One of the big news stories in recent weeks—and I know because all the network newscasts lead with it—was the alarming return of measles. People figure it’s a long-gone malady—like the black plague, smallpox and prickly heat—and aren’t being diligent about getting their kids immunized.
There was an outbreak in Disneyland recently. People noticed that Goofy looked kind of blotchy. Even Dopey knew it was time to get vaccinated.
A few years ago, measles was considered eliminated—like the 49ers from the playoffs. [alternate sentence based on Super Bowl outcome: —like the Patriots in the Superbowl.] But the measles are creeping back like a drunk uncle looking for the liquor cabinet. Measles is not measly, as it turns out.
Grocery stores like Fred Meyer’s and Albertson’s offer shots in their pharmacy departments for everything from the flu to shingles—and, yes, measles. But my local supermarket doesn’t have a pharmacy, so I went to the meat department for a flu shot.
After filling out a questionnaire, I assumed the position for my inoculation. That’s when the butcher said, “You can pull your Dockers back up, sir. We give flu shots in the arm these days.”
Back in my grade school days—long, long, long ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth—inoculation day was a time of great dread. And the loudest, most baleful wailing would always come before the shot had even been administered.
The anticipation was excruciating. My knees would knock together like a set of cowardly castanets. Impressed, the school music teacher invited me to join the marching band.
Part of the fear was because of the incessant rumors that would circulate throughout the school. There was talk about how the needles were going to be at least a foot long.
There were more mutterings about how a kid’s arm would become useless for a year following a shot.
There was even hearsay about how some kids were going to get their shots directly into their eye. I fainted when I heard that one.
After getting her shot, a girl in my class spent the next hour dragging her leg around—even though her shot had been in the arm. Her explanation sounded rational—something about “referred pain.”
When I was in the third grade, a grizzled eighth grader told me that eating chicken caused chicken pox. I wondered how many times Colonel Sanders must have come down with it. I finally figured out that the eighth grader was bogus when he also told me that German measles was caused by sauerkraut.
But all inoculation terrors were nothing compared to the actual horror that happened to my cousin Tony.
When he was around 12 years old, Tony somehow managed to sit on his mom’s sewing pincushion. The cushion wasn’t the problem—it was the multiple long and incredibly sharp needles that resided upon it.
The cushion had the look and size of a bright, red tomato—but it didn’t feel like one when Tony planted himself on it. The scream that emanated from him was so high and shrill, dogs in the neighborhood began to howl in empathetic pain too.
Perhaps a dozen needles, with faux tomato attached, were situated so firmly into Tony’s rear section, that he had inadvertently received—in the worst possible way—Buns of Steel.
While Tony caterwauled, his dad walked him gingerly out to the family station wagon for the quick drive to the emergency room. Tony knelt forlornly over the backseat of the car, his hindquarters on high.
He looked like a four-legged rump roast—with a tomato garnish.
Ten minutes after arriving at the hospital, with needles and cushion extracted by a doctor, Tony was eager to head home. After all, in less than 30 minutes, he had undergone a lifetime of do-it-yourself acupunctures.
But there was one more indignity: a tetanus shot. The doctor thought it was a good idea just in case Tony’s mom sewed with rusty needles.
When he arrived back home, Tony’s mom made him some comforting hot soup. Tony was grateful, but preferred to slurp it while standing. He was also grateful it was not tomato soup.
Three days later he came down with the measles.