The doctor and I had just concluded, I thought, my routine fall visit, when she smiled and said, “Wait for your flu shot.” I sat back down and told her, “Oh, I forgot.” She smiled again, like she thought a big macho guy like me would be afraid of a little tiny needle.
A nurse soon entered and chirped, “I’ll be your injector today”, as though I had just ordered the Blue Plate Special. She carefully swabbed my bared arm and smoothly administered the shot almost unnoticed. It wasn’t enough to earn a gratuity, but I appreciated her humor and skill.
Driving home, I chuckled and recalled a less friendly and less humorous approach to injections almost seventy years earlier. Less than a week out of my civilian days, the Navy decreed that I, along with my 120 roommates, were to be inoculated. Rumors were floated through the barracks about the series of “shots” that the Navy was going to inflict on us. Some would even prove to be true. The standards: flu, tetanus, diphtheria, smallpox were a given, but I couldn’t guess what else we were to be protected from. Others did; malaria, tsetse fly, what else? We might be going to the English Channel, the South Pacific, Africa, and needed to be protected against all areas. Who knew what we might encounter in Japan?
We had already been subjected to horrifying movies about venereal diseases that innocent farm lads would be exposed to at our first liberty in the big city, and should know there was nothing to protect us except continued purity. The new miracle drug, penicillin, was apparently ineffective. A Chief Pharmacist’s Mate informed me much later of the proven preventive, sulfa-denial. But let’s get back to the shots.
On the appointed day, we arose with our usual vigor, made our bunk beds with the taut sheets and blankets so important to the supervising Chief of our barracks. We were marched to and from a delicious breakfast, probably baked beans on toast – a Navy favorite, and were marched again to stand before the warehouse/clinic. We stood in a line of 120 fledgling sailors, already one or two having grown faint and resting prone on the cold sidewalk. This was January just outside Chicago and temperatures had settled into the low teens. A passing veteran of possibly two weeks longer service shouted out to be prepared for the tetanus shot, administered with a square needle in the left hmphw (clue: he didn’t say left hip). Another rookie sailor or two hit the deck as that thought settled in their minds.
The warehouse doors yawned open and revealed four lines of tables, each line manned by evil looking pharmacist mate trainees who were maybe learning the art of giving shots.
Table 1: “give me your name and serial number, Mac. Check! “
Table 2. Bared left arm, swab with alcohol, stab with needle. Check!
Table 3. Repeat with right arm.
Table 4. Repeat with left arm.
Table 5. Repeat with right arm.;
Table 6. “Name and serial number, Mac. Check!”
Added advice came from a seemingly more kind appearing sailor, “Hold your arms high, rub frequently and exercise it as often as you can until next time you come in. You’ll be back in three days for your next four shots.” Then he grinned. Evilly.
The back doors of the warehouse clinic yawned open to release us back to the drill field and usual routine, where we marched and marched. Sore arms and all, we learned to forward march, to left oblique, right oblique, to the rear march. It did keep the circulation in our arms. We made mistakes and lost the cadence as some of us found growing concern for our left mphw’s over the next three days. We all survived the next week’s trauma. Only our arms were sore.