I didn’t like my flu shot very much this year. Some years they hurt worse than others, and I haven’t yet figured out whether that depends on which nurse gives me the shot, or which strain I am being vaccinated against. This year was a bad one—within 24 hours my arm was so sore that I couldn’t raise it above my head. I received it on a Friday and with it, my little sticky badge to be placed on my hospital ID that proudly proclaims me duly vaccinated and safe to see patients. The next day I left on a Southwest flight to Albuquerque. It is rare that I ever check luggage these days, after an unfortunate mishap in 2006 when my family ended up in New Haven, CT for my daughter’s college graduation, but our luggage went to Florida. As I hoisted my own suitcase into the overhead rack, I felt an acute twinge in my shoulder anteriorly in the region of the biceps tendon, same side as the flu shot. By that evening, I couldn’t sleep because of the pain, and two months later, it still hurts. My husband says it was a coincidence. I am not so sure, but I have no choice in the matter. If I want to keep working, and seeing patients, an annual flu shot is mandatory.
This past Friday through Sunday I was in Palm Springs, CA for the Palm Springs Kennel Club dog show. For those of us who show dogs, this is one of the biggest shows of the year, the “kick off” to the dog show season, and the prelude to the Westminster Kennel Club show in February. If you win at Palm Springs, there is a very high likelihood that you will be winning at Madison Square Garden. Or so they say, because I don’t travel in those rarified circles. Still, many of my friends were slated to show their deerhounds, and even though I didn’t have any puppies to show, or adults who haven’t finished their championships, I had nothing else to do so I hopped in the car for the two hour drive on Thursday night, leaving my own dogs at home. Dog shows are ever so much more fun when you don’t have to walk, feed, bathe or groom your own dogs. I was there to have fun, and maybe do a little shopping at the big outlet mall at Cabazon.
My friend and oft traveling companion Rachel had delivered the last puppy from her recent litter to a woman in Texas who had just lost her own deerhound to osteosarcoma a few days before the Palm Springs show. By Monday of the show week, Rachel complained of a sore throat and upper respiratory congestion. She really should have skipped Palm Springs, but she’s a tough one, Rachel, so on Thursday early she loaded two dogs in her car and headed from Arizona to California. By the time she arrived in Palm Springs, she had a severe cough, fevers, shaking chills, a headache and muscle aches so bad that she couldn’t stand for very long. I arrived after she did and brought her four bottles of water, which she managed to keep down, but she couldn’t eat anything—the masseter muscles in her jaw hurt too bad. I said, “Rachel, did you get a flu shot this year?” I had just seen the television reports Thursday that H1N1 flu was at epidemic proportions in Texas. She said “No, I never get flu shots. They make me sick.” By Friday she was feeling faint, and barely managed to get around the ring with two dogs. One of her puppy owners lives near the show site, and she insisted that I drive her to visit the nice man and his puppy. Midway through the visit, she turned pale, broke into a sweat and I rushed her back to the motel to see if I could get her rehydrated and some food into her. As she wiped her brow with her forearm, before making an emergency bathroom stop, she said, “I’ve never been this sick in my entire life.”
Bingo. That’s the flu. All these folks who go around with the sniffles saying, “I’ve got the flu” or when your co-worker says, “I spent the weekend goin’ and throwin’—I had the flu”—that’s not the flu. That’s a cold, or a GI bug, or “I want to take a sick day.” But when your friend who has served time in the Army and who has driven an 18 wheeler cross country professionally says to you, “I’ve never been this sick in my life”—now, THAT’s the flu, as in influenza. Get your flu shots folks. There’s still time if you’re not sick yet. Don’t delay, because I won’t be around to nurse you through it. I wear my “flu shot” badge proudly, and hope that my shoulder isn’t still hurting in the spring.