It could have been like this:
On Thursday, we took the girls to a local middle school to be vaccinated against H1N1.
It was not a pleasant way to spend my day off. For one thing, it was raining. All day. Two kids plus one dog trapped inside all day = two cranky kids, one wound up dog, and two exhausted parents. By 10:00 A.M. I was so fed up I took Jack for a walk in the rain just to get him out of the house and out from underfoot. Everyone was happier for at least a little while after that.
Eventually we journeyed off to the flu clinic. And I mean everyone but the cats. "Oh, let's get Jack out of the house - it won't be THAT long, will it?" Not the last thing I was wrong about Thursday, either.
We were in line for almost two hours. At one point I heard the line wrapped around the entire interior of the building and out the door. It was pretty close to that when we arrived; I don't know how early folks started showing up to get in front. As it was, the girls were really wonderful: some fussiness, but not nearly what we had feared. We did have one absolute heart-stopper when Ainsley got away from us and we lost her for the longest five minutes of my life, but a county sheriff found her and then found us (cue huge sigh of relief and ten minutes of blushing, since we'd just lost our child in front of every parent in Story County, Iowa).
Another "it could have been worse" moment was the poor dad a few families in front of us. He had two boys with him - I'd put them at approximately 8 and 4 years old. The 4 year old was Matthew. I know this because of the Litany: "Matthew, stay here with me. Matthew, please don't lick the glass. Matthew, don't go into the girls' bathroom. Matthew, let me tie your shoe." Ad nauseum. The poor, poor man.
Finally, we got into Hell. I mean, the room where they do the vaccinations. I said Hell at first because if I ever go there, I expect the first thing I'll hear is a lot of screaming children, if whoever runs Hell knows what they're doing - the reaction was unpleasant in the extreme. Thanking heaven that we could both our day off together, we filled out the paperwork as fast as possible, leapfrogging Matthew's poor dad in the process. Matthew, at this point, had been reduced to a puddle of crying boy, punctuated by moments where he tried to get away like a feral cat cornered by a vicious dog. The poor, poor man.
The girls took their medicine well. Alanna got a shot, since she's already gotten her regular flu shot. Ainsley got the nasal spray. Two minutes of tears, then out into the rain for the drive home. Jack the dog, bless his heart, hadn't chewed on a thing in the van, and was so pathetically glad to see us I think I might have forgiven him if I had. By the time we got home, everyone was happy and singing.
Being a huge Stephen King fan, the opening chapters of The Stand popped into my head several times during the afternoon. For those who don't know the plot, here's the basics: the government develops a shifting-antigen flu, which basically means that every time our bodies fight off the flu, it morphs into a different strain until our immune systems can't keep up. Of course the flu escapes its sterile environment, and eventually the pandemic wipes out some 90% of the population of the world. I realized as we were standing in line that when King wrote those chapters about the flu, he pretty much hit it right on the head. First people hear rumors of a pandemic virus, then the first few cases show up, and pretty soon it's ravaging the local population.
Of course, the first few times I read the book (somewhere around 13 or 14 years old, I think), I told myself, "I would go out into the mountains with a shotgun and a month of food before I'd fall victim to a virus like that." Thankfully, H1N1 isn't nearly as deadly for most of us, but it's really easy to find yourself amazed at what sheep we are sometimes. If I remember right, King describes a flu clinic EXACTLY like what we went through last week, with a false vaccine, just to keep the population from rioting. And here we were, obediently standing in line to be vaccinated, just like in the book. So much for the mountains and a shotgun, huh?
I am, however, grateful for the public health folks who are working so hard to help keep the virus under control. My paranoid mind-wanderings aside, we were treated with kindness and efficiency; they got a LOT of people through the line in a very quick hurry, and those of us with small kids were grateful for the extra protection against what sounds like a pretty nasty bug. It makes me realize, again, how fortunate we are to live here in this time - and how important it is to continue working on behalf of those who do not yet have access to the healthcare we so often take for granted.
Grace & peace,
The picture is a quarantine clinic during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.