Every single time I tell anyone that I got a flu shot, they tell me that they don’t.
This has always struck me as a weird reaction. If I tell someone I watched a movie or read a book, I’m not saying “Now your turn.” If I say I like cauliflower, nobody is in danger that I’m going to load some florets into a slingshot and try to snap them into their mouth. Yet they’ll be sure to let me know: I hate cauliflower! It’s like some protective instinct.
Personally, if I were anti-vaxx, I wouldn’t tell anyone. To me it would be like admitting that I was deathly afraid of moths or something. Embarrassing, clearly something I should work on, not something I would expect to serve as a bonding conversational topic with other people.
My mom got us all vaccinated and got our booster shots on schedule every year. Our school district required it, for one thing. For another, her little cousin died of chicken pox when they were kids, and my mom never really got over it. The chicken pox vaccine wasn’t available in those days. In fact, it didn’t hit the market until a couple of years after I graduated from high school, about forty years too late for the girl who would have been my first cousin once removed.
My mom also lost a puppy to parvovirus, several years before the parvo vaccine was released.
These incidents are part of our family lore. In our family, epidemic disease kills, and vaccines are our best chance to protect ourselves.
Actually it’s not just our family, it’s this pesky thing called “reality.” The important thing, though, is that people are more convinced by anecdotes and emotionally rich personal stories than we are by anything else.
I used to avoid the flu shot, too, because I’m a big chicken-flavored coward and I would get needle reaction. (Scared, dizzy, and entirely psychosomatic). I might have gotten the flu shot for a $250 cash prize, but then again I probably wouldn’t have. For $1000, yeah. That would have gotten me in line. Then again, I might have made up an excuse and hustled back to my car.
One year, it all changed.
My husband got the flu shot at work. I “never got around to it.” (Bawk bawk bawk) Several weeks later, I got the flu and he did not. I was flat on my back for eight days while he whistled a happy tune and carried on with his regular schedule.
Luckily I am able to admit when I’ve been wrong. It’s because I get a lot of practice, because I’m wrong a lot. I had countless feverish hours to consider why I felt like a warmed-over kettle of bubonic plague and my husband was obviously fine. We slept in the same bed, ate the same meals, touched most of the same doorknobs. He was out and about, meeting and mixing with more people in public than I did, since I work at home. Statistically it would make sense that he might get sick and I might not. Yet there we were, one of us sweating and coughing and the other doing just fine.
I was decided. GET ME THAT FLU SHOT!
Several years later, we both get the flu shot every year. I have never had a reaction, just like I never did after any of my infant shots or childhood boosters, and neither has anyone else I have ever met. Not even our dog, who is legally required to get a rabies vaccine and wear a necklace at all times to prove it.
(Others might call it a “collar” with “tags” but he is a fashion-forward dog and he likes to wear clothes. Let him live).
In a sense, getting the flu shot is our privilege and our secret. We have access to high-quality First World health care. We can get flu shots within walking distance of our apartment, or at work, or stack them with routine errands. Not only do we not have to pay, we don’t even have to wait five minutes.
Meanwhile, infants and immune-compromised people can’t, and neither can millions of people in the developing world. There’s also the case of my dearly departed mother-in-law. She finally lost the battle with lymphoma after five remissions and sixteen years.
During chemo, cancer patients can’t get the flu shot. They’re also highly vulnerable to such things as the common cold.
If you ask me, anyone who refuses to get the flu shot should not be allowed to wear or display any cancer awareness swag. No pink ribbons, no nothing. “I’ll wear this cheap ribbon, and it won’t help you get better, but under no circumstances will I get a flu shot. Why would I actually do a literal physical thing that might protect you or help your chances? Empty symbolic gestures only.”
(I’m still mad that she’s gone. I miss her).
“Congratulations on your new baby. [cough cough]. Here’s a stuffed giraffe and an easily preventable yet highly contagious virus. Welcome to the world, little one [cough cough].”
I get the flu shot, and I’m proud of it, and I’d push my way to the front of the line if I had to. I’ll go after it with at least as much energy and effort as I would a first-class upgrade. That’s because it IS a first-class upgrade. The flu is not some kind of fast track to superior wisdom. It kills productivity and it also kills people, the helpless like elderly people, cancer patients, and little infants.
Little secret here? I’d rather I died from some kind of hypothetical tainted bad batch of vaccines than that someone else died, because they couldn’t get vaccinated and I simply refused. I’m a middle-aged person who never had kids. There are others with more potential, more responsibilities, more to contribute than I have. I’ll die someday, maybe not for another sixty years, but I’d rather go generously than go knowing I always gave into my anxieties and what I recognize as my boundless inner cowardice.
False choice, though. Millions of people get their shots, dutifully, like a good citizen should. And it’s fine. Certainly better than losing two weeks to the stupid flu and then staggering around trying to catch up on laundry.
I get the flu shot to prove a point. That point is that I’m a privileged elitist and I intend to stay that way. I’m willing to put my body on the line and walk my talk. I believe in herd immunity and I believe that the strong must protect the weak. I do it for myself, but I also do it for children, the elderly, and cancer patients. I’ll keep doing it, because it works, and I hope the rest of you join me.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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