This season's flu bug is bad, and it's partly my fault.
I'm healthy. I take no prescription drugs. I can't remember the last time I got the flu. So every year, despite reminders from family, neighbors and medical professionals, I blow off the flu shot.
However, I found myself standing at Costco's patient counseling window to request a flu shot last Monday morning. My first ever. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure it is the first shot I've received in 50 years!
After spending the better part of last week interviewing people in both Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties about this year's tough flu season, I learned that healthy people pass the flu bug on to others who may not be as resilient. A little light flickered on inside of me at that discovery.
Nonetheless, I laughed when professionals talked about their hardheaded friends who refused to get the shot because they never get sick, not admitting I was one of them.
As I heard more stories about the hardships some were experiencing, that little light started to burn brighter as I heard more than once that healthy people can on pass the flu to others. I even told someone that I would definitely consider getting the shot...next year.
After the story was filed, I was shocked to learn that a Brookside Middle School student was in intensive care, connected to machines doing her breathing and keeping her heart beating. Autumn Gutierrez, a 13-year old honor roll student who plays basketball, was literally flattened by the flu in just 48 hours.
I talked at some length to her mom, Sarah, on Sunday as she stood vigil at her daughter's bedside at Cleveland Clinic main campus. Doctors were feeling more optimistic about Autumn's recovery, although they said it will be lengthy. Sarah joked a little about the half dozen boxes of Kleenex she blew through (pun intended) from crying. However, those tears came each terrifying time a doctor updated her or asked about doing another procedure to save Autumn's life.
I thought about all the kids I interview as I visit schools. Was it possible I had inadvertently been passing flu on to them? After all, in a typical week I am in and out of schools, public buildings and stores. Given the virulent nature of this year's strain of flu, it was highly likely I had encountered people with, or exposed to, flu.
My guilt got to me. I got the shot.
It is inexpensive and I suffered no reaction from it. Well, maybe one - it eliminated the guilt.
The cost is a reasonable $20, on average. It is free for those on Medicare and many insurance policies cover the fee as well. For those without insurance or underinsured, public health agencies and some pharmacies will waive the fee.
Getting a shot brought back memories. My dad usually pulled the proverbial short straw requiring that he take my younger brothers and me for vaccinations at our pediatrician's office in Lakewood. Inevitably, one - or more - of us would leave the office in tears. However, my dad, who was a really, really smart guy, knew how to turn those tears to cheers in literally a nano-second. He'd shepherd us directly across the street from the doctor's office to Malley's where we all ordered any ice cream sundae our little hearts desired. Boom.
I'm relieved that I now can say the flu is no longer my fault. How about you?