never really over. Like RA it just never goes away. But maintenance is a lot better than starting over.

    1. Yeah. I should probably do it. At this point, the issues with my teeth are getting pressing enough that I KNOW I have to just go, once we move and are settled. Because my teeth are clearly much less sturdy than they were, so preventative work is needed very soon. *sigh* Time to put my big girl knickers on and just deal with it. Valium is good too!!