Thursday, January 8, 2009


Perhaps as I get older I get a little more cautious or perhaps I have a long standing fear of Africa that is fostered by many travel magazines and books: "darkest Africa" and the "disease laden land". I did not seek medical advice about trekking in distant parts of Nepal or wonder about diseases in India or China or Mongolia But I did call my internist about what she would recommend before going to Africa. I tell myself: it will be the height of summer, part of the trip will be in the wetlands of Botswana, prime mosquito land. Yes, the literature says we'll sleep under mosquito nets but I know that those nasty little beasties love me in a North American summer. What might the nastier ones in Africa think of my tasty blood?

So Dr. P. looked up the same info I'd seen on the internet and suggested I come in for a hepatitis A shot and fill a prescription for a malaria preventive medication. Well, I asked and set myself up. I didn't have a hepatitis shot senior year in college when an epidemic was felling students left and right including my roommate -- and I didn't get it. What "denomination" it was I don't remember A, B, C? So I found myself pushing up the sleeve of a purposely loose sweater for the shot. I don't like any kind of shot but I am not phobic about it; I simply allow myself a wince and "Ow!"

I had a flashback to the first grade: standing in line in the school cafeteria with all my classmates, no real idea what a shot was. Did some shriek? Cry? Howl? Stoically grit brave little teeth? I don't remember. I remember a sense of dread of the unknown. Those were smallpox shots. Of course I still have the small scar. Children in the US don't have to have those any more. Small pox has been "conquered." School age children have already had batteries of shots, begun back at age six months. Most mercifully forgotten no matter how the infants screamed and sobbed or whether the tiny arms ached or developed rashes or they developed fevers. The hugely empty child brain could absorb and bury that fear and anger and hurt. They don't have the measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and mumps I endured.

I know a man who uses a pair of canes to help him walk; he says he was the last polio case in the NYC area. Somehow he got the nasty bug just months before all his friends and classmates began to receive the vaccinations. So I won't get hep A nor malaria on this trip, nor, probably anything else. I am never happy about adding to America's healthcare cost [and especially not to my own expense] to indulge in probably needless precautions. But there is always that question that the insurance companies jingle in every ad, "what if...?" So my shoulder was somewhat sore last night when I lay on my left side but it's okay today. And science marches on, protecting those of us in the so called first world countries while so many in so called third world Africa and elsewhere suffer from diseases that could be prevented simply with clean water and drug impregnated mosquito nets. No, it's not fair. Never has been, may never be.

No comments: