Post 2: The flu shot

So I will take one more kick at the flu shot and then move on.  It’s a personal decision as to whether one gets the shot and so it should remain.  (However, and notably, one of my sisters who works in a hospital not too far from where I live informed me that it is not an option for employees at that facility, they are required to take the shot.  I have to think that there is a huge human rights violation in this stance, it just hasn’t been challenged.)

It hasn’t been hard to fill the time that I have been off – all my body wants to do is sleep.  When I am awake I try to do something that gets me out of bed and that’s not a bath, the two things I craved while I was away (my bed and tub) just don’t have the same appeal.  So over the course of the last week I thought that I would look up the product monograph for the flu shot in general to see if the warnings or contraindications had changed much over the years.

What probably surprised me most was that it wasn’t easy to locate the individual monographs. I’ve spent years doing this stuff and have a whole assortment of ways to search.  In a nutshell, going to big pharma and reading about their trade name flu shots gives you some information and generally the PR version as to why the shot is necessary. Most websites usually refer you to the product insert in the packaging for more details.  Hmm that’s not very helpful.  Even when you get the shot, the nurse or doctor doesn’t say “oh and here’s the product insert, be sure to read it.” Actually, it’s one of the few instances where you get nothing detailed. In Canada when you pick up any prescription it is always accompanied by lots of paper outlining potential contraindications.  So no product monograph on the couple of individual sites I visited.  No problem.

The information has to be available to the public and it is.  Even better, it’s nicely captured on one website:  http://www.vaccinesafety.edu/package_inserts.htm.  The list includes those pharmaceutical companies supplying this year’s product.  I’m not entirely certain what vaccine I got, because I got nothing when I had the shot, but I tend to think a GlaxoSmithKline is most likely.  Interestingly, in this instance, on this centralized site, the GSK link to a product monograph doesn’t offer up the information immediately, rather the link takes you to a request page. Anyway, lots of the others are available, read a couple of them, they are all formatted in the same manner, so after a while you can skim through them.

One common element is the following clause:

Nonclinical Toxicilogy:  Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility

“TRADENAME” has not been evaluated for carcinogenic or mutagenic potential, or for impairment of fertility.

This is a mandatory disclosure in Canada, and I am sure if it wasn’t big pharma would have that out of there in the blink of an eye.  Regardless, I get that it is a seasonal product and therefore long term evaluation of the effects of the specific product are problematic due to the changing composition of the vaccine. But likely there are some elements that are constant, how and in what is it suspended and preserved?  My rational mind says we are playing with fire here.  Shooting ourselves up with a vaccine that may or may not help based on a scientific guess as to what the flu will look like.  Creating a man made version of it and then hitting up half the globe with it because people are frightened of what could happen if they don’t get it.  Regardless of where we live, we all start to hear the media buzz – the stories start in September every year about how this could be the worst year ever.  Hmm, wonder who may have a special interest in getting that messaging out?  We are sheep, just a flock of sheep.  Drive us straight to the edge of the cliff and watch us fall over.

My thoughts have tormented me on this.  When did I get sucked in?  I got sucked in when Kevin got sick, I didn’t want to expose him to anything, so I got the flu shot.  I didn’t get sick while I looked after him but it had nothing to do with the shot, and everything to do with the measures we implemented and the diet we maintained.  Feet are firmly planted back on the ground, it only took this hellish experience to get me there.  Enough on this, so much more to cover relating to the cruise.

 

Gone

My coworker passed away tonight.  News travels fast and, it seems, bad news spreads especially quickly.  It will be a sad group that arrives at the office on Monday.  Fortunately, I am off that day.  This sort of news and how people will mourn can catapult me into darkness.  Tuesday won’t be much better but at least the initial shock will have worn off.  Those first raw conversations will have been replaced by numbness as people reflect on how brutal cancer is.

It is brutal, it is arbitrary, and it is shattering.  Life turns upside down in one fraction of a second.  You hear the words and everything drops away around you.  I vividly recall when Kevin got his diagnosis.  We went to the hospital for a pain in his back.  He left 12 hours later with a death sentence.  But that moment when the doctor came and sat with us to tell us what the pain truly was, I remember so well.  His words,  cancer, advanced cancer, stage 3 at minimum.   That moment in time felt both long and short, the time and place we were in seemed to stand still.  Everything fell away in that one moment of time.  The noise and the chaos of the hospital, we didn’t hear it.  We just looked at each other.  The shock of the moment created a connection through pain.  There is no thought, just pure anguish.

We went home, we were far different people than left that house 12 hours earlier.  Prepared to fight, scared beyond words.  And so it began for us.  It ended, just as it did for my coworker and her family today.  Heartbreak, desolation and despair.  Dark days and darker nights. Here I am two years down the road and I still find that the darkness can press against me.  You never stop loving, you don’t.

