There's no way to sugar coat a jab in the arm

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

There's no way to sugar coat a jab in the arm

Buy them with sweets: Managers at the HSE have suggested giving chocolates to encourage reluctant nurses to take the flu shot this year

WHAT’S all this nationwide outrage over nurses being offered chocolates as an inducement to take the ‘flu vaccine?

One newspaper correspondent even suggested that HSE officials should be given gobstoppers themselves to prevent them from uttering such inanities. But surely a chocolate coated vaccination scheme for nurses who fail to take health precautions themselves would be a small price to have to pay in order to keep the virus at bay next winter.

Anyway, some of us are mad jealous of the nurses. Why aren’t we all being offered a sweetener to do our duty? As a rabid chocoholic myself, I would even accept an injection of common sense – a component in which I am proud to be seriously lacking – if the reward for doing so were a box of Black Magic.

I’d prefer a glass of Chianti, of course, but I don’t expect the HSE to be able to rise to that kind of indulgence in its current straitened circumstances.

Now, I can also see why nurses wouldn’t want to be treated like children, especially when the stakes are so high and demands for a decent salary and better working conditions are being resisted so forcefully. But there’s a big difference between a lollypop and a box of chocolates, and, as I said, I’d nearly sell my soul for a box of chocolates. It IS a box, isn’t it? Not just a bar or a single truffle?

But even I know that it is very important – even crucial – for health professionals to avail of the ‘flu vaccine. Apart altogether from the ‘practice what you preach’ element, they are in contact daily with vulnerable people and could either contract or pass on the virus unwittingly. That’s only common sense and if nurses and other health professionals in large numbers are failing to guard against such a scenario, then maybe they need an injection of common sense and a booster dose of professionalism. Then there should be no need for the sweets.

But I’m a great one for pontificating. Maybe the nurses, underpaid and run off their feet as they are, don’t have the time to go and get vaccinated. Or maybe they know something the rest of us don’t know.

Now I wouldn’t want to be so irresponsible as to start a panic over the ‘flu vaccine, but I have mixed feelings about it. I have an innate distrust of multinational drug companies and only a deep-rooted sense of civic duty and an even deeper rooted sense of self –preservation could overcome that distrust. Two years ago I availed of the ‘flu vaccine under a bit of coercion, after being told that there was a dangerous strain of influenza heading this way and I was right in its path. I was in the age group most likely to succumb to the virus and also most likely to clog up the trolleys in the Regional Hospital before expiring.

‘Give it to me so,’ I begged, holding out my arm like a soldier, and there wasn’t even a sweetener in sight. I hate injections because I turn into a wimp and my veins harden at the sight of a needle, and sometimes the only way of getting anything into them is by the use of a pneumatic drill. It was to have been an act of sheer heroism on my part, I tell you.

Then just as I had steeled myself for the ordeal, the arteries frozen solid, I was told that they were out of the vaccine and the HSE had to re-order a new batch. I was half hoping it wouldn’t come, but it did, and I felt that I had no choice but to avail of it.

I survived the trauma, but a couple of days later I came down with horrible ‘flu like symptoms and I don’t think the virus had even reached Ireland at that stage. My husband, who thinks that the only cure for the ‘flu is a hot whiskey with plenty of cloves to ward off evil spirits, said I was hallucinating, but that was nothing new. He said I wasn’t half as bad as I was making myself out to be, but at least we had proof that my immunity had been well and truly established.

Before that winter was out, however, I had gone through two more bouts of ‘flu, but the doctor refused to accept that I was on the way out or in dire need of hospitalisation. He said I was suffering from a heavy cold and prescribed a cough bottle. ‘Told you so,’ said the husband triumphantly, handing me another hot toddy to soften the cough.

Last year, I took my chances with the ‘flu’. I kept a low profile when the free vaccine was being administered and lo, and behold, I sailed through the winter without as much as a sniffle. The doctor was absolutely appalled when I told him and he more or less said that I was a danger to myself and everyone else. I felt awfully reckless and the only way I can make up for it now is to advise all of you to get the vaccine come the onset of winter. There are some very nasty strains of ‘flu out there and even nastier side effects, and the HSE certainly doesn’t need any more stress.

The vaccine is free to people in vulnerable categories like myself. But a box of chocolates wouldn’t go astray either, especially if you’re a bit sceptical or apathetic.