VIEW FROM THE PORCH - Never mind the needle -- you'll hardly feel a thing

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If you read my last column, you know I suffered a boatload of trauma as a child -- trauma caused by annual trips to the doctor. I still carry the emotional scars. Just thinking about going to the doctor makes me feel nauseous and faint. Needles scare me silly.

"Don't be such a baby," Annie said. "You don't go to the doctor until next month and you're already whining about it."

"You'd be anxious, too, if you'd suffered the way I did as a child."

"But Sam, we've talked about this, honey. I suffered exactly the same way you did as a child. We all did. We all got the same shots, and the same vaccinations, and the same blood tests. You're just being a baby about it. That's the only difference."

"You're not being very supportive," I said, gagging. "I can't talk about this any more. I'm gonna be sick."

Dr. Beauregard is my doctor. He knows me well. Out of an abundance of caution, he has me come in a week before my annual physical for blood work in the clinic lab, so he'll have the results when I see him and I'll have had time to recover fully from the ordeal.

"Ordeal?" Annie says. "You're calling blood tests an ordeal?"

"Well, they are for me."

"Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, Sam, you're the most pitiful ... "

"I can't talk about it, sweetheart. Just talking about it makes me nauseous."

Getting blood drawn is an ordeal for those of us traumatized by needles as kids. When I go into the clinic -- to the lab where they do the bloodletting -- Shirley, the lady at the desk, always says, "Oh no, Mr. McLeod. Surely it's not time for your annual physical?"

"I'm afraid it is, Shirley."

"Cynthia," Shirley yells toward the tiny rooms where they do the bloodletting. "Mr. McLeod is here for blood work."

"Tell him I'm not here," Cynthia yells. "Schedule him to come back when Darcy's on duty."

"Mr. McLeod is standing right here, Cynthia. Listening to every word."

"Hi Cynthia," I yell. Cynthia and I are friends -- sort of.

"Jeepers," Cynthia says.

For the next 30 minutes or so, Cynthia rearranges things in her bloodletting room. She has a gurney brought in, and nose plugs, and a blindfold, and the headphones she hooks into her iPod, and an extra box of smelling salts. Then she comes out to the waiting area with some of the stuff.

"OK, Mr. McLeod. Let's get you suited up."

I put in the nose plugs. I hate the smell of medical labs. The smell makes me nauseous.

I put on the blindfold. I hate the sight of blood. The sight of blood makes me faint.

I put on the headphones. I hate the snapping sound the rubber band makes when Cynthia tourniquets my upper arm. And I hate the sound I make when Cynthia sticks the needle in.

"I hate that sound, too." Cynthia says.

Cynthia leads me blindfolded into the room where she does the bloodletting.

"This is silly, Mr. McLeod," she says.

"Precautions," I say. "Have I told you how I was traumatized ..."

"Many times, Mr. McLeod."

I lie down on the gurney. Nothing happens for a minute or so. I listen to Kid Rock on Cynthia's iPod. I don't know who Kid Rock is, but I don't like his music very much.

Cynthia takes hold of my left arm, ties the rubber band around it, and rubs alcohol over the vein -- the one nervously pulsing with my lifeblood. I feel my legs go rigid. My knees lock. My forearm feels cool where Cynthia rubbed the alcohol. She holds my arm. And I count. In my mind, I count one, two, three ... and there it is. There's the pain -- the sharp, piercing, awful pain. I imagine the needle puncturing my skin, slipping into my vein, siphoning my blood.

I make the awful sound -- the one Cynthia and I hate. Then I pass out. Good thing I'm lying down.

I have a quickie dream about this girl I met on a spring break trip in high school and just as things are starting to get interesting, I'm startled awake by a burning sensation in my nose. It's the sharp, acrid burning of smelling salts.

Lying on the gurney, soaking wet in a cold sweat, I slowly recover my senses. Cynthia removes the headphones and the blindfold. (She'd already removed the nose plugs.) She's looking down at me. There's a bright fluorescent light behind her head that makes it difficult to see her face clearly.

"There," she says. "That wasn't so bad, was it, Mr. McLeod?"

Suddenly, I think: It's over -- finally, it's over. I relax. There's a brief moment of euphoria.

Then I think: But I have to come back next year.

And then I feel a little nauseous.

If you'd like to read more of Sam's musings on life, visit his website at www.sammcleod.net, or even better, buy a copy of his new book, BIG APPETITE.

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