COVID YEAR 2.0/Post-Vac by
(150 Stories)

Prompted By Vaccination

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Got both my shots at Fenway.

Sweet as the Sox

Sweeping a doubleheader.

Then a free “lam job” at Staples;

Best “Get Out of Jail” card evah!


First taste of post-vac freedom:

Return to my barbershop to undo

My year of DIY haircuts.

Paul works his magic, as we chat away.

Now I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille:


Future plans include travel

Both far (Portugal?) and near (restaurants!).

But mainly to see my daughters.

And maybe never stop hugging them.


*         *          *


I originally designed this story as an RF* since most of what I had to say was really of a “gestalt” nature —  haircut, travel, see my daughters — that I could express in just a few words. But then I came to a final point I wanted to make about my father and I realized that I had a fair bit more to say on that.  So please indulge me a bit longer.

By way of background, my brother was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1947 while my father was in his residency at Duke Medical School.  At that time, the polio epidemic was raging — at least by pre-COVID standards — especially in North Carolina and other poor, warm southern states.  And, unlike COVID, polio particularly afflicted young children.  My father was dispatched, along with many of his medical colleagues, to “polio clinics” throughout North Carolina.  And he was so concerned about the epidemic that he insisted that my mother and brother immediately move up to New York City and stay with my grandmother in her small apartment for the duration of his residency.

I was born two years later, just after my father had become a professor at Yale Medical School and moved the family to Connecticut. In 1955, the Salk vaccine was approved.  My father — perhaps the most rational person I have ever known — was fanatical about his boys’ need to receive the vaccine as soon as possible.  Indeed, I recall that, though never the sort of parent to employ “scare tactics” with us, he showed my brother and me a photo very similar to the one below from a medical journal to make us realize what our lives in an iron lung would be like:


Notwithstanding this awful image, my brother and I had age-appropriate screaming and crying fits, particularly when we learned that the vaccine required not just one, but three (obviously excruciating) shots.  My father — indeed, both my parents — were unmoved. And, through his position at Yale, my father was able to get the vaccine slightly sooner than it was generally released to the public schools. So he brought the vaccine home as soon as he could, so at least all of my brother’s and my hysterics when he gave us the shots — and I doubt they really hurt that much — did not take place in front of our classmates.

But that was not the end of our father’s torture of us with the Salk vaccine.  Further research suggested that a fourth shot, and later a fifth shot, were medically advisable.  Again, we screamed both in advanced protest and during their administration, but to no avail; our father jabbed us each two more times.  And, when the Sabin vaccine came out a few years later, of course our father insisted we get that too. But that was in a sugar cube, so no biggie even for us vaccination cowards.

My father served in China during World War II in a mobile medical hospital very much like the one in M*A*S*H, only much more out in the open. Some years ago, he confided in me that, as horrific as his memories were of performing “meatball surgery” virtually on the battlefields, he was never as worried as he was when he saw the devastation of polio in North Carolina.  Or, conversely, as relieved as when the Salk vaccine was released and we were innoculated.

All of this family history is included as a preamble to my final, non-RF point.  As I sat at Fenway and delightedly got my second COVID shot, gazing at all the cool Red Sox memorabilia surrounding me and thinking of what this vaccination would mean to me, I had a sudden recollection of getting my polio shots from my father and the happiness it brought the guy pictured below, even as his chicken kid screamed and squirmed:


* I use the acronym “RF” for stories of exactly 100 words (you know what I mean) because usage of the full term would likely trigger the Retro system’s search capabilities to wrongly lead readers to this story, which is about 680 words longer than an RF. In other words, RF, in this context, is the word that dare not speak its name.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I am so glad you added your addendum about the devastation of polio and getting vaccinated against that, John. I, too, remember those vaccinations, lining up in my elementary school for them. One of my dad’s sisters, born in 1899, had polio, but was a lucky one. She only wound up with one leg slightly shorter than the other, so wore special shoes to make up the difference. When I started dating Dan and went to his parent’s home in Newton, their next door neighbor – a brilliant, married man, who worked from home – was in an iron lung as a result of polio. They had a back-up generator at the house for fear of a power outage. But he kept up with his work life, he had an attentive, lovely wife (who we would see on the social circuit after he died). I remember the awe and respect with which my in-laws spoke of him. Mitch McConnell said he rushed to get the vaccine since he had polio as a child. Too bad he hasn’t made it his priority to drum it into the head of ALL Republicans to do the same!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. And I really appreciate your comments on the devastation of polio — amazing story about Dan’s parents’ neighbor. As I stressed in my story, my father sure pounded the point into my brother and me.

      And, yes, I knew about McConnell having polio. But like mosdt Republicans, he is a total hypocrite and only care about these matters when they personally affect them. Just like Orrin Hatch, who suddenly came out in favor of stem cell research because he had a grandson with juvenile diabetes who could be helped by it.

  2. Thanx for your polio vax story John and the sweet tribute to your doctor-dad!

    And very cool getting shot at Fenway! We’re big Bronx Bomber fans and altho shots were being given at Yankee Stadium, we were perfectly happy getting vax appointments at our neighborhood Mt Sinai Hospital!

    Stay safe!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Thanks for the polio story (and the preceding RF)–your dad clearly loved you dearly, and so fitting to remember him now. I also remember iron lungs and the panic around polio, although we were in Michigan and didn’t get the worst of it. I also remember the pleasure of getting the ORAL vaccine when it came out, as I too had trauma with the needles early on. I find that people who lived through the devastation of earlier infectious diseases, now thought to be historic (but not!) appreciate the need for vaccination much more than those who haven’t experienced that.

  4. Suzy says:

    Very glad you didn’t stop at the RF, and instead added the fascinating story about your father and polio. Plus a great picture of him! As I said in my story, I never heard my parents talk about being worried, but your father told you. That picture of all the iron lungs is terrifying! Glad you succumbed to getting the shots, even with lots of screaming and crying. I have a sudden recollection that they might have been given in the buttocks – do you think that was the case?

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. The part about my father really seemed to deserve more attention.

      As I mentioned in my comment on your story, I recall that some shots were given in the buttocks, but am pretty that I got my polio ones in the arm. I need to ask one of my doctor friends if most shots can be given in either place or whether it depends on the nature of the shot and/or size of the dose. In any event, with so many shots now being given in pharmacies behind tiny little screens, I sure understand why they are so frequently given in the arm. (Indeed, the lawyer in me could imagine a sexual harassment suit against any inoculator who insisted on a buttocks shot.)

  5. Marian says:

    I, too, am glad you added the part about your father and what he thought. Polio was a terrible scourge. Even though I don’t know anyone in our generation who had it, one of my favorite professors at Mills used canes, and then a walker, because of it. Dr. Pope was a sparkly, very tiny woman. It was so sad when she had a lot of post-polio syndrome problems and died in her 60s.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Marian. Yes, even now I still meet people who survived but were severely disabled from polio. Almost all mention that people under a certain age seem never to have even heard of the disease.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I loved your RF, John, as it captured how I feel at this point in the pandemic. And I’m so glad you added the story about your father and the polio vaccine. Of course, I remember that era and the fear of my parents, especially in the summers. We were not allowed to be in public places or go swimming. My older cousin was in an iron lung and I vividly remember visiting her. That was enough to forestall any protests over getting the shot.

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