I was 21 years old when I embraced the word “free” and took a free flu shot offered at my job. I soon regretted it.
That night, my temperature soared to 104 degrees. I had chills, sweated profusely and couldn’t eat. I contemplated driving myself to the hospital because the last place you wanted to be found dead was in my crappy apartment.
But I made it through the night and went to the newsroom that Saturday morning. I melted listlessly behind my desk. My afro was a mess, a dead giveaway that something was amiss. I explained to my editor that the flu shot had zapped me and that I was exhausted and weak. He sent me home to rest.
Unless proven otherwise, that was my last flu shot. Now I face the COVID-19 vaccine question?
Like many black people, and especially those around my age and older, I remember the shocking news of the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” The government’s 40-year-long secret horror show followed 600 black men in rural Alabama with syphilis. The government refused to tell them their diagnosis and denied many of them treatment. The lives of those men and families were ruined and many died.
That deadly chapter ended in 1972, only after someone leaked it to the media.
That reminder, and the “there may be other experiments we don’t know about,” put me in solid opposition to taking the vaccine anytime soon. Maybe in late 2021, but not until I have seen many months of evidence about its efficacy and after-effects. Others say privately “I won’t take it until I see what happens to White people.”
Yet, barring a mountain of bad news, I will take the shot as soon as I can. Why? I want my life back and I am willing to take the risk.
My life has been a series of taking risks and this is another one. As a reporter, I took chances when I covered some stories in places where I put my safety in my back pocket to get an interview or to make an observation that would be crucial to my story.
I go to restaurants and I have no idea whether someone is adding something to my food, my water or my soft drink. I don’t know if the meat or other food is accidentally contaminated.
I have taken medical shots (not for the flu) and I didn’t know exactly what was being put into me. I relied on the doctor. I have taken pills, trusting the doctor gave me the correct prescription and that the pharmacist put the right medicine and dosage in the bottle.
And I trusted that I would wake up and be healthy when doctors put me to sleep for a medical procedure. There were no guarantees in any of that.
I want my life back. I want to be around my family and friends. I want to have fun tailgating at football games. I want folks over to testify about the goodness of my barbecue. I want to hug my brothers and sisters without fear. I want to visit and chat with my mother-in-law.
It would be nice to listen to my pastor and choir while sitting shoulder to shoulder with members of my church. I want to hug my children and grandchildren on a regular basis. I want to hang out with the men and women I grew up with.
I want to embrace and console my family and members of other families that I know are hurting at funerals instead of having to stand over here or there but not with them. Or having to just stay away altogether.
I want to chill with my grandson and give him some face-to-face life advice.
And, I want to hug my four-year-old and three-year-old granddaughters at the same time and have them hug me back. And I want to hear them argue: “That’s my Pop” and the other respond, “No, that’s my Pop.” I want that. I need that.
I know about the risk but give me the damn shot. I need my life back.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.