“Not an Exact Science”: A Story of Facing Fear (Part one)

I should have accounted for the snow, but the first flurries of the season fell yesterday afternoon as I drove to the travel clinic at Lahey. I was getting my shots for my Peru trip and had worked myself into a state of near panic.

No, I’m not afraid of needles. It’s just that lately I seem to be terrified of everything having to do with this trip to South America. I’m not proud of it, and I’m not generally like this. Honestly!

Anyway, I sat in a waiting room about 35 min. to pre-register and still had not been called forward when I returned to the front desk concerned about missing my appointment. After three calls to the travel clinic, the clerk told me to head upstairs since the clinic was running “on-time” and they wanted me now.

Once I arrived on the seventh floor of Lahey West, I found another line in a waiting room in front of a large free-standing desk area. I must be in the wrong place. On the wall to my right, from beyond which I saw medical professionals and patients disappear and appear, a sign said “Neurology and ALS Center.” On the left side, just: “Neurology.”

I edged towards the desk, skirting the other line-waiters, hoping they would’nt think I was cutting, and then I saw the printout taped to the check-in desk: “Neurology, Ophthalmology, Pain Center, Travel Clinic, ….” Ah, this is the right place after all. The line moved fairly quickly. The gal behind the desk asked for my insurance card and my $20 co-pay. While standing there, it occurred to me that my trip to Peru will probably be a lot of hurry-up-and-wait kinds of moments like this. Here I am getting all worked up about the dangers of the trip, and most likely it will often be fairly uneventful, maybe sometimes even outright boring.

Then I remembered what a man from my church told me Sunday. He’s traveled extensively in the developing world, and his best advice was “just look at the people.” Evidently no matter what I encounter, if I can stay focused on the human beings in front of me, I will be fine. So I thought I’d practice a bit.

“I really like your hair,” I suddenly said to the check-in lady in front of me. It was the same style that I had wanted the last time my hairdresser cut my hair, but she had cut mine too short instead. But this woman’s hair was really lovely.

Her face just lit up. “Oh! Thank you so much! You know, my husband’s a hairdresser!”

She outlined the benefits and drawbacks of having a hairdresser husband while she processed my paperwork. Then she pointed me to the hallway on the left and said the doctor’s office was right around the corner. “Have a great trip,” she chirped.

The woman behind the next counter was on the phone. Above her on the wall, the sign read: “Center for Infectious Diseases and Prevention.” She seemed to be on hold and looked right at me, so I mouthed the name of the doctor I was to see, and the phone-lady nodded and pointed to a chair in the hallway. On the wall in front of me, a poster boldly proclaimed, “YOUR HEALTH is in your hands.”

Yeh, tell me about it.

Why on earth am I traveling to the middle of nowhere, a place where “Infectious Diseases” — and for that matter violence and natural disasters, too — are a matter of course? I am going there to try to help make a difference, to help save lives, to gain a new perspective on my life, I remind myself.

A nurse emerged from behind the counter and smiled, showing me into a tiny examination room. “So you’re going to Peru, huh. Business or pleasure?”

I had been stumped by that question on the form the clinic sent me, too. I mean, it’s not my “business” to install solar panels and emergency radios. I’m no engineer. I’m no documentary filmmaker or journalist, either. I am going on the trip with people from my place of employment, though, so it’s kind of like a business trip…. “Pleasure?” Well, not exactly that either, is it? Maybe the trip will be enjoyable. Maybe. But I’m not really counting on a lot of pleasure, per se. Interesting? Sure. Enlightening? No doubt. Pleasure? Hmmm. The image arises of hordes of mosquitoes, fleas, and rats moving toward me in little phalanxes…. “Service,” I answer finally.

We chat while she takes my blood pressure and temperature. Turns out she, herself, recently went on a service trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. I have friends from those countries, and it’s clear to me that those places are more dangerous than Peru. I’m impressed by my nurse. She doesn’t look very adventurous, yet she went on a service trip to Southeast Asia.

Enter, the doctor.

I knew going into this appointment that it would probably be filled with all kinds of scary information told to me because of liability issues, etc. I told myself not to get all hyper when I heard these disclaimers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stick to that resolution.

At my age, I am told, one in 250,000 people will have a serious reaction to the Yellow Fever vaccine I am thinking of getting. “What do you mean by ‘serious’?”

“Major kidney and liver damage. It’s a live vaccine, you know. But people die from Yellow Fever, so if you are going to be exposed, you need the shot.”

Then she kept asking me about whether I would be traveling below 8,200 ft on this one part of the mountain. How the heck would I know?! All I have to offer is a list of villages that we will be visiting. She tells me, “I’ve never heard of those villages and can’t find any information about them.”

Of course, you can’t. They are in the middle of friggin’ nowhere! …

(Part two will be posted tomorrow! Please check back to read the rest…)

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2 Responses

  1. I’d be so worried about the flight (not that you have to, this is a personal issue with me) that I would probably not worry about the rest.

    “just look at the people.” – wow, what great advice, though it is still hard to do sometimes!

    I really enjoyed this and am looking forward to reading part 2

  2. You’re a sweetheart to read such a “novel” of a post!

    I’m scared of flying, too, but I think I’ve got that one under control for now (famous last words!)

    Stay tuned 🙂

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