Punctured on the way to a flu shot

by Brian on November 8, 2020

in Cancer,Covid-19,Health

It wasn’t just the needle that left a puncture when I went to my doctor to get a flu shot. 

Until last week, I’d never gotten the vaccine for annual influenza before, mostly because, over the course of my 60 years, I’ve sailed through winters without getting particularly sick. But with Covid-19 literally in the air and my personal status from cancer now clearly defined as high-risk, I was finally ready to take the plunge. 

“You really want to get a flu vaccine this year as soon as possible,” Sheba Medical Center’s Prof. Eyal Leshem told The Jerusalem Post in September, as demand is expected to be greater than ever.

I didn’t sleep well the night before my appointment, which felt foolish. What was there to be worried about? According to the press release for the Fluzone HD shot, the only potential side effects are redness or swelling at the site of the injection. 

My post-chemo immune system doesn’t always read the disclaimers, though. Last year, after I got a different vaccine against pneumonia that’s offered to vulnerable patients like me, I wound up with a fever and was concerned I might need to go to the ER. 

So, I was pretty bleary eyed when I set out in the car the next morning. I hadn’t had time to eat breakfast or shower; I just wanted to get in and out without any fuss. Fortunately, I was right on time for my appointment. 

When I pulled up to the sign reading “gate closed, use other entrance,” I wasn’t sure what to do. To drive all the way to the eastern side of the building, I reckoned, would have added another 15 minutes to my trip, what with Jerusalem traffic. How strict was this appointment time? Would they give my dose away? Would I have to suffer through another anxiety-fueled sleepless night?

That’s when I had what would prove to be an ill-fated epiphany. 

The entrance was roped off, but the exit lane leading out of the parking lot was wide open. I could just drive through the “wrong” side; no one had to know. It’s not like there were a lot of cars going in and out at that hour. 

Did I not see the spikes along the ground designed to keep cars from doing exactly that? Or was I so in my fog of focus on getting that shot that I simply blocked them out?

I spied the attendant booth; it was unmanned. No cops in sight either. I sped up, veered left and gave myself a virtual pat on the back for such quick thinking. I had outsmarted the system and now would make it to the nurse for my shot just in the nick of time.

I’ve often wondered – dreaded, really – what would happen if you drive over the “no entry” spikes. When leaving a parking lot, I always try to get past them without delay, imagining that if I lingered a split second too long, the car could roll backward and that would be it.

Here’s what really happens: You don’t feel much of anything at first. It’s more like a bump in the road, almost a normal experience in potholed Jerusalem.

But you hear it immediately – a whoosh of air like the release on a roller coaster car’s air brakes before you begin your initial towed ascent to the top. 

And then, like the coaster, there’s a sinking feeling of, “Oh crap, what have I got myself into, can I please just turn around? Undo, undo!”

The warning indicator on my car’s dashboard flashed orange. The tire pressure had gone from its normal 260 to 10, then 5, then 0. I pulled into a nearby parking spot and assessed the damage. It was bad.

I then went inside to get my flu shot as if nothing had happened. I didn’t tell the nurse. She took me right away and didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry.

After some tense telephone back and forth with my wife, Jody, who called the emergency roadside service, a tow truck came two hours later. The vehicle was too big and couldn’t maneuver into the parking lot, so I had to drive my tire-challenged car out, scraping along the pavement to the horrified looks of pedestrians exiting their own vehicles. Some pointed at the underside of my car, as if I didn’t know.

Moti, the tow truck driver, said he wasn’t allowed to give me a ride. Great, I thought – the one time an Israeli decides to follow the rules. I didn’t feel comfortable taking a taxi or hopping on the bus (corona), so I walked home while the tire shop charged our credit card NIS 1,300. Miraculously, two of the tires had been spared.

On the way home, I spoke with a friend on the phone.

“I was so stupid,” I lamented, shuddering as I relived my mistake.

“I think I would have felt more embarrassed than stupid,” my friend offered.

“Is that supposed to help?” I barked back, although it did, a bit.

By nighttime I felt a bit nauseous from the flu shot, but nothing major to write home about. My arm didn’t even ache. But my sense of confidence for being out in the world is going to take some time to get back to normal.

If there’s any lesson in this story, it’s to pick your puncture battles carefully. Get the flu shot. It barely pricks. And take your time – it’s the bigger spikes that really hurt.

I first covered my puncture trauma for The Jerusalem Post.

Flu shot picture from Whoisjohngalt at English Wikipedia.

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