When I was in high school I was commanded to study a number of books that I deemed as unreadable fiction. I’m typical in the way that I hate to be told what to do, so the list of books outlined on the syllabus of my American Lit class was seen as a ball and chain that would undoubtedly drown me. “Lord of the Flies?” Gross. “Catcher in the Rye?” What’s the big deal? Holden wasn’t that crazy. “Last of the Mohicans?” Please. Someone shoot me with James Fenimore Cooper’s beloved rifle, ‘Killdeer’. After reading the opening paragraph of each novel, I knew whether or not I’d be heading for the Cliff Notes.
One story I read, however, has stuck with me my entire life. It was the deliciously bizarre short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. For those who haven’t read it, it’s about a small, rural town where the residents hold an annual lottery. It’s a highly anticipated event, everyone in the town participates, and the person who draws the paper with the little black dot on it gets stoned to death by their fellow villagers. Neat, right? I was stunned after reading it and have been haunted by Shirley Jackson’s little nugget of terror ever since.
Breaking down the story to discuss the overtones of human hypocrisy and the thought that evil lurks in every single one of us is not why I bring up this story. Whenever something strange happens to me, I think of “The Lottery,” and wonder how I could keep drawing the same tainted piece of paper over and over. There must be thousands of papers in that black box, neatly folded to obscure the delicate dot from nervous eyes. But my hand must have a magnetic attraction to that little black dot, for I keep drawing that SOB every single time. It’s a Crap Lottery.
Before you think I’m feeling sorry for myself or being a “Negative Nancy,” I’m not. I’m simply stating facts. If statistics show that there’s only one percent of a chance that some craziness will occur, then I guarantee that I’ll be that one percent. I have many examples, but let’s focus on what happened today.
Ben is due to start his next round of chemo tomorrow so we spent the majority of today at the hospital completing blood work, checking vitals, being examined, etc. The subject of flu shots came up and I stated that I hadn’t had one yet. The kids got one a couple of weeks ago as a prerequisite to attending a cancer-family retreat with their dad, but since I didn’t go, I didn’t get one. So, when a shot was offered to me today, I accepted.
Now, I have a long standing fear of needles that is borderline phobic. The reason behind this rests on the dentist who worked on me throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood. He was French. He wasn’t particularly gentle. He hated Jane Fonda and felt it necessary to take it out on me. Every. Single. Visit. When I was around eight, I had an abscessed tooth. The adult tooth was growing in before the baby tooth could fall out, which caused a lot of conflict with my gums. My dentist decided to pull the baby tooth.
Like all good dentists who practiced in the 1970’s, he loaded me up on lots of laughing gas. As my world seemed to float just out of reach and everyone’s voice became echoey, I listened to my dentist’s latest rant against Jane Fonda in his thick French accent. Then I heard a disembodied voice ask, “How are you feeling?” I turned my head to see where the voice was coming from. It must have been funny because the dental assistant giggled and said, “Who are you looking for? I’m right beside you!” and then she said, “I believe she’s ready, Doctor.” I saw my dentist’s pudgy fingers slide through the handles of the syringe that looked like it was pilfered from Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, his thumb poised on the plunger. “Relax and open wide,” he commanded, “This will feel like a small pinch.” I closed my eyes and opened as wide as I could, the gauze padding stretching my cheeks as full as a chipmunk’s.
And then, like all good dentists who practiced in the 1970’s, my dentist said, “Shit.” Well, technically, he said “Sheet,” thanks to his French accent. My eyes sprung open to see the tip of the horrific-looking syringe missing. Even though I was only eight, I was quick to make the deduction that the missing piece was still imbedded in the roof of my mouth. He tried pulling it out with his fingers first, but eventually had to go in with a tiny pair of pliers. Despite my anxiety and hyperventilating, he continued the procedure. My tooth was out before I could regain any composure.
And, unlike the subject of Jane Fonda, it was never mentioned again. So, now I have great anxiety revolving around needles, especially when coupled with any discussion of Jane Fonda.
Now, I’ve been around a lot of needles over the course of Ben’s therapy. In fact, when Ben was discharged from his first round of chemotherapy in 2004, the discharge nurse came in to explain that I would have to give Ben a shot every day for the following five to seven days post-chemo. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. I don’t even like to LOOK at needles. How on earth do you expect me to deliver a shot to my toddler? Clearly, these people were on drugs. Matt said that he would take charge of that piece of therapy, but when the nurse came in to teach us how to do it, Matt had mysteriously disappeared. I asked them to wait while I looked for him, but they couldn’t. So, I learned. I practiced on fruit. I practiced on a doll. And later that day, I practiced on my toddler. Never was there more sweat emanating from a human being than on that day.
Do you get it yet? Needles are gross. Me no likey. I do get a flu shot every year, and I have recently participated in acupuncture (which, by the way, truly helps!) So, I CAN handle needles, but I still have some anxiety revolving around it. When Ben’s nurse came in to administer my shot, I explained my apprehension and that I would ultimately be fine but to just let me do my deep breathing. She was very understanding and mentioned that it was quick and relatively painless. When the time came, she deftly plunged the needle into my arm. I didn’t feel a thing. Whew! But within moments, she muttered, “Uh-oh,” under her breath. Wha-wha-WHAT? my mind screamed as she tried to maneuver the needle while she explained that the plunger wouldn’t work. She got half of the dose in but the rest simply wouldn’t go. She pulled the needle out and gave me a curious look as I laughed maniacally. “I laugh when I’m stressed, so don’t worry,” I nervously giggled. She said “let’s try the other arm.” I said NO and she complied. She let me have a breather before trying again. Still, no success. My laugh became a little more anxious.
She pulled it out and held it up to the light to inspect the needle. She depressed the plunger, which worked without issue. Then she left to reload a new syringe with more vaccine. She asked if she could try the other arm once she returned. I had to surrender. The needle sank below the surface and the shot was successfully administered. Just like that. Just like it was supposed to the first time.
In all her years of nursing she had never experienced such a thing. Of course, it’s me just winning my Crap Lottery. They should examine me and write an article for their trade journals. Statistically speaking, I am a rarity. A freak. A plain, old oddball. It’s just the luck – or unluck – of the draw.
I walked out holding both arms, wondering if it was all worth it. If I end up getting the flu after all that, I’m going to be completely peeved.
But, rumor has it, the third time’s a charm. It was with today’s shot. Maybe it will be with my next husband. And hopefully, it will be with Ben’s fight with Neuroblastoma.
I truly hope my crap is running out.