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Houston Chronicle, November 4, 2004

Medicine injector makes its point without one

Device offers hope for those who are afraid of a little needling

By PATRICK KURP

When Quentin Hood was 8 or 9 years old, a doctor accidentally snapped a needle in his upper arm while giving him a vaccination.

Ever since, Hood has been uneasy about doctors wielding sharp objects. For years, he postponed getting a tetanus shot and would break out in a cold sweat whenever a nurse tried to draw blood.

Last summer, Hood was in an automobile accident that left him with chronic back pain. In October, he was scheduled for surgery to remove ruptured disks and bone spurs, and relieve the pressure on his sciatic nerve. That he could handle. Hood was worried about the IV needle in his arm.

"I'm not fond of needles. It's as simple as that. I played football in high school. You wouldn't think I'd be afraid of a little old needle," said the 34-year-old air-conditioning supply salesman.

Enter an unlikely hero, Dr. Peter Szmuk, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Szmuk learned of Hood's dilemma and concluded he was an appropriate candidate for the J-Tip, a needle-less means of delivering medication.

"In medicine, people are always looking at the big things, not focusing on the small daily things that touch patients most closely," Szmuk said. " I see the J-Tip as a confidence-builder."

The J-Tip resembles a small plastic syringe fitted with a canister of pressurized carbon dioxide. The disposable tip is placed against the skin and Szmuk pulls the trigger, injecting the medication — in Hood's case, the anesthetic lidocaine — into the subcutaneous tissue. The injector makes a popping sound that Hood likened to opening a beer can.

Topical creams to eliminate the discomfort of needle sticks have been available for years but took time to become effective. The J-Tip enables the lidocaine to act immediately. Hood said he never felt the IV needle enter his arm.

Szmuk said the device went on the market about two years ago, and was initially aimed at children and diabetics. Now he uses it for any patient, adult or child, who shares Hood's anxiety about IV needles. Eventually, he hopes doctors will use it routinely for any squeamish patient receiving a vaccine or epidural.

"The patient may still feel anxiety, especially if he concentrates on the insertion of the needle," Szmuk said. "The J-Tip allows him to control himself. It's nice that somebody is thinking about these patients."

Hood is mending nicely from his back surgery.

"It's the way to go," Hood said of the device. " I hope I don't have any more operations, but if I do I want them to use that thing. It eased my mind."

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