The H1N1 Vaccine: I Took One for the Team

 

Romeo & Juliette

Romeo & Juliette 2009 oil on unstretched canvas artist: JParadisi

Note:

 This post is in response to  a post by Shawn Kennedy MA, RN, interim editor-in-chief of the AJN blog,  Off the Chart. Read the original post here:

http://ajnoffthecharts.wordpress.com/2009/10/26/from-flu-vaccine-to-abortion-rights-the-same-argument/

     I stood in line and took the H1N1 vaccine.

     I didn’t do it out of guilt, or because of media induced panic. When it came down to it, I did it because of a child I love, and for a close family member who is pregnant. That’s all. I don’t want to catch the virus at work, and give it to either of these people.  So far, my arm hasn’t fallen off or anything. 

     I respect every health care worker’s right to make their own decision about the vaccine.  Of course, all kinds of parallels can be drawn from this issue, including the rights of smokers to smoke, the right to drink soda without taxation, the right to drive without a seat belt, be overweight, or ride a bicycle without a helmet. 

    One characteristic of effective conflict resolution between two parties is to stay issue focused. Otherwise, indeed, “slippery-slope” thinking occurs.  A health care worker may not want the H1N1 vaccination, but be pro-life.  One doesn’t necessarily support the other.  

     I agree, the arguments are similar, but one issue at a time, please.

(late entry/clarification: I am not advocating for the above listed behaviors.  I think that not smoking is probably the single most  important thing an idividual can do to stay healthy. The list simply illustrates that we live in a society which creates laws regarding personal freedoms.)

The Volcano Lover

Cinder Cone with lava field in the background photo: JParadisi

Cinder Cone with lava field in the background photo: JParadisi

     Recently, I walked to the top of a volcanic cinder cone in the Cascade Mountain range, in Oregon.  I have been in love with volcanoes for decades now, since I first heard of the ruins of Pompeii in the fourth grade, and  images of cataclysmic geology flowed  like molten lava within my ten year-old imagination. 

     I read the novel, The Volcano Lover, by Susan Sontag, simply because of its title.  It wasn’t  as much about volcanoes as it was about submerged passion and possession, but I enjoyed reading it.

     It was weird, walking on the top of a volcano, though it’s been more than a millenium since its last eruption. Volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest don’t conjure tropical images of the goddess Pele hurling showers of orange and red molten stone at the lovers who displeased her. Pacific Northwest volcanoes are more subtle. They simmer quietly for eons, occasionally belching benign plumes of white steam, seen for miles.

     I didn’t live in Oregon when Mount St. Helen erupted in May of 1980. But I have seen large spirals of steam billow up to the sky from it,  like no cloud I’d ever seen before.  It was a few years ago. I had just gotten off work, and was going to my car on the top of the hospital’s parking structure, when I saw it. A coworker of mine, who I occasionally ate lunch with (we liked the same bench in the hospital’s garden during good weather) was the only other person there to see it. We sat on the hood of his car, watching the phenomenon, and congratulating ourselves for having the best seats in Portland for this spontaneous performance. A year or two later, I can’t remember, this same coworker, who loved nature, his family, and his patients, was shot in the head by an intruder in his home, who stole the very car my now deceased friend and I had sat on that day, watching the volcano, and wondering what would happen next. 

     You never know what’s brewing underneath.

     I thought about all of this while walking the cinder cone. Life is unpredictable. One day you’re healthy, the next, you or someone you love is in an accident, or diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Or you get a phone call from a stranger, telling you  “I’m very sorry to inform you ma’am, that your loved one was found dead…”

     With this in mind, I refrain from judging my outpatients who irritably or sheepishly ask me to let them go out for a smoke, between their infusions of chemotherapy. A diagnosis of cancer motivates some patients to quit, but others find it so stressful, they don’t have it in them. Some of them berate themselves with guilt, because of it.  I do my duty, and encourage them to quit, but I know first hand that a healthy lifestyle doesn’t guarantee a cancer free life, and out of compassion, I share this knowledge with them. 

     I think about safety, and how to avoid danger, and this quote, from the sci-fi movie Demolition Man bubbles up from memory:

 “I have seen the future. Do you know what it is? It’s a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing, ‘I’m an Oscar Meyer Weiner’.”

     I’m learning that the rules we make for ourselves only create an illusion of control. We have choices, but we don’t have control. Or rather, we have control until it’s taken away from us, through illness, accident, or a violent crime. We walk, not realizing the volcanic turmoil underneath the smooth surfaces of our lives, until an eruption occurs.

     You never know what’s brewing underneath.