Needled

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H3N2 virus, my nemesis du jour

I’ve been sick with influenza this week. The flu fairy arrived Sunday night and brought me all her gifts: fever, body aches, a sore throat and that hideous orbital headache I always get with respiratory viruses. I’ve missed several days of work, and am a bit worried I passed this virus along to my clients and community. I’m also worried that I’ll be less than healthy next week when I travel east for the Women’s March on Washington.

The worst part of all of this is my awareness that my illness could likely have been prevented had I chosen innoculation. As a health care provider, flu vaccines are typically a given; when I worked in outpatient orthopaedic rehabilitation, they were mandated. But, I’m in private practice now, and although I recognize the arguments for vaccination, I’m averse to sharp, pointy things. I’m not needle phobic; instead of a generalized fear of hypodermic injections, I have a synesthetic response to medical implements that manifests as synesthesia-for-pain. I get bolts of pain down the back of my legs (and sometimes down my arms as well) when I see certain objects. The list is sundry and sometimes baffling: casts, crutches, broken glass, toothpicks, skewers, syringes, jagged metal, etc. So, it’s difficult for me to show up for a flu shot when the whole process hurts. I feel pain when I envision the needle, when I actually see the needle at the clinic (I try not to look), and when I receive the vaccine, not just at the site of injection, but in a dermatomal pattern, spiraling down my legs in flashes that feel as if I’m being shocked by electricity.

A journalist recently asked me if there were any drawbacks to my synesthesias. I offer my current illness as a relevant example of synesthesia at its worst. I didn’t get the flu shot because it hurts synesthetically to do so. And that pain comes repeatedly in the process of innocultaion, as if I’m getting throttled by a cattle prod. So, I put it off in hopes that I wouldn’t get sick. Unfortunately, H3N2 is agressively spreading through the San Francisco Bay Area. I don’t know which specific virus I have, but I do know over the last few days I’ve compromised my already reactive lungs, I’ve lost income, and I’ve certainly helped spread this nasty bug.

I’m a proponent of revealing the synesthetic experience from mutliple perspectives. While the media often reveals the curious, colorful, and fascinating attributes of synesthetes, I believe it’s equally valid to explore the ways in which synesthesia is an impediment. It certainly feels like a burden today as I pop ibuprofen and make yet another mug of hot tea to soothe my scratchy throat. 

There’s a Facebook page for synesthesia that marks the condition as a disease. I won’t give this page the courtesy of a link, as this categorization is an inaccurate portrayal of the condition. Synesthesia is not a disease, it’s a neurological phenomemon with various manifestations of interlinked sensation. As an advocate for neurodiversity, it’s really important to me that the public understands synesthesia is not an illness. But, I can say with certainty my synesthesia is complicit in my current sickness.

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