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Bernard O'Shea: Thank God my wife made me go to the doctor when I had pins and needles

Three years ago, I began to get pins and needles in my hands. I thought I was losing my sight, and I was constantly feeling faint. A quick trip to my GP, and he knew straight away by my symptoms that I had a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Thus began an odyssey of researching vitamin B12-rich foods and a tendency to raid every chemist I visited for B12 supplements. All this because I’m terrified of needles, and one of the most effective ways to get the vitamin into you is by syringe.

So what is vitamin B12, and what is a B12 deficiency? According to, the deficiency occurs when there are inadequate levels of vitamin B12 in the body. 

"This important vitamin is necessary for the production of red blood cells and the healthy functioning of the nervous system.” 

I had the classic symptoms, but other signs, according to, can be “fatigue, headaches, depression, pale or yellow skin, mental impairment, and pain and inflammation in the mouth and tongue.” The worst part of being checked was that my GP had to take a blood sample. He knew I was freaked out by needles and brought in the box of toys he used to distract toddlers. It worked. I also asked him to explain to me as if I was a five-year-old why I’m B12 deficient.

Simply put, I can’t hold onto the vitamin once it's inside me. I eat plenty of B12-rich foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it's abundant in plant milk, soy products, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast. But I can’t absorb it.

I have B12 sprays, chewable tablets, gumdrops, and vitamins everywhere. For the first year, I used to say to my wife; “Hey, have you seen my meds?” She’d reply, “IT’S A VITAMIN”. In fairness, I am the hypochondriac of the family. My wife jokes relentlessly about it. The unfortunate thing is she’s right. I am. A cold for me is pneumonia. A pulled muscle in my leg, and I convince myself I have to get it amputated.

So when I started telling her that I felt faint all the time, she gave her usual reply of "just go to the doctor”. However, I made her laugh so hard that snot came out of her nose when I told her; “I keep getting pins and needles in my hands.” Since we’ve had children, I’ve noticed a new game creep into our lives — an almost subconscious game of chess that we play around our ailments, called, ‘Who is sicker?’ I’m thinking of turning it into a new game show for TV, based directly on what happens in our house.

Bernard O'Shea has a Vitamin B12 deficiency
Bernard O'Shea has a Vitamin B12 deficiency

I get the man flu, and for some unknown reason, Lorna gets a pain in her stomach. I start talking about my bad left knee (the one I’ve dislocated – twice), and she starts talking about her bad shoulder. What I find funny (some people find this not so funny) is the complete lack of sympathy that we have developed for each other over time.

When we first started going out, we went on holiday to Greece. I got salmonella poisoning, and Lorna looked after me amazingly. Now she bemoans my constant ailments; I can’t help thinking I’ve become the equivalent of old telly. Every time I get sick, I call myself “Hitachi”. 

Growing up, we only had the two national stations, RTÉ́ One and RTÉ́2. That telly brought us everything — football matches, fashions, news, and the odd salacious film late at night. Even though we loved that telly, it gradually became old and outdated. Unlike today's flat screens, it was a big old cathode tube- thumper, and when it wasn’t working, we would walk up to it and hit it on its side. That TV took some punishment, but we needed it in our lives, and I certainly loved it.

That’s how I see my wife’s love for me changing over time. Does she care when I get one of my hypochondriac episodes? Or even real flu? Or when I dislocated my knee cap ... again? Possibly not as much as she used to, but she still loves me enough to get up and give me a good old thump and hope I work again. I am my wife’s old, sick TV that still does the job. I hope she never wants to trade me in for a flat screen.

As for the B12, well, I keep reminding her that it's good I’m such a moaner because it will help our family's future medical health. In 2012, research led by the Institute of the McGill University Health Centre on B12 concluded that “some people have inherited conditions that leave them unable to process vitamin B12. As a result, they are prone to serious health problems, including developmental delay, psychosis, stroke, and dementia.” It was one of the first questions my GP asked me. “Does anyone in your family have something called a B12 deficiency?” His assumption was correct. My Father was B12 deficient, and one of my sisters is too. I used to joke that not alone do I come from a long line of incessant talkers, now I can throw the B12 in too.

One thing that I find funny and slightly embarrassing about visiting my GP is his coffee mug. On it is written, “Please don’t confuse Google search with my medical degree.” That is me in a nutshell. I’m the worst type of hypochondriac. I'm the type who will Google my symptoms and then do nothing about it, only worry and freak myself out. Thank God I took my wife's sage advice to "just go to the doctor”. Now, where did I put my “meds”?