Yes, mom, I’ll get the flu shot

Theresa Bruskin

This summer, I had my first (and hopefully last) experience with going to the hospital for an illness, rather than an injury. And it was pretty miserable.

The whole ordeal started when I woke up with a nearly 105-degree fever and a raging headache. Then came a visit to urgent care, where they couldn’t bring my fever down, and fearing the worst, sent me to the hospital for a meningitis test.

The only test for spinal meningitis is a spinal tap, which can have nasty complications, so the doctors at the hospital wanted to rule everything else out first. I spent nearly 12 hours in the emergency room, waiting for test after test to come back negative, inching me closer to the now-unavoidable spinal tap.

I never had an experience like that before: lying alone in a hospital room, breathing through a mask so I didn’t spread whatever it was that was making me sick. It was positively terrifying.

Eventually, the time came for the spinal tap, which actually wasn’t that bad. The doctors use a small needle to numb the base of the spine, then use a larger one to take a few drops of spinal fluid.

I could say that it was a relief when that returned negative for meningitis, but it would be a waste of words. On the other hand, no meningitis meant no diagnosis, and the doctor concluded I had a virus and sent me home.

The fever went down after a day or two, but I had this lingering headache that hit whenever I raised my head any higher than the level of a pillow. But it wasn’t just a headache; it was a searing pain that made me return to bed as soon as possible.

Although a spinal tap only requires a few drops of spinal fluid, removing any means lowering the volume in your body. And since your brain sits in spinal fluid, when the volume goes down, the brain “sinks” a little, causing it to pull at the many blood vessels attached to it. So a post-spinal tap headache isn’t like a migraine, which is in the muscle – it’s a whole new realm of agony.

The headache is a common side effect of the procedure but usually goes away after a day or two, as the body heals and creates new spinal fluid. But my body, of course, didn’t, and when I was still bedridden five days later, it was time for another visit to the ER.

The solution is a relatively simple procedure administered by an anesthesiologist, where he or she takes blood from your arm or hand (in my case, both) and injects it at the site of the spinal tap to facilitate healing and raise the volume of spinal fluid.

I’m now in total awe with the abilities of the human body. I couldn’t hold my head up for more than a minute or two, and half hour later I could walk around with nothing more than a slight backache.

I know my story could have been a lot worse, that people suffer from much more devastating illnesses and what I went through was only a taste of what it’s like to be severely ill or bedridden. But it was the closest I’ve ever gotten to such experiences and the first time I really saw the fragility of the body.

No longer will I take having good health for granted. I know it sounds stupid, but I’ve started taking vitamins and am trying much harder to eat better, because I never want to experience anything like that ever again.

My mother has been bothering me about getting a flu shot, and I’ve been resisting because I don’t like putting unnecessary medications and chemicals into my body. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Life is fragile. Bodies are fragile. A few tiny drops of spinal fluid sent my body over the edge. Why not do what little we can for a chance of protecting ourselves?

So yes, Mom, I’ll get the flu shot.

Theresa Bruskin is a senior political science major. Contact her at [email protected]