The Swedish healthcare system has been making H1N1 flu shots available across the country with the stated goal of vaccinating everyone who wants to be. All residents are getting individual notices in the mail with a suggested time for visiting their local clinic.
Like all correspondence from local health authorities in Malmö, these letters are unnervingly friendly (though perhaps I’m reading more into the Swedish than is actually there). Based on the letters I regularly receive from radiology department at the university hospital, I’m always surprised they aren’t serving canapes and light refreshments in the waiting room when I arrive. Seriously. Our flu shot notices were essentially an “invitation” to be vaccinated. My American pal Miss Zilch got hers on the same day as a similar letter saying she was “most heartily welcome” to her next pap-smear. Talk about a party!
Dr. Darling and I both tend to be pretty winter flu-resistant, but since we’re travelling to the US for Christmas and will be exposed to plenty of extra germs and bugs in confined spaces along the route, we decided to go ahead and get poked. Because the population is being inoculated by birth year, the Swede was summoned a full week earlier than me. (As were many of our friends…something for which they have *delighted* in teasing me about.)
My mother-in-law (who happens to be a respiratory nurse) was in Malmö for a visit on the weekend between our respective shots and quizzed Dr. Darling about her experience. Aside from some soreness in her left arm and swollen lymph nodes in the corresponding armpit, the Swede suffered no adverse affects, at which point I expressed surprise that the injection site was the upper arm (almost near the shoulder) rather than the hip or buttocks. It was, after all, an intramuscular shot…I always thought the bigger the muscle, the better.
I didn’t think very much about the conversation until after I had been scolded several times for accidently brushing up against Dr. Darling‘s left arm. I chalked it up to her usual wimpiness when it comes to pain, to which she responded, “Just wait until it’s your turn.”
Shazzer: If it’s that bad…maybe I’ll ask the nurse to give it to me in the buttlocks.
Dr. Darling: (smiling): You wouldn’t do that.
Shazzer: Sure I would. It’s a fair question. Your Mom even wondered about it.
Dr. Darling: But you wouldn’t really let the nurse vaccinate you there.
Shazzer: Do you dare me?
Dr. Darling (laughing): What, are we 12 now?
Shazzer: Well, at least one of us looks like it. So do you dare me? Go ahead, I dare you to dare me!
Dr. Darling (laughing harder): Okay, I dare you to ask. But how will you prove that you actually got the shot there?
Shazzer: If it hurts as much as YOU say it does, I won’t be able to sit down.
Dr. Darling: Shut up.
So when I went in for my flu shot on Friday morning, I told the nurse about the conversation with my mother-in-law (though not about the dare from Dr. Darling), and asked if there was an option to get stuck in the glutes. She said that normally that would be the protocol, but in this case the national health advisory was very specific: adults were to be vaccinated in the deltoid muscle opposite their dominant hand. Figuring I’d held up my end of the bargain, I did not argue with her and dutifully offered up my left shoulder.
I then headed for work, smug with the knowledge that I’d executed the dare, and looking forward to rubbing Dr Darling‘s face in it when I got home. But by 3 p.m. my arm was sore as hell, so instead of gloating all I could do was apologize for calling her wimp.