It’s time again for us to face the needle

Season’s greetings to you! I mean the flu and cold season, of course.

Season’s greetings to you! I mean the flu and cold season, of course.

Unlike other seasons, we are advised not to celebrate this one, but to avoid it. That’s why I decided to get a flu shot the other day and skip the flu holidays altogether.

Grocery stores like Fred Meyer and Albertson’s offer shots these days in their pharmacy departments. My local supermarket doesn’t have a pharmacy, so I went to the meat department. After filling out a questionnaire, I assumed the position. “You can pull your Dockers back up, sir,” the butcher said. “We give flu shots in the arm these days.”

My mix-up was easily explained. I’d been thinking about my cousin Tony and what had happened to him many years ago. To this day, he has a strong dislike of needles – for a very specific and personal reason. I’ll get to his tail – I mean, tale – shortly.

Back in grade school days, for most students (like me), inoculation day was a time of deep dread. Naturally, the loudest wailing would always come before the shot had even been administered. The anticipation was excruciating. My knees would knock together like castanets. Impressed, the school music director asked me to join band.

One kid I remember – Eric – was screaming so loud as he stood in line that the school nurse stuck cotton balls in her ears. But even a cotton plantation wouldn’t have drowned out that kid. At one point, a team of firemen ran into the school thinking a siren had gone off. Of course, immediately after Eric received his shot, he instantly quieted. Then, as he strutted past the other kids still waiting in line, he spoke coolly: “It’s no big deal. I hardly felt a thing.” My friends and I decided that as soon as we had a chance, we would give Eric the wedgie of his life.

Most of us imagined our arms to be completely useless after getting our shots, hanging limply at our sides. One kid told the teacher that he wouldn’t be able to take a test because his writing arm was aching so much. He even fashioned a sling for himself. Unfortunately, he forgot it was going to be an oral test.

After getting her shot, a girl in my class spent the next hour dragging her leg around, as if that’s where she’d been stuck. She gave a very rational explanation, though, having to do with something called “referred pain.” She said she read about it in a magazine one time. Miraculously, her limp disappeared just as the bell rang for recess.

In fact, the terror of shot day at school had little to do with the actual inoculation itself. Instead, the hysteria was fueled by hearsay and rumor. One year, a story began circulating around school that doctors had decided that shots in the arm just weren’t effective any more. So instead, shots would now be given in the eye. I think Eric lapsed into a coma when he heard that one.

Another time, when I was in the third grade, an eighth-grader told me that eating chicken caused chicken pox. It made me wonder how many times Colonel Sanders must have come down with it. I finally figured out that the eighth-grader was bogus when he also told me that German measles were caused by sauerkraut.

Regarding my cousin Tony: When he was around 12 years old, he managed to accidentally (because why would he do it on purpose?) sit on his mom’s sewing pincushion. The cushion wasn’t the problem, it was the multiple long needles that resided upon it. The cushion had the size and look of a bright, red tomato, but it didn’t feel like one when Tony sat on it. The scream that emanated from him was so high and shrill that dogs all over the neighborhood began to howl in pain, too. Perhaps a dozen needles, with faux tomato attached, were situated so firmly into his rear quarters that Tony had received – in the worst possible way – buns of steel.

So while Tony continued to caterwaul, his dad walked him gingerly to the car for the quick drive to the emergency room. Tony rode forlornly, kneeling over the backseat of the station wagon, his hindquarters on high. He looked like a four-legged rump roast with a tomato garnish.

Less than 10 minutes later, with needles and cushion extracted by the doctor, Tony was eager to head home. After all, in one half-hour period, he had undergone a lifetime of do-it-yourself acupuncture. But there was one last indignity: A tetanus shot. The doctor thought it would be a good idea just in case Tony’s mom used rusty sewing needles.

When he arrived back home, Tony’s mom said she would make him some comforting hot soup. He said it’d be fine, but would it be okay if he stood while he ate? He also said that under the circumstances, he’d prefer something other than tomato soup. So she made him chicken soup, instead.

Three days later, he came down with chicken pox.