“There’ll be a prick. Try to relax,” a nurse said as she prepared to plunge a needle into my shoulder.
Easy for you to say, I thought.
“Two on this side and then two on the other. We’ll start with the HepA and HepB shot and move on to the Tdap. Then we’ll end with the flu shot and Typhoid.” Tdap stands for Tetanus (lockjaw), Diphtheria and Pertussis (Whooping cough). It sounds more like a nickname than a vaccine.
What the hell am I doing? Receiving these shots reminded me of a bad game of Oregon Trail.
Two and a half hours earlier, nearly six months to the day from when we’d leave, I found myself at the Oklahoma City-County Department of Health. Lee Anne joined me for a scheduled consultation with Dr. Nelson Agudelo-Higuita, an infectious disease travel specialist. Neither of us really knew what we were in for. We just knew there were shots we needed six months in advance of traveling.
“I’m here to see Dr…” I stumbled with the pronunciation of Dr. Agudelo-Higuita’s name.
“I don’t know who that is. Why are you here?” an administrator asked skeptically.
“I believe we’re supposed to meet Dr…err…Nelson to do a consult about some vaccinations.”
All I got was a blank stare. Looking around, I thought she could be right and we were in the wrong place.
About twenty minutes later we were in a patient room with a gynecology chair taking up most of the extra space.
“Please sit. Dr. Agudelo-Higuito (let’s call him Dr. Nelson moving forward) will be here in a moment.” At this point, I want to meet this guy. He has the most complicated (and memorable) name ever and either the receptionist up front didn’t know who he was or I butchered his name beyond comprehension. Dr. Nelson greeted us with a big smile.
“You are traveling around the world?” he stated with crescendo excitement.
“Yes,” I said not really knowing what to say next.
By this time we were an hour behind on the scheduled appointment and Lee Anne needed to pick the boys up from school. Dr. Nelson said he was required to counsel us on the dangers of traveling in foreign countries. Lee Anne politely excused herself and I went ahead with the counseling. After all, I’d already invested an hour.
The consultation almost convinced me that this trip was a bad idea. It was strange – I intellectually knew it was his job to tell us what could go wrong, but Dr. Nelson seemed to relish telling me about every disease we could contract. He was very good at his job.
“Don’t eat shellfish,” he said. “Really, don’t want to eat any fish. There is no way to confirm whether it was caught in clean waters.”
“What about in Japan?” I asked knowing the best tuna in the world comes through those fish markets. My dreams of picking out a fish and having the chef cook it in front of me faded.
“Don’t touch any animals. Especially dogs.”
This was getting weirder by the second.
“Do not travel to Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Madagascar or the Congo. There are infectious diseases in all of these countries.” He pointed to a monitor from an infectious disease website.
The good news for Dr. Nelson is Yemen was not on our itinerary.
“Bring DEET bug spray everywhere you go. Spray on all sheets and all beds. You‘ll get used to the smell and it will help protect you from mosquitos which could ultimately lead to malaria or zika virus.”
Bug spray on sheets in every place we stay? At this point, I’m losing my mind.
“Avoid salads and ice in restaurants, tap water and brushing your teeth from the tap. Do not swim in any water. Most tourists die from being hit by a car, not wearing seatbelts and driving motorcycles. Be very careful.”
Hahahahahaha. Now he is just messing with me, I thought. The absurd now sounded ludicrous with the exception of driving motorcycles.
“I’m so excited for your family. Be sure to WhatsApp me on the trip.”
We had a new friend… and someone to reach out to if we touched a dog or contracted malaria.