Quantified Year: WellnessFX & Curing Trypanophobia

By Leslie Ziegler

I consider myself a fairly fearless person. The normal slate of phobias (snakes, heights, small spaces, close encounters with large mammals in wild scenarios) have never been issues. There is only one thing that makes me quake in my heels; a completely irrational fear of needles. From blood draws to yellow fever shots, my life is littered with fainting spells, which feel increasingly ridiculous as an adult. As such, one of my missives for 2012 is to suck it up and cure my trypanophobia.

Officially recognized in 1994, Trypanophobia (fear of needles and injections) affects over 10% of people in this country–and those are just reported cases. There is a whole population for whom the fear is so great that they avoid medical procedures entirely. A side effect of trypanophobia is vasovagal syncope, which is a fancy way of saying your body goes into fight and flight simultaneously, leading to the aforementioned fainting.

As you can imagine, even considering my new year’s resolution, there is very little in life that I dread more than going within strike distance of a needle. So it goes without saying that the attraction would have to be great (exotic trip, threat of rabies, medical miracle) for me to even consider a voluntary blood draw. But when the opportunity to achieve two new year’s resolutions in one fell swoop arose (stop being a wimp and attempt to completely quantify myself*), I took it.

WellnessFX is a startup here in San Francisco that helps to uncover detailed health measurements and deliver individualized recommendations to improve overall well being. Through a single blood draw, they measure 50 different markers, hormone levels and lipids that reveal a great deal about our health. Since my ulcerative colitis diagnosis, I’ve been on a one woman mission to find possible causes and new ways to treat it. Personalized medicine is also becoming an area of increasing interest for me, and the rest of the Rock Healthers, so when I met their super smart team and started looking into the product, especially their inflammation tests, I had to do it–blood draw or not. After filling out the requisite medical history, I chose my date with destiny and waited for the magic to start. And it did, as soon as I received the kit in the mail. Along with the blood capture supplies, there was a thoughtful post-draw reward wrapped in cheerful blue tissue paper.

After about a week of mild to moderate anxiety that I’d pass out in front of everyone at work, the big day was upon me, ironically on Valentine’s Day. As with any medical test, you can’t eat for 12 hours pre-draw, or exercise/imbibe alcohol for 24 hours, so all of my usual coping mechanisms were out. But I loved that instead of being forced to go to a sterile medical facility, the draw came to me–far more convenient and comfortable. The friendly phlebotomist came into the Rock Health office, we ducked into a breakout room, replete with couch so I could do it lying down (trypanophobia pro tip #1: getting blood drawn while horizontal is far better than sitting up) and with Clare there to chat (trypanophobia pro tip #2: human distraction is your best ally), I was eating a celebratory cupcake** before I had time to think about what was happening. Non-fainting success!

And now, with a mixture of anticipation and impatience, I wait. Similar to 23andMe, the results are released a few weeks later and accessible online. A key difference, however, is the required professional consult with a doctor who will explain precisely what the results mean as well as areas for improvement or concern.

So for all you trypanophobes out there: let me be the proof that with the right environmental circumstances, motivation and a little distraction, you too can be well on your way to getting the vaccines, flu shots, and every other immunization you’ve been avoiding. Or, you know, learn something life altering that leads to better health, as this formerly needle-averse gal is hoping.

*Suggestions? Comments? Ideas or something new to try? Email me: qs@rockhealth.org.

**Special thanks to Geoff Clapp for our Vday baked delights!