As a 15 year old at ‘big school’ there came a point in the academic year when we were subjected to a BCG skin test. The BCG vaccine is used to protect against tuberculosis or TB and the first stage was the skin test or Heaf test. The tuberculin fluid was administered by a Heaf gun which consisted of a spring-loaded instrument with six needles in a circular formation and it was injected into the skin on the inside of the forearm just above the wrist.
Everyone in that year had the test; it was quick and almost painless. The needles were tiny and they didn’t seem to go very deep into the skin. So far so good.
About a week later came the actual BCG vaccine. Up to this point in my life I had never knowingly had a needle stuck into my arm and I was terrified at the thought of it. I knew there must be pain involved but how much?
Maybe the way it was organised made the whole procedure worse. Several nurses were seated at tables in the school hall and we were put into long lines leading from the corridor outside, into the hall and then eventually to one of the tables. It seemed to be taking forever and as each girl was injected, the procession moved forward fractionally and sometimes a whisper would come down the line; “Fiona passed out the pain was so bad…” or, “Have you seen the size of the needle!”
In spite of this, no-one else seemed overly bothered, in fact some of the girls seemed to take great delight in savouring how bad the experience would be for us all. A vivid imagination is a great asset to have most of the time, but in this case it did me no favours. As I inched forward my mouth became dry, my heartbeat quickened and my legs slowly turned to jelly. The needle and the pain became all encompassing to the point that I was almost paralysed with fear. As I entered the hall, there was not even a moment of acceptance that might have calmed me down. The scene would be played out in front of the whole year and there wasn’t a thing I could do; except wish with all my heart that I could make it stop. So that’s what I did.
When I reached the nurse, unable to speak and weak with fear, she examined the circle of six red raised bumps and declared that I would not need the vaccine injection as I had natural immunity; and that was it. I walked out of the school hall as free as a bird and gave thanks to whatever power in the universe had saved me from the indignity I was convinced I would have suffered. I found out later that I was the only one that year who didn’t need the injection.
It was many years later that I was again faced with the dreaded needle but this time I was able to control my fear by looking the other way and keeping the conversation going. I’m still thankful I got away with it all those years ago and wonder if it was just coincidence or some force out there in the universe that does give us what we wish for sometimes.