I have a confession to make: In 57 years of life on this sick and diseased planet, I have never had a flu shot.
There are a number of perfectly reasonable explanations for this. For example, I was just sitting in a meeting during which my boss indicated that if we feel like we may be coming down with the flu we should just work from home for a few days and not risk bringing the bug to the office and infecting others with it. You could see the light clicking on for people all around the conference room table. Right after that meeting, several of us who really like working from home were walking around the streets of the city, trying to get sick people to breathe on us.
Aside from the intoxicating potential for working while wearing jammies, there is also the possibility that your flu shot will have the side effect of "flu-like symptoms." Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the whole point of having a flu shot AVOIDING "flu-like symptoms"? So why take a shot that may give you the very thing you're trying to avoid? That just doesn't make sense to me. I mean, would you take an aspirin if the side effect might be a headache? Or an indigestion medicine that might give you gas?
Plop-plop, fizz-fizz, oh, what a relief it … isn't?
I rest my case.
But if I'm going to be really honest about this, the main reason I've never had a flu shot is … well … I just hate getting shots. More specifically, I hate needles — especially the thought of them pushing painfully through my skin. Of the four times in my life that I have fainted, three had to do with people sticking needles into me for one reason or another (the fourth, if you must know, took place during a graphic "scared straight" kind of movie in high school driver's ed).
What can I say? I'm a wuss. And I'm more afraid of the shot than the flu.
But then I see news reports indicating this year's flu season looks rough. People are dying of the flu, and public health officials in some locations are calling it a public health emergency.
"This is absurd," said one medical professor, his frustration with people like me clearly showing. "This isn't the Dark Ages. We're not bleeding people with leeches and hoping it helps. We have a good, proven vaccine, and plenty of it — no shortages like we had last year. The vaccine doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu, but it reduces the risk considerably. There's just no reason for people not to get a shot and save themselves a lot of suffering — or worse."
In other words, to paraphrase FDR, the only thing we have to fear about flu shots is the fear of flu shots themselves.
Especially those sharp, pointy needles.
Fear can do strange things to us. I've seen big, brave men run screaming at the sight of a spider no bigger than a quarter, and bright, composed women who were completely together in every way fall apart because of the height of a third floor balcony. Fear makes the strong weak, the bold frightened, the calm agitated and the smart stupid. "Fear," according to a German proverb, "makes the wolf bigger than he is."
So I guess it's time to take a shot at shrinking that wolf back to its normal size. Just weeks from my 58th birthday, I'm going to grow up and face the hypodermic. I have my annual doctor's appointment next week, so I'll ask for a flu shot while I'm there and kill two … uh … well, I'm not going to think about killing anything. I'm just going to think about doing the smart thing. The right thing. The brave thing.
And hey, if I end up with "flu-like symptoms," so much the better!
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com.
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