“Everybody has their phobias. Some are spiders, some are plane rides, some are cars,” says Amy. “I have a fear that totally controls my life. I have a phobia of needles.”
Amy says she can’t handle seeing blood draws or any other procedure that involves a needle – even on TV. Going to the doctor is an ordeal. Amy was hospitalized as an 11-year-old, and she believes that’s root of the trauma. “I was strapped to the bed – feet, arms, legs – and I would have about three nurses over my body holding me down. They would get vials and vials and vials of blood.” At 19 she had her wisdom teeth removed, and she says it took 10 medical staff members to hold her down.
Pregnancy was terrifying for Amy, and she refused all prenatal care. “For anything to go wrong? We were blessed that nothing did,” says her husband, David. Last year Amy went to the emergency room with a kidney stone – but the doctor refused to treat her because she would not allow an IV to be placed or blood to be drawn.
Amy is allergic to bee stings, but she can’t use an epi-pen to forestall a possibly fatal reaction. “I’m on anxiety medication now, just because I would constantly worry that I would be sick or need medical help and I couldn’t do anything to help myself.” She can’t have another child because she’s afraid of the needle sticks involved in routine prenatal care.
“If I was told it would take a needle or I was going to die tomorrow? I would probably die tomorrow!” Amy concludes.
Psychotherapist Dr. Mike Dow is willing to help. He explains to Amy that her childhood hospital experience may be responsible for her fear. “When you have an experience like that, the amygdala – the part of this brain that pairs fear with something like needles – it can really link those up in the brain.”
Because Amy has a history of fainting under the stress of her phobic reaction, Dr. Dow has an EMT on hand. He explains that she can use the applied tension technique to combat that reaction – by alternating tensing and releasing all her muscles as she looks at photos and then videos of injections, she can keep her sympathetic nervous system active and heart rate up to avoid blacking out.
Amy admits to The Doctors that she hasn’t had bloodwork done in several years. The last time it was done she paid to be placed under general anesthesia rather than face the needle, and the results showed she was anemic and borderline diabetic. She’s had no follow-up testing for those conditions, because of her fear.
She’s willing to take the next step. She looked at pictures and videos of injections with Dr. Dow – now Amy agrees to watch Dr. Dow get a vitamin injection, right next to her on The Doctors set. “This is the next stage in graded exposure therapy,” explains Dr. Dow, and he asks Amy to do the applied tension technique that they practiced in his office. “This technique only works for this specific phobia,” he tells The Doctors, “which is really interesting!” Amy is clearly uncomfortable, but she watches the injection without looking away – and she doesn’t faint!
“We know this is an extreme phobia,” ER Physician Dr. Travis Stork tells Amy. The Doctors have arranged for her to see a psychotherapist near her home, Dr. Jeff Bernat, who has experience with needle phobia. He’ll offer her up to 10 free therapy sessions to help her overcome her fear!