Notes from a Healer

Flu Shot

Brian T. Maurer
btmaurer1@comcast.net

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“So, Nicky is here today for her flu shot.  Any previous reactions?  Any new allergies to eggs?”

“No, she’s never had any reaction, and she can eat eggs without a problem.”

Nicky is now 14 years old.  She towers above me as she sits on the high exam table in the infant room.  Her mother reclines in the chair opposite.  “You want me to hold your hand?” she asks playfully.  Nicky shakes her head.

“Nicky is a big girl now,” I say, as I wipe the alcohol prep over the skin of her upper arm.  “There—all done.  Here’s a Snoopy Band-Aid for your trouble.”

Nicky smiles.  Snoopy remains the universal soother.

“How did you folks fare in the aftermath of the big snow?” I ask, as I drop the needle and syringe into the sharps container mounted on the wall.

“We finally got our power back Tuesday afternoon.  Ten days—I think we were one of the last households to get it back.”

“Ten days is a long time.  What did you do for heat?”

“We wore layered clothing and slept in sleeping bags.  Water was a problem—we had to go to the fire station periodically to fill up our plastic jugs, and we showered at the high school.  In the end we made do, like everyone else.”

“Temporary inconveniences—but it makes you more appreciative of what you’ve got.”

Nicky’s mother nods.  “It was tough waking up in a cold house every morning,” she says.  “After a few days you start to feel sluggish.  There’s no power at work, so you end up milling around the house with nothing to do other than think about how cold it is.”

“It can work on your head,” I say.  “We’re all creatures of habit.  When we fall out of our daily routines, we don’t function very well.”

“You got that right.  I felt myself getting angry, just angry at everything.  I couldn’t focus, couldn’t think straight.”

“Discombobulated,” I say.

“That’s right,” she says.  “After a certain point you start to wonder if you’re ever going to get back on track.”

“I suppose it teaches us something about hope,” I say.

Momentarily, Nicky’s mother’s eyes take on a faraway look.  “Yes, it does.”

The room falls silent.  Only the sound of the forced air heat fills the small space.  Then Nicky’s mother rises from her chair; Nicky hops off of the exam table.

“Well, stay warm,” I say, offering a hand.

“You, too,” Nicky’s mother says.

“Thanks for the flu shot,” Nicky says.

“You’re welcome.”

They walk back down the hallway together.

It was just a short visit for a flu shot.  Short and sweet, filled with impromptu reflections on the human condition—something of value that we aren’t taught in our years of training, these seemingly insignificant snippets of conversation that ultimately serve to cultivate caring relationships in medical practice.

 

About the Author

  • Photo of Brian T. MaurerBrian T. Maurer has practiced pediatric medicine as a Physician Assistant for the past three decades.  As a clinician, he has always gravitated toward the humane aspect in patient care—what he calls the soul of medicine.  Over the past decade, Mr. Maurer has explored the illness narrative as a tool to enhance the education of medical students and cultivate an appreciation for the delivery of humane medical care.  His first book, Patients Are a Virtue, recently reviewed in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, is a collection of patient vignettes illustrating what Sir William Osler called “the poetry of the commonplace” in clinical medical practice. Interested readers can read more of the author's writings at his website and blog.

  • Published: January 28, 2012