For about 10 milliseconds, I considered turning down ONE’s invitation to travel to Ethiopia.
Because I had to get shots.
I was the little girl screaming and trying to run away while all the other kids stood in the long line snaking through the elementary school cafeteria, dutifully presenting their arms to the nurse for assembly-line immunizations.
I was the fully-grown woman crying in the travel clinic waiting room as I prepared for my trip to India in 1997.
I’m the one who routinely “forgets” to get my annual flu shot.
My panic moment was brief. I didn’t let it stop me from saying yes to one of the greatest opportunities in my life. But I was still terrified about getting those shots.
Rescripting the “scared” story
Diseases that seem distant here are a daily reality in much of Africa so I would need a full complement of vaccinations before I left. Hepatitis, Measles, Tetanus, Pertussis, Typhoid, Yellow Fever. Even rabies appears in the CDC list of recommended vaccines. Just saying the names of those diseases out loud made me shiver.
I made my travel clinic appointment and then set about rescripting the “scared” story. My nine year-old daughter, Mimi, is dealing with a few minor phobias right now, and I saw this as a way to model reframing a scary situation. Kids force us to become better versions of ourselves. If it weren’t for her, I’d probably curl up in the corner and rock back and forth until the appointment date arrived.
My new script sounded like this:
Yes, shots are unpleasant. But the whole episode will last maybe 10 minutes. I was in labor for 16 *hours.* I can handle this.
The last time I had a flu shot I literally didn’t feel a thing.
I’m lucky to have access to these medicines. I’ll be meeting people who don’t, and who must face losing their loved ones to preventable diseases.
The gravity of the last point brought me up short. Childhood vaccination is a major focus for ONE, and access to health care is something we’ll be learning about from a policy standpoint, and on the ground in Ethiopia. Suddenly my fear was seeming very small.
At the travel clinic
My daughter is fascinated by anatomy, medicine and health. She’s also one of the wisest, most loving people I know. She offered to come with me to the travel clinic. I asked if I could borrow one of her stuffed animals to hug during the procedure. She said yes.
My “rescripting” was surprisingly effective because I felt very little anxiety in the weeks leading up to the appointment. Even day-of, Mimi and I laughed about my previous shot stories. You cried the last time, Mom? Really?
My nurse informed me that I would need six vaccinations. Six? (Cue stomach lurch.) My daughter said, “Think of them as six tickets to the most wonderful place you’ve ever been.” God, I love her.
The nurse told me she’d be using the same needles she’d use for a baby. I hugged the stuffed animal and my daughter took pictures. The shots were over in minutes. Four of them felt like light taps on the arm, two stung for a second each.
When it was over, I hugged Mimi, and the nurse, too. I asked for a sticker (they didn’t have lollipops). Then I did a little victory dance in the office. And I imagined what my immune system must be thinking. INTRUDER ALERT, INTRUDER ALERT!! Mimi and I had a good laugh at all my band-aids, which I dubbed my Badges of Honor.
For the rest of the day, I showed off my Badges of Honor to anyone who would look.
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I’m traveling to Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign (one.org). We’ll report how lives are being improved or saved by American-supported programs. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing governments to keep their commitments to supporting programs that save lives. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice.
The idea behind the ONEMoms partnership is simple: the connection we share as parents extends around the world. When we recognize that connection and come together, we can make real change.
By joining ONE, you add your voice to millions who want to make a difference in the fight against poverty. ONE will never ask for donations and will keep your contact details confidential. I hope you’ll join.
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