Saturday, December 11, 2010

Needles

Well, my Gal Friday did it again.  She dragged me over to the local drug store to suffer through a flu shot.  Like most macho American males, I hate shots because they involve the use of needles.  My one exception is a shot from a glass.  Even as a baby I learned having your epidermis pierced with a sharp metal object is not amusing.  It doesn't rate too high on the "having fun" curve on which I valiantly attempt to reach maximum marks.

During second grade in elementary school, we youngsters were lined up to be marched about four blocks to the our town's municipal building where a doctor awaited ready to inflict pain, in the form of a polio vaccination, upon us unknowing kids.  However,  just before the onset, we were told what this little class jaunt was all about.  I immediately conjured up an image of a lurking, fiendish doctor dressed in black ready to snatch any poor kid passing by.  I could envision the building stocked to the brim with ample supplies of needles and polio vaccine to inoculate all of the Western Hemisphere and I was certain, because of a frantic need to dispose of the goods, this dastardly doctor crouched ready to pounce.  My anxiety turned the short walk into an anguished trek only exceeded by the Bataan Death March.  I felt like a young displaced Iroquois trudging along the infamous Trail Of Tears.  The four blocks turned into tortured miles with each step drawing me closer to impending pain.  By the time we arrived my legs refused to carry me over the threshold.

Being my last name begins with "C,"  I stood near the front of the line.  In front of me was my buddy Ralph, whose last name starts with "B."   When Ralph pivoted around to face me, I realized by the lack of color in his face and quaking extremities,  my friend shared my intense apprehensions.  I asked Ralph, "Have you ever had polio?"  Because fear had overcome him, he couldn't speak, but did manage to nod "no."   I told him I never had polio either and didn't find it necessary to needlessly undergo the indignity of facing the needle.  The words may not be exact, but you get the idea.  With extreme relief, Ralph and I slithered away ready to play another day.  Although in the retelling, I realize my logic was flawed, but at that time I'm sure any thought process that resulted in escaping the needle seemed rational.

In your mind great moments like that last forever, but unfortunately, not in real life.  This was one of my first hard lessons in the fact you are responsible for your actions.  The next morning Ralph and I were called into the principal"s office.  The walk from the classroom to the office equaled the feelings of yesterday's death march.  The principal, who we feared even more than the black-clothed physician, explained,  in a not so tenderly fashion,  we were to be escorted back to the municipal building for our inoculations.  The indignity of being called out in front of my peers; the tongue-lashing from the teacher and principal; the rage of my parents as well as the shot itself should have taught me the value of conformity.  I should have learned going along with the crowd is easier than being the salmon bucking the stream.  I should have but I didn't.

At the age of 16, I was walking home with my visiting nephew and suddenly passed out.  I didn't wake up for two days.  Our family doctor suggested I see a neurologist.   My brother Bob, twenty-two years my senior, had a friend who was a neurologist and naturally took me to him.  Actually Bob was one of a duo of half-brothers.  Our mother had married twice.  I was about three when I learned of this family situation.  At that time both brothers were engaged in an epic battle entitled WWII and I had yet to lay eyes on them.  When my mother explained they were half-brothers, I wondered if they were real short or real skinny.  Glorious is the mind of a three-year-old.

Once Bob succeeded in dragging me into his buddy's office, the friendly doctor had me lay on a table to prepare for an electroencephalogram commonly known as an EEG.  Today the contacts applied to your pate for this test are sticky patches, but not back then.  Oh no, back then the contacts were short NEEDLES.  I laid there enduring the pain of having, I'm sure, at least 12,000 needles plunged into my scalp.  Then the neurologist had the audacity to tell me to relax and go to sleep.  The only thing that kept me from leaping off the table and doing as much bodily harm as possible to my brother's golf partner was the thought of 12,000 needles tearing out of my head.

With pleading eyes, I looked over at Bob.  I thought by the look on his face he completely sympathized with my situation.  His gaze left me when he turned to his friend and asked, "Jeez, Doc, have you got any booze in the joint?"  I never loved my brother more.  He was going to let alcohol subdue my fear and pain.  What a wonderful gesture - this was the thing brotherly love was made of.

The doctor poured a shot of Scotch and handed it to Bob.  In my heart I knew the good doctor was wise enough to realize the significance of having my brother give me the Scotch instead of himself.  This was like the cavalry coming to the rescue.  This gesture would only enhance the strong bond between brothers.  Bob took the liquid offering from his friend, but instead of approaching me, he immediately gulped it down.  Now, with a look of contentment, he ordered the test to begin.  So much for "you are your brother's keeper."

My fear of shots lessened as I reached adulthood and lasted until my first business trip to the Orient.  In preparation for this long anticipated venture, I had to undergo a series of shots for about every imaginable disease known to mankind.  I had so many holes punched into me I was afraid to drink anything in public worried that I'd leak on anyone nearby.  I'm not sure, but I believe the yellow fever shot was the one that made me so sick I missed a couple of days at work.  This experience heightened my fear of shots back to its original level.

Since my physical condition has been far less than perfect much of my life, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in ambulances, doctor's offices, clinics and hospitals.  I've endured plunging needles in about every part of my body.  Testing my blood has become as popular as homemade apple pie.  So, have I become more accustomed to the needle?  Yes.  Do I fear it any less?  No.  So goes it.

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