How did we, as a society, go from experiencing invasive medical procedures in antiseptic, white-coat surroundings to unblinkingly accepting subcutaneous shots inches away from ... the unfathomable?
Like clockwork, it seems, I unwittingly land in New York to visit my senior citizen parents at the peak of the flu shot season. I ask my folks, “Dudes, have you had your flu shots?”
My dad had already checked it off at a recent doctor visit, but my mom was still due for an ounce of prevention. I reminded her it takes a while for the immunity to kick in. We needed to get it done pronto. She reluctantly agreed.
I was thinking a chain pharmacy would be a locale upgrade from last year, when we hit the grocery store for my mom’s inoculation. I figured a place that primarily sells health care products, as opposed to Count Chocula and liverwurst, was more professional for this sort of thing.
Also, our former grocery store flu shot adventure left us snickering/baffled afterward. How bizarre, we thought, to prevent disease with actual needles while staring at nearby displays of bruised bananas, day-old cinnamon rolls and Bounty paper towels.
Never again. We needed more decorum for this potentially life-saving ritual. This year we would go to a banana-free place.
If not a medical office, then a pharmacy would be the next best thing. No mother of mine would be taking a needle anywhere near rolling carts of ground beef or overhead announcements for pickle juice cleanups.
How wrong I was about the aesthetic upgrade.
We arrived at a busy pharmacy. It seemed the New York rush hour had mutated to foot traffic and bottlenecked at our destination.
The clerk took my mother’s information and asked us to sit with the simmering crowd by the prescription pickup waiting area. As we sat there, we wondered who was giving the shot, and where.
Eventually, a hyper woman in a powder blue lab coat emerged from the amber bottle catacombs. She was carrying a plastic basket of flu shot paraphernalia.
Lab coat woman called my mother’s name, and signaled her to follow. I lagged along to hold my mom’s coat and offer moral support during the sting operation.
As we passed the Dr. Scholl’s endcap display, the inoculator made a sharp left turn down a short hallway. Oh, cool, I thought, they have actual pristine exam rooms tucked away back there. But then, I saw the chair. The flu shot chair.
It was right next to the bathroom door, in the hallway. My mother was directed to have her skin and muscle tissue punctured just inches away from a public bathroom.
It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned my alter ego here, but now’s a great time for a refresher. Hello. I am Germ Cop. A caped crusader on a mission to warn fellow citizens of lurking microbes. I’m a triple washer of triple-washed salads…a highly skilled elbow-outer of all commercial doors.
As Germ Cop saw her mother sitting there, panic and disbelief set in. Our super hero’s eyes darted between the bathroom sign and her mom obediently rolling up her sleeve.
And it got worse. The flu shot tech put the supply basket, which held the inoculation flotsam, on the floor. The floor! The very floor next to the bathroom where thousands of shoe soles offer free Uber rides to unimaginable, unseen bacterial foes. And what micro-droplets were circulating through the air in that nook of doom?
It was at this moment I had to make a profound decision: Pull my mom away from the scene and keep her at risk for flu exposure, or have faith in the alcohol pad the latex-gloved woman was rubbing on her upper arm? Before I could think of what to say or do, boom, the job was done.
Next year maybe we’ll try one of those drive-thru flu shot deals. But if there’s a dumpster or porta potty in the parking lot, I’m u-turning and hitting the gas.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell