Line Them Up
THREE THINGS TO KNOW GETTING YOUR SHOTS
As I hovered over my improvised feast of peanuts and ritz crackers, I looked over the needles. I could see my eyes tracing them in the reflection of their steel. Their hollowed points pregnant with some of the world's most vicious diseases. Finishing my apple juice, I tossed it aside and asked myself, what the hell am I doing here?
Getting shots are far from fun, but some of the most beautiful corners of the world also demand we turn our shoulders into dartboards. It's not as a bad as you may think but there are things you should know. Getting vaccinated is a 'must do,' and there are some things to consider when planning your next round of jabs.
Do Some Homework
There are some parts of the world that scream for shots and then there are others that do not. The places we would think are obvious are places like Africa and India. We conjure shopping lists of shots we KNOW we would need but for what horrific disease, we are not exactly sure. This is where some homework is a good thing. Google your destinations and get an idea of what you're actually facing.
You'll most likely end up on the Center of Disease Control & Prevention's website. The CDC is wonderful and certainley helpful but what they reccomend is overkill. DO NOT panic when you see the shopping list fully realized. Think 80/20 rule. You will not need all these. The CDC really loves shots and reccomends huge blanket statement perscriptions. Besides an intial wave of anxiety, what they do provide is some clarity around what you might need to look out for. This will allow you to have a more informed conversation with your doctor in step #2.
Set a Date
Time to reach out and touch somebody ... or at least call. Places like Walgreens and CVS offer most vaccinations, but I recommend going to a travel clinic. Usually they are an office in your local hospital and allow you to work directly with a doctor. Set up an appointment for a 'consultation,' informing them of where you intend on traveling. And be prepared for more than just talk come game day.
Consultation day also equals shot day. Come ready with your trip itinerary and some food in you. The doctor will review the specific regions you're travelling and determine what you need based on local conditions. Within a few minutes what she picks out will soon be picking you.
If you're not a fan of shots or are looking to improve your injection experience, there are two tips to keep in mind. Number one, eat before you go. Sounds obvious, but it can be harder than it sounds. This is especially true when you time your meals and don't realize you're getting shots THAT day. This may or may not explain the previously described feast of crackers and peanuts.
The second tip is if you're at all all anxious about receiving shots, tell the doctor. Own it, don't be bashful, don't try to act 'tough,' get in there and get the job done. If the doctor knows, they're the professional and they will take care of you. Chock it up to life experience and the first step of getting out of your comfort zone. Remember, strength is owning weakness ... tough is just ignoring it.
Side Effects, Side Action, and Savings
The laws of cause and effect do apply when it comes to getting vaccinated. Side effects can vary a great deal. This includes expected soreness at the injection site, flu symptoms or even seizures. The seizures are rare. They are often more associated with the 'heavier' vaccines like Yellow Fever. Even then, they are still rare and should not hold you back.
My recent round included Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Headaches, tremors and nausea can all result from the Typhoid vaccine. I lucked out with just the headache. Hep A was pretty tame but the catch is it is a part of a series. After shot one, you have to go back after six months for shot two. Then, you're good for life! This is important to note as your vaccine shelf life may drive your travel plans for the coming years. For example, Typhoid is only good for two years before I'll need another injection. You can bet in the next 24 months I'll be putting it to the test.
Now for some side action. Sometimes you'll need more than shots. This is where your doctor again, is your best friend. A strong antibiotic can help protect the trip of a lifetime from being cursed by a random bacteria. If you're leaving the first world, a daily dose of pepto bismol helps secure your system in ... other ways. Then there are regional diseases, like Malaria, which require some routine morning medication. Wherever you're going, if you need vaccines, you'll probably be bringing some bottles of other things too. Your breakfast just got a little bigger.
Finally, it all comes down to the dollar. Bank rolling your health should be a priority. Calcutta will change your life, but not from your fever soaked bed. Luckily, health insurance makes this a reasonable hurdle. Of course this all depends on your coverage. By going through the travel clinic, you're typically only on the hook for a co-pay. As for the pills, I paid $20 over $300. Its a small victory when you recognize the system working for you. USE IT!
... final thoughts
Every great adventure will require a little blood. The sacrifice is a part of the ritual as we prepare to leave all we know behind. A new world requires a little bit of something else in our veins. As you prepare to encounter the wilds of the globe, best prepare your immune system for the journey as well. There is some calculated risk associated with all travel. This is part of the definition of adventure but be responsible. Consider this, it is not just your own health you're protecting but also the health of those closest to you. When you return, share stories, share pictures, do not share typhoid.
It may all sound like a lot, and it is, but it's also not. The travel clinic is usually a one stop shop and I have never met a doctor so enthusiastic about her work. It's not that she enjoys giving shots, but her role as a gate keeper to the world. The evidence wallpapered her office. Photos and artifacts from people who sat in the very same chair you've found yourself. This is the tradition you are joining. The explorers and adventurers seeking the blank spaces on the map have all had to face the realities of diphtheria and yellow fever. Their smiling faces look upon you and in their smiles you find the answer, you know exactly what the hell you are doing here. So go forth wanderer. Put a pin in the map and get the needles to match.
Join me in Costa Rica this September for some jungle treks, surfing, and white water rafting, and sign up for the newsletter to get the inside scoop on upcoming itineraries (like Africa 2019!).