The Shot

Its strange what we remember from childhood. Little moments that seem normal to everyday life become seared into our minds and stay with us for one reason or another. Growing up, the highlight of the summer for me was the three weeks or so that I would spend with my grandparents and my mother’s sisters in Moreland, Georgia. This little hamlet was heaven for me. The environment created by the Bohannon clan there was the most nurturing I have ever known.

               Pop Bohannon was a gentle man in every way. Easy going, slow to anger, satisfied with simple pleasures like his family, his garden, his work, and fishing. Nanny Bohannon was a nurse in earlier years and was a caretaker who loved everyone around her, especially children. Not just her own but those of the whole community, many of which she babysat while their parents worked. My aunts, Sally and Kate, were teenagers when I was born and by the time I was old enough to have walking-around sense, they had moved on to college but still lived at home.

               Sally and Kate both followed in their mother’s footsteps as nurses and worked their way through LaGrange College’s Nursing School, while holding down jobs at Newnan Hospital, a short drive down the road to the county seat in Newnan. They worked the usual nursing shifts: 7-3, 3-11, 11-7. Usually at least one of them would be off during the daylight hours and I would try to spend every minute with them.

               Sally and Kate weren’t what you think of when you think of aunts. They didn’t sit around inside and sip tea. They had dogs and played ball. I was the first grandchild in this family for the first 9 years of my life and thus I garnered much of their attention. Sally and Kate were great aunts and were probably my favorite people on the planet in those days. They played softball and basketball with me, took me to Dairy Queen, taught me to ride horses and draw, and never seemed to tire of playing with me or letting me tag along with them. I trusted them as sure as I knew the grass was green.

               As kids often do when they get away from home, I would occasionally get a stomach ache or a fever while visiting. On one particular visit, when I was around 6 or 7 years old, I came down with something and it was decided that I should go to the Doctor to knock the thing out before it developed into full blown Ebola. Of course, I put up a fight to this suggestion. I cried, refused, and most likely pitched what we refer to as “a fit”.

               But, Sally calmed me down and assured me I would not have to get a shot. At 6-7 years old, a boy automatically associated a visit to the Doctor with a shot in those days. Not only did she tell me I wouldn’t get a shot. Before I agreed to go peacefully, she had to promise me I wouldn’t get one. And so Sally promised there was no way Dr. Glover would be giving me a shot that day. Over and over, all the way to town, she assured me there was no danger of getting a shot.

               Dr. Nat Glover was one of those legendary small town doctors whom everyone in town knew. He was a pediatrician who had cared for nearly the whole population of children in Coweta County from the 1950s-mid 1980s. I had been to Dr. Glover before and by virtue of my family’s long history with him, I became one of his patients by default.

               It may just be the image in my mind but I remember Dr. Glover as a lean man, bespectacled with the horn-rim glasses so ubiquitous on men of his generation, and with a grey head of hair slicked back with whatever goo old men of his generation used. He was no doubt a kind and gentle man, but also matter of fact in the way that old men who have seen it all and have no patience left for nonsense are wont to be.

               After our obligatory time in the waiting room surrounded by other kids coughing and hacking and wiping their noses, Sally and I were ushered into the exam room where I asked for further reassurance that my juvenile flesh would not be punctured by the cold, sharp steel of the needle. “No, no”, said Sally. “They’ll just check you out and prescribe some medicine. You’ll be fine.”

               The nurse comes in, checks my blood pressure, listens to my heart, chokes me with a wooden tongue depressor, writes a few things down, says “The doctor will see you soon”, and exits. I’m feeling confident at this point. I saw no sign of a needle and my aunt, who works at a hospital, and knows about these things has told me there was nothing to fear. But, I asked one more time, “Are you sure I won’t get a shot?” “Of course not. We’ll be out of here in no time and eating ice cream”, assured Sally. Yessir, there were no shots in my immediate future.

               When you hit your 40’s all sorts of strange things start happening to your body. One day you walk by the kitchen counter, pick up a pair of your wife’s reading glasses and all of a sudden, you discover you’ve been walking around with blurred vision for the last two years. Some of us, who have had loved ones pass away too young start going to the doctor around this time for check ups to try and head off any serious ailments at the pass before they go too far. I did this after my father passed away.

               I started going for an annual physical exam and even had a colonoscopy (a story in itself). Unfortunately, I have a history of kidney stones. During one physical, they found a little blood in my urine (sorry for the graphic content here). I hadn’t been feeling any kidney pain, went for a number of tests, saw a urologist, and they said “well, it could be a stone but it could be something else.”

               Now, people who have never seen cancer up close don’t really realize how serious the prospect of the disease is. Many of my friends who are afraid to go to the doctor and have never seen someone they love suffer with cancer, dismiss it lightly and say, “we all gotta die from something”. True, but I’ve seen cancer take my parents and three of my grandparents. It doesn’t just kill you. It takes your dignity. I’m not scared of the doctor, but I’m scared of that.

               So, when the urologist told me my issue could be a kidney stone or “something else”, the first thing that popped into my mind was cancer. And it scared me. Scared me bad. So much so that I broke out in a sweat, couldn’t focus on what the doctor was saying, and when I raised my arm up to scratch my head out of nervousness, the next thing I knew I was waking up with nurses rubbing my arms and the Doc telling me to wake up. I had passed out cold. There went my dignity.

               They call it a vagal response. The common term is “white coat syndrome”. This occurs when the many nerves connected to your heart and blood vessels are triggered, by some sort of stress, to cause the blood vessels to open wide, leading to a sudden drop in blood pressure, and in turn, fainting.

               I didn’t have a vagal response at Dr. Glover’s office that day so long ago. Largely because I didn’t have time to think about it. Because of the confidence I placed in Sally’s words. Dr. Glover came in, checked me over again, gagged me once more with the tongue depressor, and pulled out a syringe with a needle the size of a narwhal tusk. I looked at Sally with shock, awe, and the white, hot fury of five suns in my watering eyes. But before I knew it, the sharp pain and burn of the needle was stinging my arm and then it was over.

               I am sure Aunt Sally felt terrible in the aftermath and though the pain of that shot passed quickly, my anger at Sally did not. It burned brightly until it was melted away by a dipped ice cream cone from the Dairy Queen about fifteen minutes later.  Sally and I laugh about this often in our conversations now. And yet, somehow when I woke up in the arms of nurses at the urologist’s office over 40 years later, the first thing I thought of was Sally’s promise, “Of course they’re not going to give you a shot”. I stayed mad all over again—all the way to Dairy Queen.

©2019 Lenny Wells

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