I went back in time yesterday at the point of a needle. As the Walgreen’s pharmacist pushed the needle in, I was transported back to Doc DeYarman’s office in Morning Sun, Iowa.
Doc DeYarman’s office was on the second floor of one of the buildings that lined our single main street in Morning Sun. I don’t remember him clearly. He gave me my childhood immunizations and was my doctor until I was about 10 years old…then he moved away. I’ve always felt a little responsible for that in the same way that I’ve felt responsible for the death of my piano teacher. I had one lesson…then she died. I must have been a really hopeless student and, perhaps, all the wailing and kicking I did in the doctor’s office disqualified me as a patient, too. Happily for me, he only moved away.
Because I saw him so early in my life I do not have many clear memories of him. I do remember laboriously climbing the stairs to his office. With each step I took, my feet seemed to get heavier, my anxiety and dread escalated, and I would begin to whine that I was feeling much better and didn’t need to see him after all.
I also remember his scary white coat. Seriously…I really think it was just like this one, with straight up collars, like mad scientists wear in the movies.
In fact, now that I think about it, this could be a picture of Doc because I don’t remember what he looked like. As far as I know, he may actually have been headless.
The only other thing I remember was the needle he used. I’m pretty sure there was just one that he used on everyone and it was just a sharpened Slurpee straws. Okay, that may be an exaggeration…it was probably a sharpened plastic coffee stirrers. Whatever it was, it was gigantic and it hurt.
Which brings me back to Walgreens. I can’t say that getting shots is my favorite experience (Gee, THANKS, Doctor DeYarman!) but as I’ve grown up and older, I find it a much more tolerable experience. Until yesterday.
As soon as she started pushing the vaccine into my arm it began to hurt and I feared I’d flashback to being a child in Doc’s second floor office. However, except for a moment when I imagined throwing myself on the floor and wailing like I was being attacked by a million honeybees, I was just fine. I stood up, thanked the pharmacist, walked out of the little medical privacy area (where such procedures are performed), and made my way through a crowd of people who had raced over to find out what was going on. (Perhaps my wailing was not imaginary?)
I did ask the pharmacist why the shot hurt so much. She explained that the vaccine for shingles is a slightly thicker liquid than for flu or pneumonia and many other vaccines. In fact, it has to be mixed by the pharmacist before it can be administered. Of course, I had to get the last word in so I said, “Okay, I get that. But does it still have to be as thick as maple syrup?” She laughed maniacally, as she pulled at the top button on her mad scientist’s coat, and said, “You know there are two shots you have to get for shingles now, don’t you? Just wait until you get your second shot, funny man!”
By the middle of the day yesterday my left arm was really sore. By nightfall I was not feeling well and by the time I went to bed I was updating my Last Will and Testament. I had a lousy night’s sleep and today my brain is not much good for anything except for writing a blog. Lucky you, huh?
Clemencia, my delightful spouse who possesses an infinite amount of optimism, reminded me regularly throughout the day “the pain of shingles is far worse than the discomfort of the shot.” I just hate it when medical people (of which she is a retired one) say, “This is going to be a little uncomfortable.” Then, of course, it hurts like H-E-Double Toothpicks, right?
Unfortunately, as in most things, she is right. Shingles is a horrifically painful disease and the “uncomfortable” shots are a preferred alternative.
Aside from being in a post-shingles vaccine delirium, why am I writing this today? Because everyone has a big decision to make about the COVID-19 vaccine when it is finally widely available. It will be important for as many Americans as possible to get vaccinated if we want to eventually live pandemic free. I know some folks are not comfortable with vaccines on principle. Some folks don’t like needles and getting shots. I’m in the latter group myself but this is really important. As Clemencia would say, “a little discomfort saves a lot of pain.”
The pain of COVID-19, as we now know so well, is not measured in sore arms and a lousy night’s sleep. It is measured in destroyed organs, the inability to be with loved ones in their final moments, and, of course, death.
Whatever your feeling about needles, shots, and vaccines in general, I hope to see you in a COVID-19 vaccine line sometime, somewhere soon.
Be safe, be well, wear your mask, keep distance, wash your hands, and, in every way and every day, stand up for accountability, justice, and peace in our country and our world.