A needling flu shot experience

I got my flu shot a few weeks ago. I know, mid-January is a little later than ideal, but I was busy, or sick, or out of the country, or lazy. Probably mostly the last one.

The shot itself wasn’t bad, but the process of actually getting the shot was slightly more painful.

Every year, I enter the cold and flu season with good, full intentions to get the flu shot – to vaccinate myself and help protect the weak and feeble around me. More often than not, I find myself busy, or sick, or scared of the needle. Or lazy. So I don’t end up getting it. Of course, suffering through swine flu a few years ago was horrifying and should have probably changed my pig-headed ways, but I think I’ve only gotten the shot once since.

But this year, I knew I couldn’t count on my immune system as much. Well, I thought I knew that. General knowledge (i.e. things I read on pregnancy websites and in books about my “magical transformation”) tells me that my immune system is suppressed right now so my body won’t attack the foreign invader that is 50 per cent my husband. I guess that makes sense.

(From an evolutionary biology perspective, this doesn’t really make that much sense though – since the whole point of a species is to reproduce, it doesn’t make sense to weaken to-be mothers while their bodies are attempting to do exactly that. A quick browse of some more recent scientific literature left me with a headache [I guess I’m a bit rusty] and the general grasp of the concept that my immune system isn’t quite suppressed – instead, it’s ‘morphed’ or ‘altered.’ That’s way more reassuring.)

Every pregnancy resource told me that a flu shot this year was a very, very good idea.

So when I was at the hospital getting blood drawn to test for all the different kinds of mutant this baby could be, I figured that would be a good time to get immunized from the same virus that had probably required someone else to go there that same day. After getting jabbed by a less skilled nurse than I would have liked, I asked a volunteer at the information desk whether there was a flu shot clinic that day. She didn’t think so, but she took me to where it would be.

She was right – the hall was empty.

On our walk back to the main area of the hospital, she told me, I thought quite smugly, “I never get the flu shot.”

Weird, I thought, given that the hospital was not only trying to promote the shot to the general public but also strongly encouraging (read: attempting to mandate) all of its staff and volunteers to get immunized. ‘Should she really be telling me this?’ I asked myself. Still, I figured I would engage in conversation.

“Oh, I don’t normally, either.”

“Well why are you this year?” she asked.

“I’m pregnant.”

“So?”

“Umm.” I paused. “I’m pretty sure my immune system isn’t quite up to snuff.”

At this point – and I promise I’m not just being hormonal – she looked me up and down, sniffed with dismissal, and said, “If you’re healthy, you don’t need the flu shot.”

Thankfully, we were at the bottom of the stairs. I thanked her for her time and her opinion and walked away.

It took a few more tries to find someone who was actually offering the flu shot at the time and place I arrived. Around here, all the pharmacies advertise that they’re giving away flu shots like residence advisors give away condoms, but my experience was that – and maybe it was because I went to get my shot in mid-Janaury after there were already some cases of influenza death reported on the CBC – most of the time, they’re out.

But I got there. I returned to the pharmacy around the corner at the time I’d been told, filled out the paperwork asking about allergies and illnesses, and had a seat in the waiting area. Right next to me, there was a display case holding pamphlets with helpful information about all kinds of conditions – diabetes, heart disease, and pregnancy. ‘Oh! I have that!’ I picked that one up and started reading.

I had just finished the section about immunization in pregnancy – the flu shot is highly recommended, it said – when the pharmacist called me into the private side room and asked me, “Is there any chance you might be pregnant?”

“Um, yes. I am nearly four months pregnant.”

His face dropped.

“Does your doctor know you’re here?”

I was blind-sided by the question. Should I not be here? Am I in trouble? Are you going to tell my parents?

“No. I was under the impression that it was medically recommended to get the flu shot when pregnant. In fact, your own store’s literature says -”

He cut me off.

“I’ll be right back.”

He left the room, and I heard his hushed, concerned discussion with the woman who had looked over my paperwork – “She’s four months pregnant!” “She didn’t tell me that!” “What do we do?”

Honestly, I felt like the reaction would have been less dramatic if I had said I was actually a very well-groomed and well-trained bipedal poodle.

The pharmacist actually used a lifeline on this one – he phoned a friend to discuss the validity of giving me a flu shot (horror!) without my doctor’s permission. After a few minutes of whispered deliberation, he finally came back into the room and sighed before delivering the news.

“I have decided it’s okay to give you the flu shot – only because the benefits outweigh the risks.”

I had already rolled up my sleeve and presented my arm before the sentiment sunk in. Wait, risks? What risks? This is 2014, right? Science is pretty much in agreement on this vaccination thing, yes?

Boom. Flu shot administered.

I had to wait in the store for 15 minute to make sure I didn’t keel over and die (spoiler alert: I didn’t), and then I was free to go into an influenza-filled world without care.  I went home, got four pages deep in Google searching the keywords ‘flu shot’ and ‘pregnancy,’ and went to bed that night with the vaguely comforting knowledge that the Internet is on my side.

(I know that’s not a very strong ending. I’m sorry. I was really trying to figure out a way to work in that Wayne Gretzky quote about missing 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take, but I think it kind of misses the mark here. Instead, you’ll have to be satisfied with this parenthetical outro.)

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