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  • Writer's pictureAnne Mason

On Pins and Needles


I hope I have not kept you waiting in anticipation for this month’s column, dear reader. It comes to you late in order to accommodate a new approach to my MS-induced migraines: Botox. After waffling to and fro between giving this treatment a shot (and yes, you can appreciate the pun!), I finally decided to try it out. And while results may not be immediate, I am keeping my fingers crossed for positive results.

I am no stranger to needles. For better or worse, I was often sick as a child and encountered a fair share of pediatric hospital stints. Some researchers have hypothesized that MS could be traced to childhood health issues. I’m not sure how sound the studies are, but if that’s the case with me then we can look to my youthful ear and kidney infections as a possible point of origin. Regardless of whether or not this provides an explanation for my MS diagnosis, the early life hospitalizations did give me an abundant exposition to needles. Lots of them. Along with one of my absolute favorite shirts which unironically espouses “I survived pediatrics.”

Nurses often apologize when they come to me with an IV kit. And it’s not uncommon for the apologies to continue when they have to take multiple stabs at accessing a bloodline. My veins are infamously nanoscopic, slithery, and fickle. I’ve stockpiled a hoard of circulatory stimulators in hopes of bolstering the IV administrators confidence: extra hydration the day before and morning of an appointment, layered long sleeves and heated blankets regardless of outside temperature, stress balls for fist pumping (I particularly appreciate the brain-shaped stress balls provided by the infusion nurse at my neurologist’s. Very on-brand.), and even words of encouragement to my body - “C’mon little buddy! You can do it! Be a friendly vein for our friendly nurse here!”

Sometimes the tricks work and the needle prick is seamless. Sometimes the more experienced healthcare professionals are called in after too many failed attempts. Sometimes we dig around subcutaneously in a desperate attempt to make the poke work (yes, we - I believe that intravenous administration is a team effort). Sometimes it’s smooth enough sailing and we receive the “all clear” signal when I sense that olfactory rush of saline, the purest merging of taste and smell. Most times I am friendly and easygoing - a quality that child patient Anne had yet to harness. One thing I’ve come to accept: I bruise every time.

All of the effort surrounding an IV bustle makes non-vein-seeking pinpricks much less of an ado - at least, so long as they are given by a trained administrator (I’ll save the lamentful stories of self-administered shots for another day). Antibiotics from the general practitioner piercing the fatty tissues in my tushy? No problem. Long-anticipated vaccines at local pharmacies? Give it to me. Subcutaneous devices in the arm to regulate hormones and prevent unwanted pregnancies? Yes, please. And my most recent discovery of beneficial needlework? Acupuncture.

Funnily enough, I avoided acupuncture as a supplemental care treatment for the longest time due to an unexpected and mystifying fear. Despite my well-accounted relationship with needles, something about this Eastern medicine averted me. I’ll just say this: thank goodness for acupuncturist friends who are generous, compassionate, and patient. While I cannot, in good faith, measure the benefits of my experience with acupuncture in quantitative terms, I can say that the needling treatments provide me with a necessary refreshment of rest and regulation.

There is yet another example of needling that I have yet to address, and a much more complex one at that. It is the unseen force of numbing pinpricks that I speak of. You know when your arm starts to wake up after having “fallen asleep”? Imagine incurring that sensation when no limb sleeping has occurred. These are the neurological pins and needles of MS, an invisible symptom of lesion activity and exacerbation. New pinpricks are a red flag for a relapse, like what I experienced during my first symptomatic relapse that proffered my diagnosis. Ongoing or recurring tingling of old pinpricks is just something you learn to live with. While I say this with a twinge of resentment, they can also be a helpful marker of stress - or, more accurately, of the need to reduce said stress. I’ve grown accustomed to the majority of my brain-based prickles. It’s when the old dormant ones flare up that I know I’ve been hitting it too hard. They are diagnostic - an arguably preferable diagnostic tool than the very real, very large, very painful needle used in a spinal tap (again, a story for another time).

While not necessarily ideal, I’ve come to view pins and needles as requisite tools for my well-being. And yet, I still hold trepidation about this newest introduction of Botox into my healthcare regimen. There is likely a degree of cultured stigma twinging my hesitation - to which I must remind myself that this treatment is medical, not cosmetic. More than that, I think the fear lies in aversion to a pricking and injection so close to all that gray matter in my skull. Funny, since the medical target is to ease an infliction of the brain. Nevertheless, it’s a new foray into pins and needles for me. And I truly hope it helps.

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