Fear Killed Al Capone

I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of needles.

I grew up working on farms and ranches, so I’m not afraid of pain. I’ve racked my knuckles working on equipment. I’ve blistered my hands digging fence posts. I’ve had my feet stepped on my 1,500 lb cattle and a myriad of other pain inducing circumstances I could list that support the claim that I am not afraid of pain. All of them I knowingly and voluntarily exposed myself too without hesitation or fear.

But needles? Yeah. I’m afraid of them. But then again, so was Al Capone. I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I’d wager that anyone that has Trypanophobia (that’s what the fear of needles is called by the way), is just like me. I can find no rational reason for the fear. I’m afraid, but couldn’t for the life of me tell you why. And looking at myself objectively, I find that just plain silly.

Nonetheless, the fear is there.

Just so we’re clear, trypanophobia is a fear of needles used in medical practice including acupuncture needles. Even though I am told by a very reliable source that one doesn’t feel acupuncture needles at all.

“At all?” I ask.

“At all” she says.

“Hmmm…” I say quite skeptically as I raise one eyebrow.

Enetophobia is the fear of needles in general. That’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t run screaming from the room if I happen to see a pin cushion. Heck, I’ve even tried to sew a button or two back on a shirt or jacket. Didn’t work out to well, but at least I tried!

Fear of medical needles is what I am talking about. And it can actually kill you. It killed Al Capone.

Here’s how.

Al, as you probably know, was a notorious gangster, probably the most famous gangster in history. Suffice it to say, he led a wild life. And somewhere along the line he contracted syphilis.

As tough as Al Capone was, as mean as Al Capone was, as feared as Al Capone was, he was a big baby when it came to needles. He wouldn’t get a shot to clear it up. Eventually the syphilis spread to his brain, aka neurosyphilis, and he died from it.

This is a guy who made the decision somewhere in his youth to lead a life that literally made him a target, a magnet for enemy bullets. Yet he was too afraid to get a shot, a simple pin-prick to receive medicine that could have saved his life.

Quite literally, fear killed Al Capone.

As interesting as that tale may be, and as extreme as it may seem, the problem is quite real. Many people procrastinate and put off medical and dental treatment due to trypanophobia, which leads to the exacerbation of the condition to critical levels and yes, even death.

Minimally it makes the problem worse than it should be resulting in additional treatment that would have been unnecessary if the condition was handled sooner.

So to all my fellow trypanophobia sufferers, let’s stop being big babies and just get poked. And from what I’m told acupuncture needles don’t hurt “at all”.

The problem is not going to go away. It’s not even going to stay the same. As a matter of fact, it’s just going to get worse.

How bad can it get? Remember Al Capone.


Michael Graves