I’VE BEEN SWEATING lead-capped, high-caliber, silver bullets for three weeks, and here’s the reason why:
On the afternoon of March 28, I was sitting on the plaza downtown at a sidewalk table outside my sister-in-law’s coffee shop. Out walk a niece, her common-law husband and their daughter, Romina, who is two years old.
Go kiss your Uncle Felipe, the niece said, as her “husband” gave Romina a little urging in my direction, so over she trotted. I leaned over and planted one on her cute cheek.
I then asked where they were headed. To a doctor’s office, the mother replied. We think she has chickenpox … What! Internally, my head exploded. I was speechless. Unlike many people, likely most, I have never had chickenpox. So I am not immune.
While chickenpox is just a very itchy problem for kids, it’s quite a different matter for adults, and even more so for older adults, which is what I am. Among potential complications are pneumonia and encephalitis, swelling of the brain.
I ask myself, are these people living in the 19th century? Are they completely ignorant or just colossally irresponsible? I was dumbstruck and simultaneously angry on an epic scale. But I kept that to myself.
What I was facing was a cultural norm, a habit so deeply ingrained that it simply overrides all common sense. Coming and going, Latinos kiss friends and relatives, period. No matter what. It’s simply something you do.
I’ve lived with this for almost two decades. I’ve never liked it. I’m not a kissy person. I have little to no interest in kissing and hugging people aside from my child bride. But I’ve gone along with the custom, dodging it whenever I can.
I wish I’d dodged on March 28 because the child did have chickenpox.
That began three weeks of very sleepless nights, especially at the beginning. I learned online that chickenpox virus normally takes 10 to 21 days to incumbate in a new host, so you’re not out of the woods for three weeks.
But there is more. Further online investigation revealed that one can get the chickenpox vaccine after exposure. If you get it within three days, it reduces the probability of getting sick by 90 percent. Within five days, by 70 percent.
I liked those odds, so off I went to find the vaccine.
* * * *
Second dose of dumb
This was two days after the kiddie kiss. It was Saturday. Normally, I would have driven to the nearby capital city to the major hospital where we get our annual flu shots and whatever other vaccines are appropriate. But I was almost positive the vaccine office would not be open on a Saturday.
So I went to a government clinic here on the mountaintop where vaccines are available. It’s a humble spot on the outskirts of town. I was ushered into a small room where the door sported a sign that said Vaccines.
I explained my situation to the nice woman in there. She told me the chickenpox vaccine would not be available for another week or so. I responded something along the lines of: Yipes! That’s not going to help me at all.
That was when she went into another version of Latino Culture Mode, and that is to never say no. This trait is so widespread that it’s mentioned in virtually all tourist guidebooks.
Seeing that I was upset on hearing this, and I was, she decided to take a look into the fridge where vaccines were stored. And shocker! There it was. One sole, remaining dose of chickenpox vaccine. Whew! She gave me the shot.
Standard procedure here is to give the patient the label, or something, with the name of the vaccine. When I got home, I checked online about the shot she had given me. It was for measles, not chickenpox. I think the nurse knew this full well.
I think she just wanted to settle my mind. But what she had done was this: I had not received the chickenpox vaccine and, far worse, she had made it impossible to drive to the capital city on Monday to get the real deal.
Apparently, I learned, after receiving any anti-virus vaccine, one must wait at least six weeks before getting another. I was screwed in the vaccine department.
Were these cultural obsessions going to put me into the grave?
I sweated out the three weeks, which ended on Thursday. I did not get chickenpox. And I have announced to any relative within earshot that I am no longer available for kissing and hugging. They cannot be trusted.
And I’m still pissed off.