Monday, February 18, 2019

"A Shot In The Arm"

Sometimes, an unfortunate thing can remind me of a silly thing. 

I saw a segment about parents unwilling to vaccinate their children.  That’s the unfortunate thing.  The silly thing it reminded me of was that I may have been one of the first “Vaccination Refusers”­­­ of my era.  Not because I was against them.

Because they hurt.

Nobody enjoys “getting their shots.”  But my body seems overly sensitive to those unwelcome violations.  Or was it my mind?  What does it matter?  Imagined horrible pain is still horrible pain.  It’s self-induced, but it’s horrible.

Every summer, after my annual tetanus shot before going to camp, my upper left arm would be red and swollen for days.  I recall standing in line to see Davy Crockett at the Eglinton Theater, a waiting pal’d drop by for a chat, accidentally jostle my shoulder, and I’d call out in pain,

“Ow!  My ‘Needle’!

You can therefore imagine my chagrin, in school, age about nine, hearing that the next day, there would be polio shots.

The first of a series of three.

Though I instantly knew, “I miss the first one, I’m in the clear.”  You needed all three for the treatment to work.  I figured they’d go, “You missed the first one?  Forget about it.”

Hey, I was nine! 

And even today, extreme stress befuddles my brain.  (And even not so extreme.)

Somehow, I got away with it.  I “played sick” – “A-huk, a-huk” – and I stayed home from school.

The next day, I show up.

“How did it go?”

“You’re lucky you missed it.”

I’d look sad, and go,

“Yeah.  But the polio.

Cackling maniacally inside at beating the grownups.

Because I’m an idiot.

Later that day, I get called to the principal’s office.  Mrs. Snider.  A woman so chillingly punitive that, in my mid-twenties, during a chance encounter, I slipped a lit cigar into my pocket.

Mrs. Snider informs me, with the caring compassion of a meat slicer, that since I had missed yesterday’s polio shot, I would be taxied to a nearby school, to which the “Polio Caravan” had rolled on, and I would receive my “make-up” polio shot today.

So much for “Maniacal Genius.”

I am transported to a pre-school.  Everything is small.  The hallway water fountain comes up to my belt buckle.

And I’m nine!

The school principal – disorientingly friendly – greets me with a hug.  (I feel continuing surprise just writing that sentence.)  She then lays out the itinerary

“We have very young children at this school, and they are a little worried about getting their polio shots.  Now, if you go first, and you show them “It’s a snap!”…

And there you have it.  The school principal has tapped me – the miscast “Big Boy” in this scenario – as an example of courage and forbearance.


Who’d ditched school to avoid the shot.

Somebody hear the word, “Uh-oh”?

I am escorted to the Assembly Hall, the first guillotine victim of the French Revolution, tapped to show the aristocrats, “It is only a lopping.”

The children march in, class by class, sitting in disciplined cohorts in front of the stage.  The school principal approaches the microphone.  Lab-coated assassins huddle behind her, ready to puncture.  Oh yeah.  I’m onstage too, sitting in a chair, looking like it’s the Electric Chair.”

“Children,” the principal soothingly begins, “we have a Special Visitor today.  His name is Earl.”


“Earl is going to go first, so you children can see how easy it is to get your polio shots.  (TURNING TO ME)  All right, Earl.  Show everyone how it’s done.”

The next thing I know, somebody’s rolling up my sleeve.  They then pour drops of alcohol onto a medium-sized wadding of cotton.  And as they apply that cool wadding to my awaiting bare shoulder,   

I let out a geschrei!”  

It’s not even the shot!  Only a “conditioning  preview.”  A “conditioning preview” that says, “Look out, cowboy.  The needle is next!

Making me anticipatorily scream.

And the moment I do…

The room goes absolutely bananas.

It is Bedlam. 

A mad scramble!  (I originally typed “screamble.”  And it was.)

Imagine an infantile jailbreak!  Preschoolers, leaping from their designated positions, racing madly around the room.  Sidestepping their pursuing teachers.  Streaking desperately for the exits.  Climbing the walls, trying to escape through the windows, sliding tearfully back to the floor.

It’s an “Ant Farm”, and somebody’s tossed in a match.

The school principal is apoplectic.

“Children!  Children!

No one is listening. 

Chaos and cacophony, throughout the room.   

Because of little ol’ me.

Though I blame the school principal.

I never promised I’d be brave.


Order is finally restored.  I get my belated polio shot, and that’s that.

Next day, I am back at my school.

“What was it like?”

I say, “The kids learned a lot from me.”

I did not say they learned ‘panic’.”

But with “Round Two” of the polio shots,

They probably figured that out for themselves.
Thanks for the fiction suggestions.  Any thoughts about "The Classics"?


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I personally still enjoy Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. But assuming you'd like something more contemporary...

If you've never read Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME, you should. Again, not a recent book, but a fabulous novel (granted, aimed at young adults, but the last person I recommended it to was 80 and she stayed up all night to finish it).

Simon Brett's series of Charles Paris mysteries are good fun. Charles Paris is a somewhat alcoholic failing actor, and the settings are wherever you might find an actor - theater, TV, film studios.

Mark Twain I assume you've read. Ditto James Thurber (who wrote some wonderful stories, besides his cartoons).

I haven't been reading a lot of fiction lately...


JED said...

This was a wonderful story! My office mates are giving me strange looks and wondering what I'm laughing at. Your description of the kindergartners lined up anticipating your bravery really set the stage for the later panic. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time.

I'm not sure if the books of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett are considered classics but I enjoyed reading Chandler's The Big Sleep so I could finally figure out what the movie was about. And Hammett's Red Harvest kept me guessing until the ending where all the pieces fit together.

Mike T. said...

I agree with JED. I don't often laugh out loud (literally or figuratively), but this story made me do that.