I got a flu shot last month. This was, like, a BIG THING. And yes, goddamnit, I am going to connect it to spirituality.
I have heretofore not had a flu shot as an adult. I assume I was required to get them as a kid, by my public school if no one else, but that makes well over two decades of no immunization and no illness. I cling to that fact with a pride that suggests I have some control over it.
Why fix what ain’t broken, I have said when asked why I don’t take advantage of the now free flu shots offered by my health insurance. As though that should apply to the complex nature of disease and infection. For all I know, I could already be broken, sloppily duck-taped together just beneath the surface, days from the snapping of the last frayed, sticky thread.
Folksy logic, combined with the mild aversion to immunizations embedded by my father, who was passively opposed to most Western medicine, has informed my choices for many years. Despite knowing the science. I know there is virtually no evidence that getting a flu shot can give me the flu or lower my immunity. I know that my erstwhile resilience probably has nothing to do with my avoidance of the needle and everything to do with luck and a naturally strong immune system (developed by the bacteria-embracing habits of same father?). I know there’s no evidence that beloved immune system will be weakened by a flu shot. When I try to figure out what in my informed brain pushes me to resist this lifesaving miracle, what emerges is some weird stew of colloquial belief and independence, with a dash of government mistrust. In other words, I am apparently an American Christian Fundamentalist.
And then there’s this: we adorable, pathetic humans favor narrative over facts. Even one story can tip the scales over thousands of facts. We are far more likely to believe our cousin who says that immunizations caused John Jr’s autism than we are the mountains of research that show there is no scientific connection between the two. I have read studies that demonstrate this irrational tendency. I am aware, even on alert for this tendency in my own adorable, pathetic brain. But you know what got me to get a flu shot this year? A story.
A friend around my age, who, like me, had never made the choice to get a flu shot and never had the flu … GOT THE FLU last year. She described it to me in graphic detail. She thought she was going to die. She has made her tale of woe into a pro-immunization mission. And it totally worked. Since my immunity to illness has not built my immunity to the state of being ill, I don’t handle illness well. I don’t know how to have a fever. I’ve never even had food poisoning. Worse than the physical discomfort, I become both self-critical and self-pitying when I’m even a little sick. Chances of me dying from influenza are slim, but I don’t know if I could emotionally survive a full-on case of the flu. I vowed to seek out and accept the plunge.
Disappointing, I know. But narratives can defend any line of thinking. This one supported scientific evidence, and encouraged my efforts to decrease personal hypocrisy, loosen my attachment to identity, and let go of long-held fears. For me, it required considerably more effort than the energy it took to bike to Walgreens, but it got done. A weird, tiny victory.