I was at the doctor’s office this week to get some minor stitches in my arm.  As he approached with his hypodermic, the doctor and I got to talking.  He mentioned how surprised he was that young people who came into the office with tattoos or piercings all over their bodies were frightened at having to get a shot of local anesthetic.

     “They’ve had needles stuck into them for, at times, hours at the tattoo parlor,” he said in befuddlement.  “Why would they be afraid of my single needle?”

     “Because,” I countered, “when they go to the tattoo parlor, they are going by choice, maybe even under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to have a procedure done by someone they see as an artist, who is dressed much like they are.  Sure, there is pain, but it is braved in service of a ritualized enhancement. It’s simple cost-benefit analysis. The transitory pain leads to a worthwhile end. And they know that going in.

     “On the other hand, when they come to the doctor’s office, they see an authority figure clad in a white smock, speaking in a strange tongue, medicalese – who else would call a bruise an ecchymosis? – and the pain is associated with an injury or disease, the end of which is, to them, generally uncertain.  

     “So the fear stems from the vast difference in the psychological terrain between the edgy certainty of the tattoo parlor, and the sterile uncertainty of the doctor’s office.  Hey, they should’ve taught you such things in medical school besides that condescension they always stress in third year.”

     I winced as he stabbed me with assurance.


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