In the summer of 1976, France experienced a severe heat wave. I was spending my vacation at my uncle’s house, with his wife, my three younger cousins, and a goofy dog. They lived in a remote village in the countryside, where he was the only doctor. We spent a great amount of time at the local pool, about 500 yards from the house. It was so dangerously hot that the community had waived the entrance fee so all kids could enjoy the break from the heat. It was a great summer.
My mother had warned me that it was the year my booster shots were due. It was understood that my uncle would be would in charge of that torture. He had to be my beloved uncle and my executioner. For most of the summer, I hoped the grown ups would simply forget about it and leave me alone. Not so.
One morning, my cousin and I were told this would be the day of our shots. One shot: Diphtheria Tetanus and Polio, aka DTPolio. We kids went to the pool, walked back home, dried off and there came my aunt telling us to get ready and go to the office. Hell broke loose. I snapped. I started screaming, running, kicking and hiding everywhere I could. My younger cousin, now scared of me, of the pain about to be endured, and of the look on her parents’ face, ran with me.
I lost that battle. My uncle caught me, sat me on the exam table, my aunt smacked my arm rather hard (“so you won’t feel anything” she claimed), rubbed a spot with alcohol, and he stabbed me with a syringe. I survived.
In case you’re thinking that I was just a brat, you should know that I wasn’t raised to turn into a screaming banshee when I didn’t get my way. Obedience is a virtue in my family. Kids obey parents, period.
You see, it’s catholic nuns who did that to me. A few years prior to that summer of 76, I was a young schoolgirl, in first grade I think. Schools were mandated to do TB tests on each kid every few years. A nun-nurse stuck a little piece of fabric on our chest and we had to keep it on for a few days, being careful not to get it wet. It was like a lottery ticket glued on you: if you win, you don’t get the vaccine, if you loose, you get scratched. I lost.
We were standing in a single line in front of two nurses and our teacher. One nurse would pull the piece of fabric off, and announce the verdict: positive or negative. All my schoolmates were “positive”. I was not. Then, in front of the entire class who was now seated at their desks, one nurse grabbed me, pushed me face to the blackboard, pulled my left sleeve up, twisted my arm behind me, while the other nurse cut three short lines about 1/8th inch deep on the inside of my upper arm with a little bitty tool that looks like a fountain pen quill. Obviously I screamed out of fear, and pain. And to make matters worse, I heard my classmates gasp, and a few girls cry. They later told me that blood was dripping from my arm. And when I turned around, I saw the shock on my teacher’s face. I think she was horrified by the whole event.
Since then, I don’t like shots. Not one bit.
I have had a few more run-ins with medical professionals about immunizations in the last few decades and I have come to understand one thing: it’s a power struggle. I truly believe that some nurses enjoy causing pain.
So when I realized that moving to India, or even going to India as a tourist involves a series of inoculations, I was none too pleased. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the need for vaccinations that I have a problem with (see previous post about the plague!), it’s the physical pain associated with a needle piercing my skin, muscle and thick layer of fat, followed by the injecting of a foreign substance that I loathe.
The CDC provides the list of currently recommended immunizations: Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, polio, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, as well as your routine immunizations, which of course I will need. So how many times do I need to have my skin pierced with a sharp object? I don’t know. After a quick internet search, I found that some can be given orally, but I am preparing for a nurse telling me that’s not their procedure. And others require more than one trip to the butcher. After calling the specialized clinic in the area, I still don’t have a straight answer.
My dear cousin is now a nurse. A few days ago, when I casually mentioned my fear of shots and the need to get many of them before our trip, she burst out laughing, vividly remembering us running around the tables! And because she is probably the only person in the world who understands the extent of my trauma, she gave me a tip. She is a psychiatric nurse, a caring nurse, who sometimes has to inject patients with neuroleptics. The way she describes it, the substance is similar to oil, and the injections are rather painful. But they prepare the patient by applying a lidocaine cream, which numbs the area. Pure genius.
So I went on a quest for that cream. As expected, it is not sold over the counter. When I called the travel medicine clinic, they had no knowledge whatsoever that such a product even existed. The nurse was nice and told me they were “very good at what they do” (ok, but, well, you know, I don’t believe that it won’t hurt!). It took me a while, but I found a doctor who didn’t belittle me, didn’t lecture me, and gave me a prescription. Hooray for cool doctors! And he is Indian!
So on Monday, after slathering myself in ointment, I am going for round one…