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Faith in Vermont: Small, Sharp Things

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Posted on October 16, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Not that there’s ever a good time, but the “low tire pressure” light came on in our minivan at a particularly inconvenient time. 

It was a chilly, overcast Saturday morning in early October, the kind of morning that makes you want to pour another cup of coffee and curl up on the couch with a good book.

Unless, of course, you have children, in which case you have to get your little Girl Scout out the door by 8:30 AM so that she can meet up with the rest of her troop for a morning hike. 

As I ushered the Girl Scout and her younger sister (who wanted to come along for the ride) into the minivan that morning, I was feeling pretty good about myself: Not yet 8:30, and my entire family was dressed, breakfasted, and brushed up. The dog had been walked, and the poultry were fed.

Then the “low tire pressure” light came on.

I drove my daughter to her hike anyway, of course, because I’d rather be on time on three tires than late on four. 

We took the car to the mechanic later that morning. A few hours later, my husband gave me the report: Two porcupine quills.

I cannot imagine how I ended up with two porcupine quills in my tire. I’m fairly sure I didn’t run over an entire porcupine, so there must have been a few spare quills lying on the road somewhere; this is Vermont.

Isn’t it amazing how a couple of small, sharp things can take down a massive, powerful vehicle?

I’m not just talking about porcupine quills; I’m also talking about flu shots.

Around the time those porcupine quills lodged themselves in my tire, I took all four of my daughters to our pediatricians’ office for their annual flu vaccinations.

I realize that even mentioning the flu vaccine can be controversial – political, even -- especially here in Vermont, where, at least among our friends and acquaintances, vaccination rates hover around 50%. So, before I go on, let me make a few things clear:

1.    We have made the choice to vaccinate our entire family annually for public health reasons, since we are around both elderly people and very young children on a weekly basis. (And also because I will do anything to decrease the chances of our entire family coming down with the full-blown flu.)

2.    If you choose not to vaccinate yourself or your children, I respect your choice and am not judging you.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here is how one tiny flu shot per year can derail our entire family:

It begins in late summer, around the time my daughters spot the first leaves beginning to turn. “Oh no,” moans my second-born child, “that means it’s almost time for our flu shots!” 

Around early September, when I take one of my daughters for her annual check-up, there is typically a reminder in the pediatricians’ office to sign up for the flu shot clinic. I sign up. Now we have a date, and the countdown begins.

As the day approaches, my daughters run through a litany of anxiety on daily repeat:

“Will it hurt? How much?”

“I wish they still had the nose spray!” (The nasal spray version of the flu vaccine was available at our doctors’ office for a couple of years, until they found it was less effective than the shot. My daughters still recall it longingly, although the truth is that having a mist sprayed up their noses didn’t result in less anxiety than having a shot in the arm.)

Why do we have to get flu shots?!?”

Nothing I say makes any difference. I remind them that every year the shots are much less painful than they expect. I explain why the nose spray is no longer available. I tell them how the flu shot works, why we get it as a service to ourselves and others, and how fortunate we are to have access to vaccinations for potentially deadly diseases. 

By the time we walk into the pediatricians’ office for our flu shots, some of my daughters are so worked up that they can hardly function. This year, a mother exiting the office took one look at my girls and handed me the candy she was holding. “For bribery,” she said.

My daughters’ palpable terror got us ushered immediately into the examination room; nobody wanted us hanging around the waiting room, scaring other patients.

When the nurse walked in, several of my daughters screamed outright.

“Please, don’t kill me!” yelled the daughter cowering behind the examination table.

To show that I wasn’t putting them through anything I was unwilling to experience myself, I got the first flu shot. My girls had already worked out their order of vaccination some days before:

First-born daughter (age 10): She’d seemed calm about going first and getting it over with, but when her turn came she fell apart. “I’m not ready! Give me a minute!” she shrieked repeatedly, while I attempted to restrain her on my lap. The nurse ended up having to administer the shot over her protestations.

Fourth-born daughter (age 5): Started crying when her big sister broke down. Continued crying until the shot was given, at which point she decided it wasn’t so bad.

Third-born daughter (age 7): The bravest. No problem.

Second-born daughter (age 9): The most anxious; this daughter starts having flu shot nightmares in August. I can’t remember how we managed to give her the shot, but immediately afterward she looked at the nurse and shouted, “That was IT?!? That’s what I’ve been worried about for a whole year?!? That was nothing! Why didn’t you tell me?!?” 

Then she hugged our long-suffering nurse, and we all trooped out...to face the stunned stares of everyone in the waiting room who’d overheard our commotion for the past 15 minutes.

Now we’ll have a few months of peace before the flu shot anxiety starts up again. But this year, we tried something new: This year, we had each of our daughters record a video in which they reassured their future selves not to waste time worrying about the flu shot. 

With all this drama, you might wonder why we even bother with flu shots. My answer is that we bother because there are some things that are worth doing, even if they’re scary. If flu shots keep my daughters and those around them healthy, that’s wonderful; if they teach my daughters to navigate fear so that, over time, their anxiety won’t derail them as much -- even better.

 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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