Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Today I Am Officially Old

It’s not my birthday, so no need to rush out to the Hallmark store for a card (or for those more technologically advanced, to the Internet for an e-card).

I didn’t become old when my AARP card arrived when I turned 50 nearly 14 years ago. It didn’t happen when I retired. It didn’t happen when stores and some movie theaters extended senior citizen discounts to me.

No, today I officially became old, and self-consciously vulnerable, because today, for the very first time, I succumbed and allowed myself to be punctured with a flu shot. For the first time I heeded the advice of health officials to get immunized against influenza. Despite common perception among family and friends that I’m a hypochondriac, the truth is I rarely get sick. I admit to lots of complaints about aches and pains, and a lousy digestive tract, but almost never does my temperature rise above 98.6 degrees.

That I submitted to an injection would be most surprising to my brother and sister. When I became ill as a youngster, not necessarily more often than anyone else yet to reach double-digits in years, but often enough to recoil at the very thought that our family physician, Dr. Harry, would make a house call (doctors did that back in the 1950s, especially when they were family friends, as ours was), I knew the day would end in trauma. 

The irony in this aversion to seeing Dr. Harry is that I really liked him. He was funny. Dr. Harry was from Vienna. He was tall and dapper, with receding, wiry grey hair, bulging eyes and a slightly effeminate manner of walking and waving his hands. Harry wasn’t his true given name. It was Bernard, same as my brother’s. But he said he preferred Harry. Or maybe his wife, Sonia, did. Whatever.

Any visit from Dr. Harry produced laughter. And lots of tears. He’d make me laugh during the examination, poking me where I was ticklish, always asking when was the last time I had a bowel movement. It was decades before I knew the significance of that question.

The laughter ended when I would realize my symptoms called for a shot. That reality seemed to please my brother and sister. Nary a comforting word would they utter. They seemed to relish my fate.

Dr. Harry would vanish from the bedroom into either the kitchen or bathroom where he’d wash his hands and prepare the needle. By this time I’d be screaming. My mother would be holding me down, trying to soothe me, making sure my bare buttocks faced upward. Dr. Harry would slip into the room, say a few nonsensical remarks and quickly, surprisingly, thrust the needle into my behind. I’d scream some more. Cry a little louder. Hug my mother a little tighter. Dr. Harry would retreat to the dinette where he and my mother would gossip awhile over coffee. 

Dr. Harry’s office was in Williamsburg, first floor of an apartment building in a neighborhood already devolving. I didn’t go there often, though I do recall the time I accompanied my sister Lee to his office when she had her ears pierced. I waited in the anteroom as she went into the inner office with our mother. The next thing I heard was a loud, piercing cry. Then another. Closed doors could not contain Lee’s chilling shrieks. It gives me the willies just thinking about those squeals. 

I took today’s flu shot like a man, in my left arm. No sniffles. No hesitation. But as I walked out of CVS, I do admit I had a tingling sensation all down my legs. And my arm hurts. They say that’s normal.