When I was a wee tot, I (like all younglings) had to go to a doctor to receive my mandatory kindergarten shots. Oblivious to the coming horror, I happily played with the giant… pseudo-abacus… thing that only seems to exist in hospital waiting rooms, like a colorful lure over the tiger’s pit of healthcare.
The time to see the doctor arrived, and my mother unceremoniously yanked me away from my new favorite toy. We marched along the hallway, my 5-year-old face scrunched up in my best scowl-pout, my mother’s hand clasped around my wrist, firmly guiding me away from the magical waiting room and toward…
Well, I didn’t know exactly what I was moving toward. Had I stopped a moment to contemplate my only fuzzy memories of visiting a doctor (when I split my head open), I would have remembered blood, pain, fear… and my father singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to me in the backseat of a car on the way to the hospital. But I was five and didn’t make the connection, so there was no anxiety as I walked down that hallway, just a lingering resentment toward my mother.
Our long (at least, it felt long to my little legs) trek ended with me sitting on a chair in a small room while a man chattered incessantly at me and my mother. At his prompting, I de-pantsed (even as a kid I wasn’t overly fond of pants) and sat impatiently on the chair in my Beauty and the Beast underwear, swinging my hobbled legs back and forth while the doctor brought something over.
The receptionist joked on the way out that you could have heard my screams from outside the building. The moment that first needle jabbed into my left thigh, I let out a shriek so blood-curdling even the medical professional sitting in front of me blanched. He hastily stuck a little purple bandage on the spot and offered me a sucker. I refused his offer of sweets, tears streaming down my face, my obviously mangled leg throbbing. How could he offer me treats after causing me harm? And why was my mother telling me to be quiet and calm down? Why was she letting him hurt me? WHAT KIND OF SICK PLACE WAS THIS?
Then, the fucker repeated the procedure on my right leg (only this time, the bandage was pink).
I pulled my pants up over my grievous war wounds, whimpering and sniveling all the while. And while the parting gift of a sheet of 5-a-day fruits and veggies pogs did much to temper my mood, that visit instilled in me a fear of needles it took years to (mostly) conquer.
Fear of needles is not uncommon, and not entirely irrational. Though it doesn’t happen often, a needle jab site, just like any skin puncture site, can become infected. And infections are extremely dangerous if untreated or if they occur in patients who’ve recently undergone surgery or treatment that weakens their immune system.
Plus, you know, there’s the whole pain issue. While most injections are fairly quick and painless, some require needles of differing gauges. And the bigger the needle, the more pain the person is going to feel.
Oh yeah, and you have to worry about contamination. If that needle isn’t properly sterilized, it could transfer all manner of nastiness into your body. Blood-borne diseases, anyone?
All in all, despite the necessity of shots, they are a real pain (hur, hur). But what if we could deliver all the same medications without a pesky needle? No pain, no puncture wound, no risk of infection…
If we lived in the world of Star Trek, this would already be the case. The med bay on the Enterprise didn’t feature medicinal jabs. Instead, doctors like Bones and Beverly Crusher used a hypospray to treat their patients:
So, what exactly is a hypospray? Hyposprays replace that archaic needle with a noninvasive system that forces compressed air (containing the necessary fix-it juice) into the subdermal layer, getting the drug into the bloodstream with ease.
And, while we might not have mastered interstellar travel, hyposprays using compressed air have been around for a while, though they aren’t as common as needles. Interestingly enough, though, some researchers at MIT have developed a hypospray system that doesn’t rely on compressed air to deliver injections. Instead, it uses magnets.
Take a powerful magnet. Surround it with a coil of wire that’s attached to a piston in the drug ampoule. Apply some electrical current… and BAM! The magnetic field pushes that ampoule forward, ejecting a jet of liquid druggy goodness through a nozzle the width of a mosquito proboscis at a pressure of 100 megapascals at 314 meters per second.
This Lorentz-force actuator delivers the liquid drug with enough energy for it to breach the patient’s skin. What’s really cool about this method is that it actually gives doctors finite control of the injection. A high-pressure shot shoots past the skin and goes right into a patient’s bloodstream, while dialing down the pressure allows a doctor to deliver a steady stream of drug to the patient’s bloodstream and surrounding tissue.
A marked step up from those damn needles, that’s for sure. Here’s hoping this new system catches on.