My First Vaccination

In my first memory of being vaccinated, I wasn’t quite 6 years old. Early 1970s.

The nurse, a tall man dressed completely in white except for shiny black shoes, set a stainless steel tray of paraphernalia on a table beside me. He sat on a stool which he rolled up to me and injected one after the other into my arms. Both of them.

This was at Gorgas Army hospital in the Republic of Panamá. We had just moved to the isthmus from a military base in New Mexico. I needed the additional shots to protect against a host of tropical diseases before I could finish out the first grade in my new school.

I don’t remember pain. Or crying. Just Dad telling me I was lucky because before he shipped out to SouthEast Asia (during the Vietnam war) all his shots were slammed into the same arm, which he couldn’t raise for a week.

The men complimented me on how brave I was. I trusted them. These soldiers didn’t have a choice to decline any orders, much less vaccinations.

Gorgas hospital is named after the doctor, a US Surgeon General, who halted the construction of the Panamá Canal for a year while they drained swamps and took other measures to combat yellow fever which was killing canal laborers by the thousands until they discovered the disease spread via mosquitoes.

Every adult in Panamá from my mom’s generation on up had a scar on their upper arm at the site of their smallpox vaccine.

Mom had diphtheria as a child, something that killed many children in those days. She was lucky.

So no, vaccines don’t scare me one bit. I’d be happy to snatch the needle and stab myself if I had to.

Leave a Reply