Flu shot controversyPosted: January 18, 2019
I visited a travel nurse earlier this week in preparation for my trip to Argentina and Antarctica. As the appointment progressed, we went through the usual questions and answers.
When are you leaving? How long will you be there? What are you doing when you get there?
All very perfunctory. She checked my vaccinations. Typhoid. Hep A. Tetanus. Check. Check. Check.
As she was closing up her travel nurse binder, she said, “And I assume you’ve already had your flu shot this season.”
I stared blankly at her.
Flu shot? I really don’t believe in the effectiveness of the flu shot. I know this is as controversial as a religious or political topic, and people have strong opinions one way or the other, but I’m strictly going only on my own personal experience.
In the past, when I got the flu shot, I got sick. When I didn’t, I didn’t get sick. I’m not twenty-something either, we’re talking about decades here. Every year in the past twenty years, except for one, I’ve avoided the flu shot and never contracted the flu.
The exception was when I spent a freezing winter night celebrating my niece’s February birthday at a Chicago hotel where we both swam in the communal swimming pool and then slept in the same room. I got sick, she didn’t. I’m not even sure it was the flu but I was down for the count for three days. So for argument’s sake, let’s say I got the flu.
I got the flu shot once and got the flu. I didn’t get the flu shot the other twenty years and maybe got the flu once. I like those odds.
So when the travel nurse incorrectly assumed I had the flu shot, I shook my head.
“I really don’t believe in them.”
She tried, unsuccessfully, to halt her eyes in mid-eye roll, but I saw what she was doing. Inhaling deeply, like one would begin a sigh or speech to a small child who had colored on the couch, she said, “Think of it like a seatbelt. You wouldn’t get in your car without buckling up, would you?”
I didn’t make the connection, but nodded half-heartedly in some form of agreement.
“Look, you’re going to be in a foreign country – two foreign countries – with lots of people from all over the world and you’re going to be on a ship for many days. One ship with hundreds of people is full of germs. Wouldn’t you rather travel knowing you’re protected?”
I tilted my head from side to side considering her points. I still didn’t understand the shot as a seatbelt analogy. I think of it as a needle that is injecting actual flu inside my body. It’s not even letting my epidermis fight it off like it should. It’s going right through it, invading my body with someone else’s dead flu cells.
Hey, I’m not an anti-vaccine person. I strongly believe in getting vaccinated, but the flu shot is different. Intuitively, for me only, something doesn’t feel right about it. After going back and forth for more time than I think she wanted to spend on it, I acquiesced.
Fine. I’ve never been on a ship, maybe there’s something extra buggy that I’m unaware of and this will ward it off as she promised. So I did it. The needle pinched and the contents burned inside my arm. After it was over, I worried I made a mistake.
Later that night, I noticed a red crescent on my arm where the shot had gone in. It ached and was heavy, but that’s often no different than any other shot so I tried to forget about it.
At 3am, I woke so super thirsty I had to get out of bed to down some water. The next morning my arm still hurt and I felt tired and achy. The travel nurse said I might so I tried to forget it as I got ready for work.
At work, I felt worse. I ended up leaving early to come home and rest before dinner. By the evening, I had a sore throat, cough, swollen and watery eyes, and heavy lungs. On top of it, I had a bad attitude. I knew it. Stupid shot. I went to bed early and visualized my body fighting off the flu, staying strong and healthy.
This morning, while feeling the painful, even sorer throat, waterier eyes, and heavier lungs, I thought long and hard about the email I would send the travel nurse. Boy, would I tell her.
But in the end, I didn’t want to ruin her weekend, even though my weekend was at risk. Snowshoeing with flu symptoms is not only uncomfortable, it seems irresponsible.
Plus I have to get my six-mile long run in this weekend and how I am going to do that feeling like this? Grrrr!
I’m bummed, but staying hopeful that I’ll rebound between now and tomorrow’s departure time. The mountains are calling.
Send healing mojo. 🙏⚡️🏃♀️