Health · Notes from West London

A newly acquired fear about injections

Today I had a lengthy dental appointment, having an old crown replaced. On the way I pondered just how old the previous crown was. It was definitely from the 1980s. When it was fitted Margaret Thatcher was still prime minister, Ceaucescu was still president of Romania and the Berlin Wall was still standing. And I was in my 20s. Since I was a teenager my dental records have had the words “NO INJECTIONS”, clearly written across the front. I’m not scared of them, I just don’t like the three hours of numbness that they induce. I’d rather have ten minutes of pain than three hours of dribbling. But for a crown even I have to put up with the three hours of dribbling. And now I have a newly acquired concern. What if there’s an air-bubble in the syringe? Is that still possible these days?

In the 1980s I got to know an elderly couple, from Galway but living in West London since the 1950s. The wife was in a wheelchair, had been since the 1950s, after an injection. Her husband was sure that there had been an air-bubble in the syringe, that it had got into her blood supply and caused the problem. Her medical records stated that she’d had a stroke, no mention of the injection, and he could never get them modified. I have had maybe four injections over the last ten years (all for dental work) and each time I have thought, with increasing anxiety, “Is there air in that syringe? What are the chances of an air-bubble getting into my blood supply and causing damage?” I am free of phobias. I have no worries about spiders, bees, wasps or even earwigs. (I might feel different about spiders if I lived in a tropical climate.) Earwigs were my childhood fear, until I learnt that they don’t really burrow into your ear and get into your brain. That’s just a myth. But my fear of air in a syringe has grown.

Next week I’ll be meeting up with an old school-friend, a Consultant Doctor in Public Health. He’s based on the other side of the world but is visiting London briefly. And as the dentist injected local anaesthetic into the back of my mouth I was thinking “I must ask the good doctor about this,” which is typical of my 1980s thinking. Where else would I find out this kind of thing, other than asking an expert? I have to remind myself that there are other ways to get information these days. The online searches that I have just done, and the various responses to differently worded questions, all provide peace of mind. But I’ll ask the doctor anyway.

POSTSCRIPT The good doctor confirmed what I had been hoping to hear. The chances of something going wrong with a regular injection are tiny. Put it another way: if you wanted to cause harm by injecting an air bubble into someone’s blood-stream it would be very difficult. My fears have been eased.



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