A progesterone needle is one and a half inches long. A human thigh is only about seven inches thick. If the needle were inserted in its entirety, it would surely come close to hitting bone. At least that’s what I figured as I ran through the various scenarios about how I was going to get my progesterone shot now that my husband was away for the evening. Progesterone is a female hormone given to pregnant women to help support gestation. It’s injected into the muscle, as opposed to just the skin, and thus is administered through an excessively large needle. It also comes in a solution of oil, meaning it takes more time for the substance to go through the needle and into the muscle, making an uncomfortable process last even longer.
My friend Patti, a nurse, is usually my stand-in when Bruce is away. She’s actually better at giving the shot. I don’t know what she does, but it doesn’t hurt as much. Something about the angle, she says. But Patti was on vacation, and her nurse friend, Gloria, who she suggested as a substitute, was also out of town for the evening. Patti suggested I call Walgreen’s to see if they had a walk-in clinic. I thought it was a long shot — no pun intended — as I’ve been to Walgreen’s many times over the last year, and I’ve never seen anything that resembles a walk-in clinic. They’re usually filled with single mothers and their sniffling three-year olds, who sneeze and don’t cover their mouths. Still, I gave Walgreen’s a try, and sure enough, while they didn’t have a walk-in clinic, they had a pharmacist capable of giving a progesterone shot.
“Have you ever given one before?” I asked her.
“I give flu shots all the time,” the pharmacist said.
“But are they intermuscular shots?” I asked
“Yep,” she said.
“And you give them in the butt?”
“I give them in the arm,” she said.
“Huh,” I said, quickly doing the math: needle is one-and-a-half inches thick, entire arm is only about four inches thick. “How about the thigh?”
“I’ll give it to you wherever you want,” she said. “But we don’t have a separate room to give shots so we’ll have to do it right there in the waiting area.”
And then as if that wasn’t appealing enough, she said, “And there are only two of us here, so you may have to wait.”
I imagined the ice pack I usually use to numb the area becoming limp and warm by the time she was ready for me, as my injection site completely defrosted.
I went onto the internet to see just how hard it was to give myself the shot. Surely there are single women out there who are pregnant and forced to administer their own progesterone shots. I found a video on YouTube entitled, “My First Progesterone Shot.” The woman says at the beginning of the video that every video she watched of someone administering their own shot was done by someone who’d obviously had a lot of practice before filming it. She thought it would be helpful to show someone who’d never given themselves a shot to film their experience, to convey that anyone could do it.
The woman in the video had stubby little fingers and the comfort in front of a camera of a 20-year old used to a world of multi-media. I’m sure as she goes through labor, she’ll be giving her friends minute to minute updates on Twitter. There was something comforting about her voice, though. While she expressed some fear at the size of the needle, she took it all in stride and had the tone of someone doing just another thing in their day. She’d probably describe jumping off a building in much the same way, her stubby little fingers first swabbing the site of impact with alcohol, and then her head peering over the edge of the building before her confident little 20-something voice — with a small tinge of nervousness — would say, “Well, we do appear to be pretty high up.”
Her confident youth compelled me. Before I knew it, I had a purple sharpie magic marker and my hand, and I was standing with my back to the mirror, my head pearing over my right shoulder, drawing lines on buttocks to help guide me to where I should jab the needle. I drew crosshairs on my right cheek to indicate the four quadrants, because the shot is supposed to be administered in the upper right-hand quadrant. I then drew a circle in the top of that upper right-hand quadrant to better define the injection site.
I took the bottle of progesterone and two syringes. One needle was to take up the liquid into the syringe. The second syringe was needed only for its needle. The needles actually twist off the plastic piece into which you take up the liquid. That enables you to use one needle to draw out the medication and then switch to a clean needle so that the needle actually going into your body is sharp, having not been dulled by going through the rubber stopper of the progesterone bottle. Bruce skips this “switching of the needles” step, but I wanted to do everything by the book.
I sat down at my desk with the needles and tried to get 1cc of progesterone into the syringe, but I couldn’t seem to draw out enough. I held the bottle upside down with the needle inside it and tapped the side of it. I wrapped it against my desk. I flicked it with my finger, to no avail. I could only squeeze out 1/2 cc of liquid into the syringe. I squeezed the 1/2 cc back into the progesterone bottle and tried again with a new needle. Again, I could only get 1/2 cc. And this was supposed to be the easy part.
I eeked out a tiny bit more liquid the second time and decided even if it’s a little short, it’s better than nothing. My other option was to skip the shot altogether and wait for Bruce to come home. I’d looked up online what happens if you “forget” to take your shot, and the results weren’t earth shattering. “Take it as soon as you remember,” was the resounding opinion. Certainly 1/2 cc was good enough.
I put the plastic cap back on the tip of the needle so that I could then twist it off the syringe and replace it with a clean needle , but it wouldn’t budge. I’d done it before and knew it was possible, but I seemed to be able to twist the needle to the left and then to the right and neither direction released the needle from the syringe. I tried on least time, and as I pulled at the needle to get it out, I pulled off the plastic cap and accidently jabbed myself in the thumb. The blood started squirting.
“Fuck this!” I said and replaced the cap. I grabbed a tissue and covered my thumb. I then threw the needles into the plastic bag we have for discarded sharps. In all, I went through four needles, and still never got my progesterone shot. I decided to wait for Bruce to come home the following afternoon.
When he arrived, I lay down on the couch, my derrier in the air waiting to be stuck.
“What the heck is that?” Bruce said, looking at the purple lines I’d drawn on my butt cheek.
“I needed a guide,” I said.
As he stuck the needle in, I thought, he’s not so bad with the shots after all. He gives Patti a run for her money.