Getting vaccinated is the first tangible thing that’s signaled to me that this trip is really going to happen. All of this talk of airplane tickets and accomodations and renting our house is still just that: talk. Today, I have the bruise and sore spot on my right arm to prove that we are leaving in four months. We’ve saved and saved our money, but until yesterday, there has been no financial committment to this trip. I was warned that the vaccinations alone would run us around $400, so this felt like a big step. There was no going back now.
But lo and behold, when we checked in for our appointment, we discovered that the insurance plan through Maikael’s work covers all travel-related vaccines and medications. We were shocked, which was soon followed by a feeling of intense gratitude. On behalf of The Thomas Family, we’d like to say to Maikael’s employer, “Thank you.” So we still have yet to make any financial obligations to this trip — even the plane tickets that will be purchased in the next week are fully refundable — but I’m sure it’s coming soon.
There is a national shortage of the yellow fever vaccine. The vial, which provides up to five doses, must be used within an hour, at which time it becomes inactive. Therefore, the clinic tries to get five people in at the same time to make the most of the vaccine. We shared the lobby with a young UNM student who is preparing to go to Africa to help a team of opthamologists in rural villages; an older gentleman bound for Kenya who loudly shared his “hilarious” story of videotaping large game in Africa; and a woman preparing for a mission trip to Uganda. As always, we were the odd ones out. And it wasn’t your typical doctor’s office conversation. “So tell me, dear, where are you going that has yellow fever?”
They like to make the most of your vaccination visit. The attitude seems to be, “Hey, you’re going to feel like crap whether we give you one vaccine or four, so why not do four today?” After receiving our yellow fever vaccine, Maikael and I stayed behind for our “pre-travel consultation.” I imagine this takes your average traveler about 10 minutes. We emerged two hours later with a ream of paper, a stack of prescriptions, and a gigantic box filled with medicine.
I loved the consultation office. The walls were graced with such cheery poster as, “Asia is wonderful. Japenese encephilitis is not.” There was also a table piled high with fake food, including rubbery-looking green beans, a plastic pork chop, and a very realistic looking tortilla fashioned from a folded round of felt. I tried to prod as to why the faux food was there — something to do with nutritional education, I imagine — but never got a clear answer. Our consultation included not only what vaccines and medicines we would need, but how to handle a wide range of general travel health issues. I now know that there are jellyfish in Australia that kill within three minutes of a sting; how to remove a stingray’s barb using only a tub of scalding water; that a jellyfish stinger can be removed with a razor and shaving cream; how to use iodine to sanitize my salad greens; and that I should poke a hole in the bottom of my bottles of water to avoid them being re-bottled with local water and given to unsuspecting travelers. We also debunked some myths, learning, for example, that rabies shots are NOT given in the chest or stomach as we had always suspected (turns out, that only happened on Lassie — it’s how rabies shots were administered in the 1950s after someone had been bitten by a rabid dog).
In the midst of the consultion, I realized that, depite the amount of preparation for this trip, there’s still so much we don’t know. At one point, the conversation went something like this:
“How long will you be in India?”
“Uh, three weeks? But we’re not really sure.”
“And will you be going to Iguassu Falls when you’re in Argentina?”
“For how long?”
“Uh, maybe three days?”
“How much time will there be between India and Indonesia?”
“Um, well, it depends on if we end up going to India or not. We’re just not sure yet.”
“So how many days between?”
We also discussed our required and recommended vaccinations, which will be administered in a series of doses over the next four weeks. By the time this is all over, we will be BFF with the NM Travel Health Clinic. Our vaccinations will include: Hepatitis A&B, yellow fever, meningitis, rabies, tetanus, polio, and the flu shot. We will also receive oral medication for malaria and, my hands down favorite, typhoid.
The nurse said, “I’m sending you home with the oral typhoid vaccine.” ”Okay,” I’m thinking, as I look around the room, ”where is it?” ”It’s in that box,” she says, pointing to a large shipping box. “And don’t laugh when you get home and open it.” I’m not sure what she means: is a Jack-in-the Box going to pop out or something? But when we get home, her warning is obvious. Packed inside this gigantic box, nestled between the styrofoam walls and ice blocks, are two boxes of typhoid vaccine that I can easily hold between my thumb and pointer finger. We gingerly place them between the yogurt and spaghetti sauce, happy that this journey has really begun.1 comment