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Thinking about flu shots can make you sick

December 09, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

The only flu I ever can recall being vaccinated for was the swine flu, back in fourth grade. It was a disappointment, since the schoolkid rumor at the time was that the primary symptom of swine flu was a predisposition to prolonged bouts of oinking. So of course everyone wanted to catch it and of course, being the terminally unlucky children that we were, no one did.

They vaccinated kids for everything in those days: Rubella, polio, smallpox, largepox, chickenpox, goatpox, German measles, whooping cough, mumps and male-pattern baldness.

Our arms looked like dartboards and our parents were provided with a scorecard of all the things we'd been poked for, which read much like a Chinese takeout menu.

They gave the shots in the nurse's office, which also was the guidance counselor's office and the main reason that no one in our class grew up to be nurses. Perhaps when I wasn't looking they crossed purposes and vaccinated me against work - that would explain a lot.

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So by the time I was 10, I'd had my fill of shots and had no disposition to get any more. When I would travel extensively to Third World countries, I might get a shot or two, but the side effects were so bad I finally decided to forgo the shot and chance the malaria. Besides, since for most of my adult life I always traveled in small, crabby circles, there was no point. I never was exposed to kids, who tend to spread contagions like a Santa Anita wildfire.

That's changed, and mostly for the better. But one huge downside is that, having never been exposed to bugs for the better part of two decades, viruses tend to see me as new meat. My immunity is zip. And as you may know, a kid visiting a secluded adult is like a conquistador visiting an Aztec. You get everything and you get it severely.

Unfortunately, I am a slow learner. So when the Florence Nightingale in High Heels announced she was going to get a flu shot and urged me to do the same, I begged off. First off, I don't trust shots. There could be ANYTHING in that syringe. As the Simpsons said, it could be filled with a serum provided by Big Retail that gives you an overwhelming urge to shop (why do you think they give them out right before Christmas?)

Besides, I hate to deprive children and the elderly, people who actually may be seriously hurt by the flu. We all know how it works by now:

Day One: The government announces a new flu vaccine is available.

Day Two: They run out.

I think I had some other excuses, too, none of which impressed Andrea much since, in my opinion, she never has much use for air-tight logic.

But the shot avoidance turned out to be poor judgment. The day after Thanksgiving, young Alexa took ill. When kids are sick on a school day, I always am suspicious. I remember well my trick of holding the thermometer up to a light bulb - a ruse that was foiled one day when I held it over the wood stove. My mom took one look at the thermometer and said, "That's interesting. You have a temperature of 428."

But when kids are sick on a nonschool day, it means they are SICK. And by now I know the drill. When Alexa is sick, I immediately go into her room to see what I'm about to come down with, multiplied by 10, in a couple of days.

And sure enough, just like clockwork, I got thumped. Fortunately, I am a good patient. Andrea herself told me, "Why, I wouldn't even know that you were sick if you weren't lying on the couch moaning like a wounded moose and howling at the top of your lungs about how unfair life is."

Even worse, she didn't get sick at all. The shot must have worked. I can handle the fever, persistent cough, aching head and jowls, sore throat and congestion. The symptom I can't handle is the persistent I Told You So. She is kind, though, so I probably only heard this an estimated 6,953 times over the course of four days.

So husbands everywhere, take my advice and get a flu shot. The vaccine ought to be back in stock about the time the daffodils are blooming.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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