Narratives

These 12 shots saved my life and prepared me for COVID-19 vaccine

My needle pain threshold was recently challenged by 12 intramuscular shots in one sitting. Little did I know the jabs brought about by an unfortunate encounter prepared me for the lesser 28-day-apart twin COVID-19 vaccine.

What could be more painful than going through long hours of uterine contractions, I thought. Nothing. Those were the most excruciating ones I had gone under in my entire life. I knew I was in pain in those labor-intensive birth-giving. Fortunately, as I was told, it would not be lodged in my memory, else I would not have given birth to five! 

But the physical pain I suffered a few months back was unmatched, though I do not wish it could be topped. Even the labor pains I endured five times over fared miserably. 

For the faint-hearted, read with caution. Rein in your imagination.

That one night was typical, including my usual after-dinner-goodnight visit to my four-year-old grandson and 18-month-old granddaughter, which takes under a minute walk through a driveway. My daughter, their mother, lives just behind our apartment. The ritual usually takes about 15 minutes.

Atypical the visit became, however, because my grandson held me up to watch Hilda (a Netflix series) with him and regaled me with the ‘monsters’ in the show. To him, they were not scary at all. Little did I know that I would have an unusual scare a few minutes after we said our goodnights.

I then walked back home, but realized I left behind my phone. I was probably distracted by those monsters.  I rushed back to get it, and then walked back home again. I was just a few steps from our gate when I was rattled by a loud cat cry, making me scream out of my wits. We startled each other. I proceeded thinking I must have stepped on the cat—its tail, or paw, or what have you. The driveway to the apartment doors behind us was unlit that night. I did not see the poor cat.

A few moments later, I felt some stinging pain scattered in my right leg. I checked and saw scratches, some with a tinge of blood. 

After a quick debate with my grown children what to do, we found ourselves at the animal bite center of a nearby hospital. We arrived at 9:30 in the evening. I underwent the triage (of course: pandemic), filled out forms, and showed the ER staff my injured leg to—pin-sized puncture wounds were all over. 

At the ER, they told me my case was Category III (highest), according to standard protocol  for animal bites. I was not bitten; but even the scratches from the cat’s paws belonged to this category: single or multiple transdermal bites or scratches, licks on broken skin, contamination of mucous membrane with saliva from licks, and exposure to bats. 

What did this mean for me? Shots! Not one, but 12 (including on the scratch sites), posthaste.

The writer as she waits for her anti-rabies vaccine at the animal bite center. [Photo by Diwata Espina]

The first shot was a skin test for the fast-effecting Equine Anti-Rabies Immunoglobulin to make sure I was not allergic to the immunoglobulin. I surrendered my left lower arm for the test shot. Forty-five minutes later, the test came out negative. I was relieved it was a go for the drug. If it were positive, they had to look for another vaccine.

The second and third shots were human-tetanus-immunoglobulins, one each on the left and right arms. The fourth shot was the slow-effecting anti-rabies shot, on my left arm. This would later be followed by four more shots taken seven days apart. 

Four shots so far.

The fast-effecting anti-rabies drug, to which I tested negative for allergic reaction, was next. Based on my weight, the total dosage was computed to be 11.6 mL, which had to be administered eight times—a total of 5 mL on the wounds (all seven) and the remaining on my left thigh. Painful was an understatement for the individual shots on the scratches, which were everywhere but on the calf. Can you imagine an intramuscular jab on the shin, piercing your skin that nary had muscles underneath? The pain was almost bearable. I had to summon my superwoman powers to endure each of the seven pierces.

My nurse was heaven-sent: he would allay my anticipation of the pain with “Pasensiya na po,” (“I’m sorry”) as if he had caused it; and would ask if I needed a break in between the shots. Yes, I needed to breathe and call on my guardian angels to ease the pain for even just a little.

And the 12th shot was that remaining 6.6 mL administered on my left thigh. That was a lot of milliliters to push through the muscles. 

Later I learned the cat, a stray one roaming around the neighborhood with four or five others, was blind and deaf on one side. Reason it did not see or hear me walking by. The driveway was dark that night, and I did not see the poor creature. We were both ‘blind’ but by different reasons. By the way, I am glad I still see it in the neighborhood, still roaming around with the other cats.

I had never received those many awful shots in one sitting. But I was grateful for the 24/7 animal bite center nearby. I was lucky that my children were around and were quick to decide to take me there. And the attending ER physician and nurse were especially considerate and warm. The bill, at more than 15,000 pesos, turned out zero pesos, thanks to my health insurance. All deserving of an entry in my gratitude journal.

Then came my COVID-19 vaccination in this time of the pandemic. First dose, 0.5 ml; second dose 0.5 ml, 28 days apart. Chickenfeed for the needle pain.

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