Three Shots Closer to Cambodia

I realize it’s an irrational fear. But needles scare the beejeezus out of me.

This afternoon found me in the Department of Public Health adult immunization department. I completed the requisite paperwork and began to read a lone New Yorker. The nurse called my name and began telling me the shots highly recommended, but not required, for Cambodia. She must have noticed the skeptical look on my face, because she immediately launched into all the horrible, very bad, ridiculously terrible things that could happen if I contracted one of the many diseases that await tourists in Cambodia.

I agreed to 3 shots. Typhoid, tetanus, and hepatitis A. She put the first shot (“This won’t hurt a bit”) into my right arm. I started breathing shallowly and tears began squeezing from my eyes. (“Are you okay?”) I nodded and continued to try to breathe. She moved to the left arm. The pain seared through my arm, I screamed, then began crying hysterically. (“Breathe slowly now, dear. That’s it.”) And as I took a deep breath, she plunged the third needle into my left arm. I tried to tell myself that it was over, I was fine, but somehow only uncontrollable sobs escaped me.

The setup at the Department of Public Health is open, not so private cubicles. Another nurse came round the cube (“What’s going on here?”) (“She’s fine. She’s just scared of shots.”) I tried to slow the tears, tried to breathe deep, but it wouldn’t happen. They presented me with a carton of non-juice orange drink substitute, a box with a bendy straw in it. I slurped. And slurped, and slurped, until I realized I needed to swallow. Still sobbing, I choked down the sweet syrup. Many minutes later, I began to stand. (“Oh, no. Stay right there. I don’t think you’re ready to go yet.”)

Sometimes you realize there are things you just have to do. I realized at that moment that I had to completely stop crying and act as though I enjoyed the torture I had just been subjected to, even though I really wanted to crumple into a ball on the floor and whimper. I smiled and began small talk. “How long have you been doing this?” “Have you ever traveled to Cambodia?” “What’s the worst disease you’ve seen come through here?” After several such questions I thanked her and stood up. (“See, she’s fine…”) And I walked my fine self out of the clinic, three shots closer to Cambodia.

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