Running for a flu shot
My flu shot record is sporadic.
Sometimes I get one, and sometimes I don’t.
This lackadaisical attitude can probably be explained by the fact that I’ve never had the flu. And the fact that when I’m not sick I find it difficult to imagine being sick. The flu has been picking off colleagues left and right, but I rarely get sick, which gives me a feeling of invincibility. My thinking goes something like this: “I don’t need a flu shot, because I feel great!”
I didn’t always think his way.
When I was a kid, I got sick frequently, coming down with colds and more serious ailments, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, every winter. Unhealthiness was the norm rather than the exception, and unless I was very, very ill, I went off to school and about my business as if nothing was wrong. Who knows how many kids I infected?
But that was a long time ago, and on days like today, when I’m healthy and functional, I find it difficult to remember what it’s like to be really sick. I can remember that I was sick, but not how it felt. In fact, sometimes when I’m feeling tired and in need of a change of pace, I find myself wishing I would come down with something. Not something super serious (like the flu).
However, the ominous news reports about this year’s flu outbreak have officially freaked me out.
Clearly, this was not the year to skip getting a flu shot.
When The Gazette made flu shots available last fall, I should have gotten one. Or I should have thought to make an appointment at my clinic and gotten one there. But I did neither of these things. And now I want a flu shot.
This year’s flu season started early and has coincided with troubling spikes in other viruses, such as a new norovirus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. (This new norovirus actually scares me more than the flu: If it’s anything like the stomach bug I came down with last winter, it’s to be avoided at all costs.) The media is filled with reports of overburdened hospitals struggling to treat people with flu symptoms, and Boston has declared a public health emergency: So far, the city has confirmed 700 cases of flu, up from 70 last year. That is quite a jump.
Meanwhile, it’s still unclear exactly how bad this year’s flu season will be.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it’s looking “moderately severe,” but Google “Flu Trends,” which scans Google searches from around the world in an attempt to track flu activity in real time, suggests it could be worse than that. Some have speculated that this year’s flu season will seem worse than it is, because last year’s flu season was relatively mild.
It’s easy to panic about health-related matters, and I’m trying not to do so.
I can still recall how terrified my college roommate was when she learned there was an ebola outbreak in Zaire. “Do you understand what this means?” she yelled. “Do you know what ebola can do to a person, and how quickly it can spread?” I knew next to nothing about ebola, but by the end of our conversation I was half-convinced I was going to die from the highly infectious disease.
At various points in life, I’ve also worried about SARS, the viral respiratory disease that spread rapidly between 2002 and 2003, and swine flu.
I tend to be fascinated by disease and illness, but that doesn’t mean I want one.
Which is why, spooked by grim media reports, I made an appointment to get a flu shot today at a special Saturday clinic hosted by the Albany County Department of Health. This is a nice service that the county is providing, but I found it kind of frustrating that the first topic of discussion, when I called to make my appointment, concerned my insurance status.
Of course, there are ways to get a flu shot if you lack insurance — the cost of the shot is $25 and a sliding-fee scale is used for people who can’t afford it — but I don’t understand why these shots aren’t just free for everybody, and readily available. I mean, considering that the flu is such a horrible thing and we want to prevent it from spreading all over the place.
On the online magazine Slate, the writer Andrea Pitzer, recounted her family’s “epic quest” for a flu vaccine, detailing her struggle to locate the vaccine — some areas have reported shortages — and her long wait at the clinic. Pitzer seemed determined to get flu shots for herself, her husband and her children. But how many other people, when faced with a lengthy wait for the vaccine, would just give up and go home?
I have it relatively easy.
I have health insurance, and the Albany County flu clinic is within walking distance. My guess is that it will be well-run, and that I’ll be home within a half hour.
And maybe next year I’ll get my shot earlier in the season. Or maybe not. Only time will tell.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.