My Father, The Vaxxer

 

When I was younger, I was petrified of needles. The idea of a piece of fine metal being driven into a vein was cringeworthy. Sometimes (again, I was younger) it was even worthy of a few tears…

Katie’s health insurance through her company runs a promotion every year offering a cash incentive for getting bloodwork done. I call it fishy – no one offers up cash, let alone insurance companies, without an ulterior motive. But money is money, and who am I to pass up cold hard cash when all I have to do is give a few milliliters of blood? Early in the morning on the second Saturday of March, I waited for them to call my name at the Quest Diagnostics off Bestgate Road in Annapolis, when a memory (like most of my suppressed childhood memories) surfaced out of nowhere.

It was vaccination day in 1991. The doctor’s appointment was set and I convinced myself I was going to be fearless this time. My father had closed his workshop early to pick me up from school and take me. The wait was brief and we were called back. They sat me down and rolled up my shirt sleeve. I confidently smirked at the syringe with a “Come at me, bro!” demeanor. A demeanor that dissipated faster than a 30-pack of Keystone at a frat party at noon on a Tuesday the moment the cap to the needle was removed. When that shiny 22-gauge needle revealed itself, I jumped up, unable to mask my face in this “HOLY SHIT” moment and told everyone I was out. I didn’t walk back to the car, I ran. I could have smoked Barry Allen to the car!

My father is a no-nonsense kind of guy. So, leave it to me to behave like I did, wailing and blubbering like a kid dumped by his love on the eve of prom night. My old man doesn’t get embarrassed easily but he was mortified that day. He calmly followed me back to the car and told me that if I didn’t go back in there and get the shot, he was going to kick my ass. He also said that if he drove the car all the way home, it’d be worse. “Worse than an asskicking?” I thought, “Is there such a thing?!” With the recently seared image of the needle in my mind, I foolishly took my chances on going home.

The ride back home from the doctor’s office in that hideous 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue was tense but quiet, notwithstanding the occasional vocal reminder from my father that my life was going to end when we got home. “Te voy a matar, boludo! (I’m going to kill you, moron)” he’d say as we made a left on University Drive…then again as we made a right on Windsor Drive. Those words competed with the fresh memory of that fucking needle. I couldn’t decide what scared me most. 

We got home and he put the car in park. An ominous feeling loomed like an unclaimed silent fart in that car after a chili cook-off. He gave me a look that said, “End of the road, Bubba.” The tie was clearly broken at that point with what scared me the most. The urge to run (again) took over. I bailed out of that car like it was engulfed in napalm flames. My father chased me around that god damn 1988 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, reminding me every few seconds how he was going to ghost me. The reminder was a bit unnecessary…I get it, you’re going to kill me. The chase itself conveyed that message loud and clear.

I have to give it to the old man, he could cover some fucking ground! If the same chase had occurred around something smaller like a kitchen table instead of that ginormous jalopy, I would have ended up with a vaccine in the arm after getting a size 9 ½ work boot in my ass. It’s too bad we lived out in the middle of nowhere back then. Had it been in a suburban neighborhood, any bystander witnessing the Abbott & Costello routine in the driveway of our house would have been properly entertained.

I eventually stopped running, streams of snot and tears caked on my face, desperately trying to catch my breath. Exhausted and defeated, I told him I’d go back to the doctor and get the shot. That day I realized that regardless of my biggest fears, my father overshadowed them substantially. Given any ultimatum where I’d have to choose between confronting my angry father or “X,” I’d gladly embrace “X.”

As an adult, I still need to get myself psyched up for blood draws. Yes, those phlebotomists will try to distract me with my all-time loathed activity, small talk, but it never works. I know that needle is coming, you know it’s coming, talking about the fucking weather is futile! I’m going to hate you when this is all said and done.

I called my father up the other day to ask if he remembered this story. He most certainly did. He then told me about when he lived in Argentina when he was a little boy. He said he was about to get blood drawn and started crying. His father told him, “Men do not cry. You better not.” My father then said they missed his vein multiple times but he never shed a tear. Hence proving I come from a line of hardworking men of steel…and I apparently got the decaf version of those genes.

 

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