King Size Needle

In 1967, my parents were told I had leukemia. I was four years old. My Dad was giving me a bath and suddenly he could see every vein in my body. My Father got my Mother for backup. They were both scared and tried to appear calm, cool, and collected in front of my four year old curiousness. I knew something was up, but I was too young to care. My biggest concern in 1967 was watching The Herculoids, Spiderman, and Jonny Quest on Saturday morning cartoons. I did not know what leukemia was.

The next day, Mom took me to Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. I was tested, poked, and prodded. The doctors did not know what was wrong with me. We would go from one specialist to another in the hospital. My Mom bought me a green Matchbox king size combine harvester. I was a Matchbox collector and aficionado, but I had never received one of the legendary king size Matchbox vehicles. The king size Matchboxes were bigger than the standard Matchbox vehicles. Mom knew the Matchbox car would keep me occupied and complacent. We were told to come back tomorrow for more tests.

Day two, we were back at the hospital being tested. Mom and me would check in, wait for a doctor or nurse. Then we would take a new test. I was getting tire of being poked and prodded.  Mom stepped in at just the night time and she got me another king size Matchbox. This time it was a green tractor trailer with a red bulldozer with a yellow cab and orange rubber treads. I played with that truck, trailer, and bulldozer all over the hospital. The nurses and doctors got tired of that toy.

We returned for day three. More tests and no more answers than when we started. Day three brought a needle incident. I’d gotten several shots over the three days, but day three brought the king sized needle. The nurse told me they needed to give me a little shot. The needle was lying on a table under a towel. The unknown needle scared me because I could not see it and the nurse was overselling it. When she uncovered the needle, my heart stopped. The needle seemed to be a foot long. When I saw the needle it felt like time stopped as my adrenalin dumped my veins full of fight or flight response. I went with flight as I ran screaming out the office door. I ran down the hallway with nurses chasing me. I was pretty fast for a four year old with my life on the line.

I ran out of the building. I sprinted across the parking lot and up the surrounding hills into the woods. I did not look back, I did not slow down, and I never trusted anybody regarding needles again. My Mom chased after me and tried to get me to come down. Mom yelled up to the woods like a hostage negotiator. I was having none of it. I stayed on the wooded hill overseeing the parking lot. Only when Mom promised no king size needle, did I surrender. I climbed down the hill and went back inside the hospital. All the nurses gave me dirty looks or they said tsk-tsk while waving their index fingers left to right at me disapprovingly.

Three days of tests and they never did tell me what was wrong. The doctor told my Mom I did not have leukemia. He said I most likely had an allergic reaction to the soap. My Dad told me decades later how hard is was not knowing if I had leukemia or not until the testing was complete.