I’m squirming slightly in the wobbly patient chair as my doctor peruses my electronic chart on her computer. There’s a lot to scroll through and, of all things, she lands on this: “You are due for your tetanus shot. It’s been ten years.” My doctor is brilliant, beautiful and I know immediately when she is approaching my room because of the familiar clickity-clickity of her high heels. She is also Russian and maybe it’s just me, but when she delivers a pronouncement of any kind in that take-no-prisoners accent, I sit up straight and usually say “okay.”
Well the good news is that I can finally play with the rusty nails I keep in a Ziplock under the planting soil on our balcony. Kidding of course, but when I was a kid, I had an outsized fear of getting “lockjaw,” as we called it in our family. I also loved to talk. And talk and talk. My parents may have hoped for a jaw-freeze now and then, just for a little peace and quiet. But one time I remember touching a rusty something and for days afterwards furiously checking the mirror for signs of trouble. I worked my jaw up and down, back and forth like a puppeteer pulling the strings on her marionette.
My doctor tells me I need to go to my local pharmacy for the shot.
Huh? “Why can’t I get it here?”
“Because your insurance won’t pay for it. But the shot is free If you go to your pharmacy.”
First of all, I’m trying to picture how they give shots at my mini-size Save-On, er, CVS, during a pandemic. And who THEY are. And where do they do it? Is there a secret treatment cubicle in the back, next to the break room? A hastily erected tent in the alley behind the store? It’s interesting how our expectations eventually go poof when they smash into reality.
I call CVS on the phone, connect with a living, breathing pharmacist and ask him if I need to make an appointment and what are the nurse’s hours? Apparently I have blinked and missed the big changes in the medical dispensing business these days and my query gives him a good yuk-yuk. He tells me to come in anytime and the pharmacist, him, will administer the shot. Well okay then. I guess he took the “injection workshop,” practiced on oranges, himself and his fellow non-nurses, in order to get the official certificate that says: “I Can Do This.”
So a few days ago I appear at CVS, just as the pharmacy is opening. I know this pharmacist. He is a sweet guy and I watch him from afar as he prepares the paperwork and snatches the vial of vaccine from a nearby fridge. I’m also looking around for where this thing is going to happen. And I’ve got nothin’… Is he going to walk me down a people-free aisle and do it? There’s no one in feminine hygiene right now. I don’t see anyone loitering by the crutches and canes.
Then, with one hand, the pharmacist pushes open the swinging gate that separates us from his den of drugs. In his other hand he’s toting a plastic basket. I see a roll of paper towels, Lysol, gloves, lots of paperwork, a vial and the syringe. Where is he going? That’s when I notice, right in front of me, a tall four panel screen that is folded into a neat square box. So THIS is what privacy looks like at CVS. He opens one panel to reveal a lone chair in the middle and instructs me to SIT. The puzzle pieces are coming together, I realize this is the same prime real estate where they had the do-it-yourself blood pressure machine in those halcyon days before the pandemic.
I’m wondering now how Mr. Pharmacist is going to cram himself into the teeny box too. Well he’s not. He can’t. Now he’s kneeling on the floor next to my right foot, gathering up the crudités for the vaccine banquet. He tells me this shot will protect me from tetanus AND diphtheria AND pertussis. That’s a lot of cluck for the insurance company’s buck. He seems genuinely delighted about this as he prepares the shot.
Now mind you, any notions of privacy I once cherished have been relegated to a dusty heap behind Fantasyland. A woman stops dead in her tracks, social distancing be damned, and asks if this is a Covid test. The next shopper has questions too, as well as a third. Others are glancing over their shoulders as they pass by. And he hasn’t even given me the injection yet. For someone who is accustomed to this shot business happening behind closed doors or, at the very least, behind sliding curtains, it’s kind of a shock…
And a wake-up call that things are changing, that bodies are bodies, that I don’t want to pay for this shot so I go to CVS. That we are all doing the best we can as the challenges pile on and it’s a good idea to go with the flow. Sure there’s a time to “push back.” There’s a time to “keep your powder dry.” And there’s a time to “back off.” Here’s what I do? I plop myself in front of the computer and write something funny in a blog. Then I have a cookie.
Finally, it’s shot time. When I really want to know about medication side effects and nefarious drug interactions, I ask a pharmacist. This guy answers all my pesky questions as he competently administers the vaccine. It hurts, but just a little. He applies a Band-Aid; massages the injection site and releases me back into the wild.
It’s been a couple days and I feel fine and at least for the next ten years I won’t have any lock-jaw flashbacks when I touch a rusty nail. No dithering about diphtheria. No wah-wahing over whooping cough.
Perspective is everything. People are muddling through, suffering, afraid, depressed, dying from Covid. Getting a shot at CVS in full view of morning shoppers? What a puny problem to have. It doesn’t even register a mini-quake on the Richter scale. At the same time, I’m dreading what’s going to happen next. In my world, in OUR world. But in spite of all that, each moment of each day is rich with possibility and fresh opportunity to embrace the messy business of being human. Pulling back the curtains, even a little, is probably a good thing for all of us.