It was 1966 and my family and I were living in Cornwall. My dad had been stationed there with the Navy. My little sister was born there. Yes, she decided to arrive right in the middle of the May Day Festival so it was touch and go for my mum and dad to get through the festivity traffic to the hospital. No dancing around the May Pole for my mum on that day!
I remember sitting on a swivel stool in the middle of this large sterile room. There were lots of grey looking cabinets in the room, some being used as dividers to make pockets of workspace.
The nurse was an older lady in her late fifties. Clothed in a nurse’s blue and white striped dress and a white starched apron, her short gray curly hair graced a small white cap under which sat a cross face. Her voice was sharp.
“Take one of your arms out of your cardigan”, she trilled.
“Take your cardigan off”, my mum said. I took my cardigan off and gave it to my mum. She folded it up and held it on her lap where my little sister sat. “It won’t hurt,”, my mum said.
I wondered what wasn’t going to hurt. I sat back on the stool. I looked around. There was a stainless steel sink in the room, cotton wool, lots of different types of grey canisters. Despite so many objects in the room, the grayness left it barren and cold.
“Keep still” the nurse said in her loud shrill voice. Startled out of my reveries, I turned towards the harsh voice and saw the syringe and needle flying through the air like a dart. As it pierced my arm on landing, I howled in pain.
The nurse tutted and sighed. Impatiently, she stuck a plaster on my arm. The tears poured down my face.
The nurse walked briskly and emotionlessly across the room. My mum cuddled my sister as her screams joined mine. Then we were ushered quickly out of the room.
A few months later after our small pox injection, we flew out to Singapore where my Dad had been reassigned. Every six months we had to have a booster. Filled with that memory and terror, I took full advantage of my mother looking after my little sister and ran away as we queued up for the jab. My mum would have to leave my little sister with someone in the queue and chase after me. She was not happy with me. But jabs frightened me more than my mother’s disapproval.
Today, when I go in for my flu jab or to have my blood drawn, I wish I was five again and that I could run away. I remind myself that I volunteered for this; that is a beneficial thing. I breath deeply and try to focus on something else – anything else – but my brain is not disciplined enough and my body tenses up in anticipation. My head starts to spin and my breathing becomes shallow and fast. My legs are unable to run but my heart is racing faster than my legs ever could.
Then as fast as this anticipated event came concurrent, it is over. I am able to breathe more deeply, my muscles relax, and relief washes over me. It didn’t hurt that much and I wonder why I worried about it so much. But then I remember the nurse with the scowled face and it all makes sense.