That Time a Flu Shot Tested my Survival Instincts

Disclaimer: this post is not a PSA about the necessity of getting yourself stabbed with a flu shot. Instead, it’s a story of how I was somehow able to take something as simple as getting a shot and turn it into an uncomfortably awkward situation for every person involved.

It started a few months ago when I was reading one of the collections of articles about the flu virus. But these weren’t just any reports, these were War of the Worlds radio broadcast-level scare tactics.

Unsure of the widespread panic I am referring to? Google it, read the Wikipedia article, and then come back to this post with the understanding that I just made an excellent cultural reference.

Welcome back! The articles I read would have titles such as, “2 More Die in ‘Tri-Cities’ Deadliest Flu Season in Years” or “Why the Deadly 2018 Flu Season Could Get Even Worse.” Pretty panic-inducing, right? You bet they were. So armed with the knowledge gleaned from the plethora of news articles whose titles I had scanned, I decided to get a flu shot.

Naturally, wanting to save those nearest and dearest to me, I told my roommate Adam that it was imperative for him to join me in getting this life-saving shot. He begrudgingly agreed to go, so we hopped in my car and drove to the nearest CVS Pharmacy.

I was instantly on high alert upon entering the building because I knew, again from skimming health news articles, that pharmacies are hotbeds for disease. But that paranoia didn’t stop me from purposefully marching to the back of the store to find this modern-day elixir of life.

We arrived at the pharmacy counter where a bored looking cashier asked us if we were there to pick up a medication. I smiled and explained that my friend and I were there to receive a flu vaccine. She didn’t bat a fake eyelash before saying that there might be a problem with that. She then strolled to the back of the pharmacy (i.e., moved behind the waist-high counter separating the pill counting people from the pharmacist) where I saw her begin to impassively speak with the pharmacist. It was then that knew something was wrong.

She came back to the counter and, in an emotionless tone, informed us that there was only one flu shot remaining. She said that we could either both skip getting it or one of us could take it.

It was at this moment that I knew that I was facing a moral dilemma. Sure, I could be the hero who let my friend receive the shot that could keep him from becoming yet another casualty in the epidemic “sweeping the nation,” or I could push him out of the way as if I were boarding the last helicopter out of Saigon. It pains me to say this, but I chose the latter.  No, I didn’t (outwardly) jump at the chance, but I did very unconvincingly say that Adam could go ahead and take the shot. And the instant that he politely replied that I should get it is when I excitedly leapt at the chance.

This entire life-altering decision process did nothing to engage the apathetic cashier who now looked like her Ambien had just reached peak efficiency. She slipped a few papers across the counter and told me that I would need to wait about twenty minutes for the pharmacist to administer the shot. I said that would be no problem and began browsing the aisles of the store while I waited.

I was in the middle of perusing the diet pill/laxative section when I heard my name called over the loudspeaker. I walked back to the pharmacy counter, where I was told to go to the tiny blue curtain a few aisles away and sit down on the stool inside. I did as I was instructed and took a seat to wait for the pharmacist to arrive.

She soon came over to me and introduced herself as the head pharmacist of the CVS branch. She said this with the enthusiasm of someone who spent her time in graduate school dreaming of bigger things than a job at a CVS in the midwest. I immediately wondered if I should console her for what was clearly not her first plan.

She robotically told me to roll up my sleeve, and I instantly began searching for ways to lighten her up. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for the opportunity to arrive. After quickly swabbing my arm with rubbing alcohol, she inserted the needle. It took a minute to pierce the skin, and she curtly informed me that I have “thick skin.” I instantly blurted out the first thing that came to my mind by saying, “Try telling that to my middle school bully!” I chuckled at my clever joke and glanced up to see if she was smiling. She was not.

Instead, she looked like she was contemplating supplying me with some Zoloft to treat the PTSD I had apparently sustained from severe childhood bullying. I instantly began backtracking by saying, “Haha I wasn’t actually bullied in middle school! In fact, I was homeschooled, so the only bullies would have been my sisters. I mean, they did sometimes hit me playfully, but…” I trailed off as I saw that this exchange was doing nothing more than cementing her notion that she would rather be anywhere else but there with me.

So I did my best to remain mum for the rest of our fleeting moments in the tiny curtained area, and I thanked her and hurriedly headed towards the front of the store once she told me that she was finished.

This whole experience left a mark on me, and I was deep in thought as Adam and I walked out of the store. This was the first time I had been faced with a situation where I was forced to choose between my wellbeing and a friend’s, and I wondered if the experience had shown my true colors. In the end, I decided that it was merely an anomaly and that I wouldn’t do the same if given a chance again. So here’s hoping that Adam and I are never stranded on an island with one bottle of water because I would rather not test this particular area of my personality ever again.

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