Getting Shot

 I think Mississippi is doing so well because everybody is dying of type 2 diabetes and heart disease before they can get sick with the flu.

On the ominous map charting how many states in America are experiencing severe flu activity, the only states where people aren’t keeling over in the streets and flooding emergency rooms are Mississippi and California. Take a good look, folks – this is the first and probably last time Mississippi will ever be healthier than the rest of the country.

To a germophobe such as myself, living in one of the only flu free states is a mixed bag of emotions. On the one hand, for the first time in my life I have this bizarre feeling of pride in being a California resident – our state’s low rate of flu infection means that thousands of Californians will live long enough to be killed in car accidents caused by other Californians’ terrible driving.

On the other hand, though, I feel sort of like I’m standing on the roof of that mall in Dawn of the Dead, looking at the parking lot full of zombies. Sure, things may be okay for us now, but sooner or later all that mess is going to find its way in, and then we’re all fucked.

The logical solution, of course, is to get a flu shot. Conditions are perfect right now – there’s no shortage of flu shots in California, and once administered the shot takes about two weeks to reach full effectiveness, which is fine because right now everyone around me is healthy. In two or three weeks, they may all be walking biohazards, but at that point the flu shot would have me covered.

The reason I’m not getting a flu shot is because I’ve got a lot of ethical issues about the process. Namely, I think it’s unethical to jam a really pointy piece of metal into my skin and shoot liquid into my blood, because that’s painful, terrifying, and gross. Jesus, just writing about it made me start sweating.

Modern medicine is great, don’t get me wrong – given a choice between a pill made by scientists or some naturopathic remedy you can only get from a kiosk at Whole Foods, I’ll take the pill every time. Science gave us antibiotics, nature gave us bears; who would you trust more? 

All I’m saying is, last year a dude jumped out of a gondola at the edge of space, fell 26 miles, broke the sound barrier, and survived – and this whole thing was bankrolled by a company that sells energy drinks. Meanwhile, we still haven’t found a better way to administer lifesaving drugs than stabbing people with needles?

On Star Trek: Enterprise, the doctor just had a little machine that he’d press into peoples’ necks to give them medicine. It didn’t matter what was wrong with you, either – every treatment involved getting tapped on the neck with this handheld box, whether you had a headache, lung cancer, or space gonorrhea. I know it was just a TV show – and a terrible TV show at that – but why can’t we do it that way? I want to get my medicine in the least pointy way possible. 

Humanity developing a pain-free method to deliver drugs to the bloodstream is far more likely than me developing a pair of testicles of a reasonable size and being able to handle five seconds of a brief stinging sensation.

My fear of needles knows no bounds. As a child, every shot I got was preceded by weeks of dread, fear, and desperately begging my mother not to make me get it. Unfortunately, my mother was a cruel, unfeeling woman who always insisted that her son receive all of the immunizations and vaccines necessary for him to live a happy and healthy life, so I would inevitably wind up crying and hyperventilating in a doctor’s office as an impatient nurse waited with a needle.

This wasn’t just a childhood thing, either – three weeks before leaving for college I had to get a tetanus booster, and my heart rate was so high immediately after giving me the shot that the nurse made me lie down for ten minutes because she was afraid I’d pass out if I stood up.

I’m not ashamed – pretty much everybody agrees that needles are scary. I just agree really emphatically. I don’t think there’s anything unnatural or weird about not wanting a foreign object to go inside your body.* Plus, it’s reassuring to know that I never have to worry about getting addicted to heroin. 

*There’s a "that’s what she said" in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I go looking for it.

But at times like these, it feels like a pretty chickenshit excuse when most of the country is sick and I’m willing to risk a prolonged illness because I can’t bear the thought of a few seconds of pain. (Well, that and the fact that the closest Walgreens that’s giving out shots is in Van Nuys, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit in traffic for 20 minutes just to get poked in the arm.)

I did get a flu shot in college a few years ago, during the swine flu scare. The reason I got over my fear of needles then was because I was motivated by a larger fear – death from a pig oriented disease (which would have a certain poetic justice to it when you consider how much bacon I eat.) I’m perfectly capable of facing my fears, but only as an alternative to facing other fears. Even when I’m being brave I’m kind of a pussy. If there was a shot that made cockroaches stay away from you, I’d get it in an instant – I don’t even care if they had to inject it right into my heart like in Pulp Fiction.

Sure, I’m scared of getting a really nasty upper respiratory illness, but not enough to face my fear of getting a needle jabbed in my arm. Because no matter how painful it is, nobody ever got off work because their upper arm kind of hurts.

Truman Capps is going to read this while sobbing infectious tears if he gets the flu.