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A Real Shot In The Arm

When one gets to a certain age, periodic (and age-related) medical tests, check-ins, and vaccinations are common, sometimes seemingly coming out of nowhere. Most often, they show up in our online medical records, as emails and texts, just sitting there like crocodiles (or is it alligators?), sunning themselves along the riverbank, waiting for us to pass by without noticing so they can snatch us up and pull us into the murky, roiling waters of inconvenient appointments, co-pays and side effects.


(OK, that was dramatic, but the muse hit me, and right now it also could be the side effects talking.)


I was due for one such activity, specifically a Shingles vaccine. It was my second in a series of two because that’s what is directed, so without really checking to verify, I went along with the program.


In case you don’t know, Herpes Zoster (a.k.a., Shingles) is a viral infection that shows up as a painful rash or outbreak of blisters on the skin. It's part of the Varicella-Zoster virus, the one that causes Chickenpox. The CDC (along with other organizations “in the know”) suggests people over 50 (raise your hand if you qualify) get this two-stage vaccine because what I’ve heard from both experts and non-experts alike is, “You DON’T wanna get shingles.”


(For my money, neither name sounds great; Herpes Zoster sounds like something I contracted due to irresponsible behavior, while Shingles sounds like the name of a rodeo clown ... or a sports bar.)


I got my first Shingles shot in November, and after about eight hours, I suffered side effects: chills, followed by a low-grade fever, general achiness and fatigue. At the time, I attributed it to the fact that I had gotten three vaccines within a 24-hour period (COVID booster, flu shot and Shingles; I'm nothing if not effiicient), and I was hoping it was the combination that contributed to me generally feeling like shit.


The symptoms began Friday night and really hit their stride into early Saturday morning before slowly backing off. By Sunday morning, I felt fine.


(I could list all the potential side effects of the vaccine, but then this piece would resemble the commercials that air during Jeopardy! or reruns of Matlock.)


With the directive to “Wait at least two months after the first vaccine to get your second,” I was well within my window to wrap up this prophylactic viral party last week.


Not wanting to chance living through the side effects over the weekend, I opted for Sunday, thinking I could “gut it out” overnight, and by noon today, I’d be good to go, fit as a fiddle and ready to enjoy a lifetime free of worry (about Shingles anyway).


As I stood in line at the pharmacy where I had made the online appointment, I thought about the conversation I was going to have with my “inoculation specialist.” Whenever someone provides me a service—whether it’s medical, automotive, food and hospitality, you name it—I’ve been trying to engage in light, fun, and sometimes funny conversation.


As the couple in front of me spent 15 minutes wondering why their prescription wasn’t ready (only to discover they were at the wrong location), an idea came into my head:


“When the inoculator asks me which arm I would like my shot, I’ll respond with, ‘I was thinking the right calf.’”


 Now, I think that’s a funny comment, especially if delivered in my dry, off-the-cuff manner, it would kill, especially at places like Shingles (the comedy club, not the sports bar). But after thinking about it for another minute, I realized 1) my inoculator may not have the same sense of humor as I, and therefore, not realize I was joking around, causing an uncomfortable explanation of the joke, etc.; 2) she may simply think it’s not funny, and who wants one of their jokes to die in a tiny anteroom in the back of a pharmacy? and/or 3) she might not think it’s funny AND wonder why I’m wasting her time with stupid jokes, knowing full well that she’s holding something sharp that could make this experience painful if she decided she didn’t like my flippant (albeit well-meaning) attitude.


In the end, I opted for simple friendliness. She called me in,  greeted me with a smile, verified my name and birthdate, and of course, asked which arm I would like my shot. “The right,” I said because I’m left-handed and although it probably doesn’t really matter, I would rather not have it in my dominant arm.


She then turned the chair around to accommodate my right arm and unwrapped the new needle, full of Herpes Zoster-preventing goodness as she spoke.


She asked me if I had any side effects after my first vaccine. I confirmed that I had, but I was hoping that it was because I'd aggressively received three separate vaccinations within a 24-hour period. She assured me that was not likely the case. “When I got my first vaccine, I was sick for four days,” she said as she wiped the inoculation site with alcohol. Then, she elaborated. “It was then I said to myself, ‘Do I really want that second vaccination?’ Well, I didn’t, but it was better than getting Shingles.”


I then pressed her, asking if she had the same reaction after the second vaccination. “Oh yeah, I got side effects the second time too,” she said with a little more energy than I was bargaining for. “Luckily, they didn’t last nearly as long.”


It was time. The needle was prepped; my sleeve rolled up. I turned my head away, not because I hate shots, I just don’t see the need to watch. I felt the needle touch my arm, waiting for that momentarily pinch or stab before the muscle tenses as needle and vaccine do their thing.


But the next feeling wasn’t just a pinch, it was more forceful and percussive. “Oh wow,” she said. “That didn’t go in as easily as it usually does. Maybe the needle was a bit dull.” (Again, to be clear, I did witness her opening a new syringe, so I attributed any quality issues to the manufacturing process, not the inoculation specialist. As the adage goes, “Never buy a car made on a Monday or a Friday … maybe what we on our hands was a Friday syringe .)


“Did it … work?” I asked only half kidding because the way it felt, I honestly wasn’t sure if the needle punctured my skin. “Oh yeah,” she said, “I just hope it didn’t cause you too much discomfort.” I assured her it didn’t and that she had done a great job, especially given the tools she had at her disposal.


At this point, I couldn’t help making my one and only joke: “I thought you were going to tell me I’m so muscular and ripped that my arm broke the needle, heh-heh.” The joke fell heavy, dying a slow death on the pharmacy floor. It was then I was glad I didn’t offer, “I was thinking the right calf,” which remains in my arsenal for future medical visits.


If you’re wondering, I’m battling through the same side effects as I write this, but it’s no big deal. I’m sure I’ll be fit as a fiddle by noon.


© 2024 David R. Haznaw

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