“There is nothing to fear but fear itself. There is nothing to fear---.” I kept repeating this mantra as I walked to meet Cynthia.
You see, we were going to a clinic together where I was about to get my first shot in over 50 years. There’s a reason for the long time gap. I’m petrified of getting shots, and have sometimes gone to considerable lengths to avoid them.
It all goes back to when I was a wee lad so skinny that my nickname was Eddy Spaghetti—cruel in the way only children can be but nonetheless descriptive of my puny muscularity. I was deathly afraid that if the doctor stabbed me with too much force the needle would go completely through my arm and come out the other side, the medicine squirting into the air.
Thus I tensed up so much that when the hypodermic was removed the tiny hole expanded to the size of a gunshot wound (at least in my imagination). I have painful memories of walking around with my arm in a sling because it was so sore I couldn’t move it.
Once when I was home running a high fever the doctor made a house call (are you old enough to remember those?). He determined I needed a shot and instructed me to roll over. I grabbed the spindles of the headboard on my bed with such strength that both he and my mother could not turn me over. Only when Mom threatened me with a belt did I relinquish my death grip.
The subject of shots reared its ugly head once more when I was a teenager. While on the job I suffered three severe cuts to my hand on a dirty warehouse fan (don’t ask) and had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment.
I was clearly in shock, but mustered sufficient presence of mind to solemnly answer “yes” when asked, “Have you had a tetanus shot recently?” I knew I didn’t want to add insult to injury by having one arm in a sling while the other one was also incapacitated. Scary old memories die hard. Crazy in retrospect, but such was my fear of needles.
Sometimes life requires you to do things for others that you wouldn’t do for yourself. I’m about to become a grandfather again, and my daughter who is carrying her first child read that there is an unprecedented number of whooping cough cases this year in the US. Infants are particularly susceptible to this illness, so I reluctantly agreed to being vaccinated to put her mind at rest.
I had already decided the shot would be administered in my thigh. Even now no one would mistake my physique for Arnold’s, but my scrawny thighs are at least as big as most people’s arms.
We met at a military hospital where our doctor assured us we would be taken care of without any problems.
We found the office and sat in the waiting room for our turn. I noticed that all of our fellow patients were little kids with their moms, which didn’t seem quite right. An old lady soon escorted us back and we showed her the papers the doctor had given us. She read them and frowned.
Here’s an insider tip we’ve learned in our 2+ years in Ecuador. When someone just says “No,” it can sometimes mean “Maybe.” But when the “No” is accompanied by a vigorous backhand thrust of the forefinger it means “Absolutely not.”
She gave us the finger along with an avalanche of Spanish that could only be interpreted as, “Get the hell out of here.”
What could we do but sheepishly retreat? We didn’t understand why we were shown the door, but our Spanish wasn’t proficient enough to effectively argue. I must admit I had mixed emotions about this rejection. I was all psyched up to “face my fears,” but not altogether unhappy that I had been spared.
But Cynthia was bound and determined, as we say in the South, to see this through, so she made an appointment yesterday with our doctor to explain the dilemma. He promptly called a pharmaceutical rep who said she would order the vaccine. Then he told us to go downstairs to the pharmacy to finalize the delivery.
The lady there also made a call and said the vaccine would be delivered tomorrow in the morning (in Spanish this is “manana en la manana”—often two lies in one phrase). We dutifully and skeptically returned at lunchtime today and to our surprise, the order was actually there.
We paid and took the medication downstairs to the emergency room for the shots to be immediately administered. I was sticking with my “in the leg” strategy and had even gone to the trouble to look up “leg” (Hey, how often does that word come up in normal conversation?) so I would properly instruct the nurse.
She said it had to be given in the arm. I said I wanted it in my leg. Perplexed, she scampered out to consult with her colleagues. Meanwhile Cynthia was quietly getting her shot without incident behind the adjacent curtain. I heard conversation, then a guy came in and informed me this shot could only be given in the arm. Not even the butt.
I wasn’t backing down. I said, “A muscle is a muscle. What difference does it make?” Gotta give the guy credit. In classic Ecuadorian fashion, he looked me in the eye and replied, “This is special medicine.” A rebuttal that makes no sense and yet to which there is no response. Perfect.
At the same time Cynthia, who had been listening to all this through the curtain, sternly said, “It doesn’t hurt, Edd. Take the damn shot.”
Well, there it is. I removed my shirt and took the damn shot. And-------
And nothing. I hardly felt the injection and my shoulder is barely sore. Like meals I’ve so looked forward to when returning to the US that weren’t nearly as wonderful as I had imagined, similarly this dreaded incident was basically a non-event. Thus I am now safe from infections, whooping cough, and diphtheria (whatever that is), and my arm is not in a sling.
Is there a moral to this silly story? Perhaps that anticipation often trumps reality, and fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. My little episode does make me question how many truly important opportunities and enriching experiences I might have passed up over the years because of similar unfounded trepidations.
How about you?