Valentine’s Day

Another heavily promoted day to share with those you love.   Coming out of Christmas and heading into Valentine’s, it just keeps the wound open.

For the three of four years before he got sick, Kevin and I would celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We would do it in style, with another couple we were friends with, actually it was a teacher he taught with.  The males would coordinate the meal, serve us and always there was a ridiculously expensive bottle of wine that went with the meal.  That was Kev’s contribution, anything less than $40 a bottle was ‘swill’, and it wasn’t unusual to have a bottle that cost a whole bunch more.  It was always a fun evening, especially if Kevin had a drink, he was not a drinker at all and so things could get pretty outrageous if he had a glass or two. These are the memories I have of Valentine’s Day.

Fast forward to the present, and all around me people are planning their special evening.  At work there is a fundraiser for the United Way, buy a bouquet and support the Way.  All I can think of is the reality that my husband isn’t here to buy me flowers anymore.  Not that he did often, he had a thing about buying something dead (flowers) and giving it as a gift.  Early on in our marriage he’d tell me that he could hear the flowers scream in pain as they were being picked.  Still, occasionally he would get me some.  He’s the only one I ever wanted them from.  No one else.

That’s what Valentine’s Day does for me, reminds me of sadness.  A dull throbbing sadness now, still just as deep, just not as sharp.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  I see people all around me who are on their own, with no one to make their day ‘special’.  I doubt that they get a warm fuzzy feeling about the day.  I suspect it wouldn’t be so bad if big box store marketing campaigns hadn’t made it into such a pressure to celebrate.  It’s really not fair on a multitude of levels, but I never ever thought about it until I was one of have-nots watching from the outside.

The Constant Struggle

I was driving home tonight after a game of cards with my sister-in-law.  It was late and the roads were empty.  I had the radio on to keep me company and a commentary came on called “push and pull.”  Basically it was all about how life was either one motion or the other.  As situations and events occur in our lives we are either pushed into them or pulled into them.

It spoke about the willingness or reluctance of our individual participation.  The monologue was really about striving more to have it be the ‘pull’ than the ‘push’ that influences what we do.  The word ‘pull’ was interpreted more as an attraction or desire drawing us in, versus the ‘push’ which meant resistance, disengagement, lack of interest. The positive and the negative.

It really resonated with me, because over the last couple of years, for the most part, life has been a ‘push’ for me.  I consciously have to battle with myself to make the effort to participate.  With Kevin’s death, I found I had no desire to do much of anything, after all for 30+ years he had been my world.  After he died pretty much everything was a ‘push’ for me.  It’s only lately that I have begun to feel a ‘pull’ with respect to any activities to occupy my time.  I feel the urge to write again – and for me that’s a tremendous relief.

Such a simplistic representation of life, and it describes my challenges completely.  To be ‘pulled’ or to be ‘pushed.’  My gratification and satisfaction levels raise exponentially when it’s the ‘pull’ that is the source of my motivation, so I guess I need to focus more on finding things that I am ‘pulled’ toward.

Another sad good-bye

Leonard Cohen died last week.  He had reached a great age and, as the media reports it, he died a peaceful man.  Cohen had released an album just last month, likely I will buy it – Kevin would have. There are some musical artists that are significant in my life because they were so influential on my husband while he lived.  The more notable ones were:  Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Philip Glass and Bob Dylan.  There were many more, but certainly these four were right up there.

I can’t and won’t even try to express what Kevin felt about these artists because, quite simply, I don’t have the musical knowledge or education to accurately explain it.  Kevin got music, and beyond that, he loved art and artistic expression; he was a creative soul that understood the nuances, the passion, the frustration and the genius of composition (in multiple art forms). I was just along for the ride.

It was Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing that proved inspirational for a whole series of Kevin’s paintings.  In his usual fashion, Kevin had taken Cohen’s poem, My Mother Is Not Dead, and spun it in his own way.  The particular lines from that poem are:

“Don’t worry about any of your relatives.

Do you see the insects?

One of them was once your dog.

But do not try to pat the ant.

It will be destroyed by your awkward affection.”

This segment from the poem became the basis of Kevin’s obsession with the ant on the hotdog.  He replicated the image over and over, in oils and acrylics, his artistic rendering of reincarnation.

So Leonard Cohen dies and it brings a whole fresh wave of grief for me, for Kevin’s death.  Selfish isn’t it?  Another family is suffering and all I can think about is me.  How life shortchanged Kevin, how brutal and cruel it was to him in the end, and what that meant for me.  Kevin should have had another 20 years to laugh, love and live.  I should have had that with him.  Our kids should have had that.  But they don’t, I don’t.  And sometimes the ache in my chest rolls around my heart until it feels like it’s being squeezed tighter and tighter, and there’s not a darn thing that I can do.  It’s my pain to manage, and sometimes not so well.