I don’t care how old you are, how much you’ve traveled, or how much time you’ve spent in a hospital, shots are never fun. My little kids, who usually handle immunizations with relative grace, came completely unhinged yesterday in the face of their last remaining injections before the trip. We traveled to the Utah County Health Department Immunization Clinic in Provo but did not brief them on the cause for the visit. They had no reason to suspect anything as the lobby was packed with people of all ages and no one was in apparent distress. After a brief wait and a lengthy consult with the travel nurse, I was led to a sterile room to review the protocol and examine the syringes and vials. The nurse was insistent that I see exactly what I was getting since I was shelling out such big bucks. The plan was to sneak the little kids in one at a time and quickly poke them while they weren’t looking. The element of surprise is usually our greatest tool for a tear-free immunization experience. I lost the upper hand, however, when they came busting through the door, curious to see what I was doing. Seven syringes were spread on a tray: yellow fever for all of us and typhoid for the little ones. (The rest of us can take oral typhoid—it lasts much longer.) The jig was up.
The nurse, in his infinite medical wisdom, recommended the three of us who were not eyeing him like he was the bogey man go first. Surely Kieran and Asher would be encouraged if they saw us survive the needles’ jabs. No, no, no, I assured him. Things go much more smoothly if we get theirs done first. That way they have less time to worry about what’s coming. I snatched up Asher and held her lovingly in the designated position, explaining that everything would be fine and that we were going to get a treat after we were done. Nothing I said could calm her and she began wailing and flailing, making it difficult for the nurse to do his job. It was over within seconds but she could not be comforted. She clutched her arm defensively and glared at us from the safety of Dax’s lap. There was no convincing Kieran that this was a worthwhile pursuit, and I wasn’t able to get him on my lap until Dax, McKane, and I had received our shots. His screams were so loud in conjunction with Asher’s moaning that another nurse popped her head in the door to see if we needed an orderly…or perhaps a sedative. By the time she had gone, Kieran was done. He didn’t even realize the first shot was done until he watched the second needle make the plunge into his tiny tricep. Moments later he was completely calm, in no pain and pumped that there was a new Lego in his immediate future.
$624 and many sympathetic looks later we were out the door with everybody in one piece. Despite the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth from the little bits, the visit was probably hardest on me. If you’ve been reading along over the past few months, you know that I’ve been sitting on the Yellow Fever fence. Currently there is only one place on our itinerary that falls in a Yellow Fever zone (Iguazu Falls in Argentina), and I was considering dropping it just to avoid the shot. Millions worldwide get vaccinated every year–in fact in many countries it is a requirement–but there have been a handful of people, mainly Americans, who have actually contracted Yellow Fever and died as a result of the immunization. I think I’m safe in asserting that most parents have tinges of fear when they subject their children to any vaccination. Worst case scenarios run through your mind. You ask yourself, “Will my child be the in 1 in 5,423,791 that has a febrile seizure or ends up in a persistive, vegetative state as a result?”
I opted for the shot for a number of reasons. Our itinerary is highly flexible and there is a good chance we will want to visit other areas in the Yellow Fever belt or enter countries that require proof of immunization. Most importantly, however, it is hard for me to deny my children protection against anything so insidious if there is the slightest chance they might be exposed to it. And the reality is the sad faces only last for a little while.