This week we vaccinated old people for the Swine Flu and as usual I was playing the role of secretary while the nurse was playing the role of evil incarnate with a huge syringe in her hand. Ever since I started working with the vaccinations for Swine Flu, I've come to appreciate the small things in life. Health, family, personal hygiene, easy access clothes, people who know on what day they were born and people who know whether or not they're allergic to eggs... It seems like when people come to get a vaccine they are slightly nervous and if you ask them a question they weren’t really expecting, they are incapable of giving you a straight answer. Usually it goes a little bit like this:
Ziva: Are you allergic to eggs?
Patient: I don't think so.
Ziva: But you've eaten stuff with egg in it, right? Like cake?
Patient: Ohh, yeah, sure. And I eat eggs too.
Ziva: Then how can you not know if you’re allergic or not?
Patient: Well it's not like I've ever given it any thought... I mean, I could still be allergic, right?
Ziva: When was the last time you had eggs?
Ziva: And you didn't go into anaphylactic shock and die?
Patient: Uhh,, No.
Ziva: Congrats, you're not allergic.
At this point the patient usually laughs a little and you can see that he feels a little awkward. Now is when you tell him to take his shirt off, cause apparently the day you’re getting the vaccine is when you decide to wear a button down shirt with tiny buttons, a vest over that and a long-sleeved undershirt that all have to be removed before we can introduce his arm to the business end of a very sharp needle.
When the clothes come off, the stench is released. 1 out of 20 old men will smell like they've spent the last few days marinating in cow manure and rotting squirrels. Old tobacco, sweat and dried urine give off a very pungent smell that saturates the air faster than Chernobyl went “boom”. If you breathe it in you’ll have to make sure you’re up to date on your tetanus shots. And that you have an emergency bucket nearby.
While this is happening, the patients, who are still feeling a little dumb on account of not knowing if they’re allergic to eggs or not, will make small talk to ease their awkwardness. This is a conversation I’ve had 35 times today:
Patient: So, this is the Swine Flu vaccine, huh?
Patient: Well then it’ll suit me perfectly/Does that mean I’ll become a pig now?/So I’ll go “oink” when I get home then./I’ve always wanted a pig’s tail.
Followed by a throaty laugh. Hilarious is what it is. Our patients should all have gone into stand up comedy.
Every patient has an electronic chart that comes up on the computer when we enter the vaccine details for that particular patient. Usually there’s also some sort of warning that pops up first. Mostly it says that the patient in question has allergies and will swell up to the size of a pregnant elephant if given penicillin. Sometimes it’s something else. Today the warning text for one of the patients read: “Paranoid schizophrenic, do not agitate.” Well then. That makes me feel all warm and fluffy inside. Add to the fact that he stood perfectly still and stared at me. His movements were jerky and abrupt and he kept shaking his head the way you do when the voices tell you to attack someone and you just want them to shut the hell up. It felt really safe to be in the same room with him while he had a huge needle sticking out of his arm. But except for the schizophrenic maniac, the horrible stench, the old man boobs and egg confusion, it was a really good day.
Tomorrow Zelma and I are going to go on a cruise to Sweden and back so I imagine I’ll have something to write about come Monday. *