By Dave Fox

Driving to my doctor’s office, I break into a cold sweat. I’m several miles away, but I’m already feeling nauseous.

The last time I had a tetanus shot, I was 25. I’m 39 now. I’m overdue.

I hate tetanus shots so much, I used to include that fact in online personal ads. Likes: Travel, writing, Belgian beer, Celtic music. Dislikes: Karaoke, George W. Bush, tetanus shots.

I’m driving down Aurora Boulevard, one of the main arteries through Seattle, on my way to my doctor’s office on Queen Anne Hill. I am trying to stay calm. Trying to breathe. Now shortness of breath is kicking in.

“The last one wasn’t that bad,” I tell myself. “Seriously, dude, quit torturing yourself with worry.”

But the last one was just tetanus and diphtheria. I am now going in for what my doctor has referred to as a “D-TAP.” On my way there, it dawns on me, that probably stands for “Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis.”

The last time I had a pertussis vaccination, I was about six years old. I know this because as a child, I had an especially cruel pediatrician who insisted on giving me a tetanus shot every two years. At age eight, I knew the word “pertussis,” the technical term for whooping cough, because my mother was trying to calm me. “It’s the pertussis part of the shot that hurts the most and makes you sick, and you never have to have that again. You’re immunized for life.”

Now, at age 39, I’m preparing to tell the nurse this — that I’m immunized for life against pertussis, so can I please have the less ouchy tetanus shot?

Another mile down the road, talking myself through all of this, I realize I have missed my exit.

How psychologically fascinating, I think, that I just missed my exit at a time like this. Also, I think, I am such a freaking baby!

I loop through downtown and head north again. I arrive at the doctor’s office 15 minutes late.

“Dave! How are you?” the receptionist asks.


I just want to get this over with — before I throw up. Nausea is a possible side effect of the typhoid vaccine I’ve been taking, but I’m quite certain that is not why I am feeling this way.

“I’ll be right with you,” the nurse smiles. Then she calls a different man back to the examination room. I sit and wait. And wait. And panic. And wait.

“Are you ready?” the nurse finally asks me, 32 years later.

I’m not sure how to answer that.

“Does the “P” stand for pertussis,” I ask her as I take my shirt off.


“Well my mother says I don’t need that. I’m immunized for life.”

“There’s been a resurgence in whooping cough. We’re re-vaccinating adults now.”

All I can do is whimper.

“Hey,” the nurse says with a suspicious half-smile, one of those “you are in big trouble” smirks, “are you up to date on your other vaccinations?

“Yes! Yes I am! I had hepatitis B last week. I’m cool with hep A. I redid my measles shot a few years ago. So back off!”

“Okay,” she smiles. “I’ll be right back.”

The nurse knows me and my needle phobia well. She’s been drawing my blood on a weekly basis ever since I started gobbling rat poison back in December. And when I say drawing my blood, I don’t mean drawing my blood in a sexy, vampiress way. She’s been using needles.

She re-enters the room with a couple of syringes. “You’ll be fine,” she says, coming at me.

“Wait!” I shriek.

“Dave, I’m just putting some alcohol on your arm.”

That is not where I need alcohol right now. Where I need alcohol is in my mouth, down my throat — large quantities thereof.

I realize there is no escaping. She is going to jab me.

“There,” she says. “Done.”

“That was it?!”


“I didn’t even feel that.”

“I’m good,” she says.

“It’s going to hurt later, isn’t it.”

Her work is pretty much done. She doesn’t have to calm me anymore. “Yep,” she says.

She jabs me for another blood draw. That one’s easy. I’m used to those now.

Driving home, my arm begins to get sore. Sore in a weird, burning, tetanussy kind of way. My nausea returns. My cold sweats return. At one point, I almost have to pull over.

Safe and whiny at home, I run to the bottle of Tylenol I set out just before leaving for my appointment. I can’t take the good stuff — Ibuprofen. It doesn’t mix well with my rat poison. I pop a couple of Tylenols and sit down in front of my computer.

I Google “tetanus shot pain,” looking for magical tips to make it hurt less. I’ve heard that light weight lifting actually stops your arm from stiffening up at times like this. I’m looking to confirm that fact.

I come across a website that suddenly makes me feel extremely brave. There are people out there worse than me. One out of every 1,000 tetanus shot recipients reportedly cries for more than three hours after receiving the shot.

Then I realize, the site is referring to children. Children younger than 39.

Published on Thursday, March 13, 2008

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