I should have been more suspicious. Every other year, I got my flu vaccination in the clinic near our apartment. I go in, get sprayed in the nose, and walk out ten minutes later. So why, this year, did Quint wait until I came to the hospital with him to volunteer as Jagger’s handler, and then suggest we take care of it before I started for the day? Why did he pass Jagger off to a group of doctors and nurses—all very eager to pet him—and bring me into his office alone?
These are the questions I should have asked myself. But I didn’t. It was only when he closed the door behind us with a heavy sigh that I had the slightest inkling something was up. And then he sprang it on me, in his most composed way, with his head kindly to one side and a lot of ‘angel’s sprinkled throughout.
I… took it poorly. My response involved the choice few French swear words I’ve managed to pick up from Seb. Quint, not having a sink, toothbrush, or non-toxic soap nearby, made do with a hearty, stinging swat to my backside, and then planted me nose-first against his bookshelf. The titles written on the spines of the medical journals were somehow more boring than the blank wall of my corner at home. At the moment, though, I wasn’t reading them. More like trying to burn holes in them with my eyeballs.
“This is bullshit.”
“Young man, I will find a less-crowded section of the hospital in which to spank you if you continue cursing at me.”
“I’m not cursing at you,” I said. “I’m cursing at the CDC.” With the heat of the earlier swat still faintly burning my butt, I wanted to be clear on that. “Who are they to say the nasal vaccine isn’t effective anymore?”
“Yes, it does seem well outside the expertise of the Centers for Disease Control,” he replied dryly. “Although they simply made a recommendation based on the available evidence.”
“Flu cases over the last several years among those who used the nasal vaccine. Would you like to see the data?”
He could show it to me, too. I had no doubt. “No. But how is it suddenly less effective?”
I heard him sigh. “If I explained the many contributing factors to you, you would accuse me of using medical gobbledegook, and it wouldn’t change anything. The hospital did not order FluMist, nor did any other vaccine provider in the city. Nonetheless, you need to have a flu vaccination to continue volunteering here, and to help protect yourself and Seb, who is more prone to infection when his glucose is elevated. I know this is difficult, angel.”
I pulled one of the books out a half-inch and pushed it back in. He didn’t tell me to put my hands by my sides, which said a lot about his sympathy levels right now. Still, I felt resentful and trapped. “You tricked me into this.”
“That wasn’t my intention,” he said, and his voice was closer now, and quieter. “I’m sorry. I simply wanted to limit the amount of time you had to wait. I thought it would also help if I did it myself, rather than a nurse you don’t know. Turn around, please.”
I did. He stood just behind me, big and solid between me and the door. Not that I was thinking of bolting. Well, not seriously. Rubbing my nose, I said, “I really thought I’d gotten better about needles since Seb moved in.”
“You have,” he said. “I’m very proud of you and the progress you’ve made.”
“How come I feel like crying, then?”
Rather than answer, he pulled me into a bone-deep hug. I clung back, and didn’t loosen my hold even as he brought me over to the chairs in front of his desk. “Angel,” he said, brushing his fingers through my hair, “it’ll be over in less than a minute if you’ll let me go.”
“Just a sec.” I took a big whiff of his almond after-shave, for courage. Then I slowly released him and sank into the chair. “Okay, hurry up.”
He was already tearing open an alcohol wipe. Pushing my sleeve up, he rubbed it in a circle on my skin, and then reached behind him for something on his desk. “Look at the far wall, please.”
I didn’t need to be told that twice. The last thing I wanted was a glimpse of the long metal pointy thing he was about to stick me with in the name of making me healthier. Modern medicine, isn’t it a marvel?
Then he said, “Sing to me.”
I blinked. “What?”
“It’s a distraction technique.”
“Like one you use on your patients?” I asked, giving him a suspicious side-eye.
“Yes. Does that matter?” he asked. “It works for adults, as well. Sing me a song, please.”
I laughed a little, humorlessly. “Any requests?”
“How about Jump in the Sea?” he asked, which made me smile for real, if weakly. That’s the first song I ever wrote for him, back when he was being reluctant and noble about our age difference. It’s still one of our favorites.
Quietly, I began on the chorus. “Go, go, go, in the water, jump, jump, jump in the sea.”
He took hold of my arm just above the elbow. “Relax your bicep as much as you can. Good.”
My voice got louder as my heart sped up. “Don’t be afraid by the size of the waves, get over your fright and hold on tight to meeeeee– Ow!”
“That was it,” he said quickly. “All done.” He set the syringe down behind a stack of papers where I couldn’t see it. “Let me just put a bandage on this so you don’t get a spot of blood on your shirt.”
“It still hurts,” I said. Not as much as I was expecting, though.
“It’ll stop in a minute.” He smoothed a Monsters Inc.-branded band-aid over my arm, and then bent his head and dropped a kiss on it. “See, all better,” he said, smiling.
I started laughing. “Do I get a lollipop for being a good patient?”
“Yes, you do. There’s a bowl of them on the nurses’ station. You can grab one when you pick up Jagger.”
“Thank you, Doctor, but now my lips hurt.” I puckered them up pointedly.
He indulged me with another kiss—one that went beyond the bounds of proper doctor-patient relations, I must say—and then pulled me to my feet by the arm he still had hold of.
“Go on, angel. Sick kids are waiting to see you and Jagger.”
I went, but by the door, I paused and looked back. “Are we going to have to do this again next year?”
Picking up the band-aid wrapper to toss in the trash, he said, “The CDC will continue to review the data and update their recommendations as needed.”
“So you don’t know?”
He shook his head. “I wish I were able to tell you.”
I could see he did, too. “It’s alright,” I said. “Maybe next year I won’t swear at you.”
His lips twitched. “One can hope. I love you.”
“Love you. See you later,” I said, and left.
All through that day, I told the kids about getting my shot (well, a heavily-edited version of it), and showed off my band-aid. They were suitably impressed.