This won’t hurt a bit by
(20 Stories)

Prompted By Vaccination

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In 1957,  travel overseas meant lots of shots for our whole family—Mom. Dad, and three children.  I was the middle child, age 6.   We had to go to a special clinic in downtown Lansing, and we children were promised we would be taken out to dinner if we “behaved”.  This would be a big deal and special treat indeed; we virtually never ate outside the home.

The youngest sister cried and carried on, but my older sister and I were big girls, and submitted bravely to the really long and painful needles for typhoid, typhus, cholera–and there must have been others, because I’m sure we were subjected to more than that.  There were no measles or varicella vaccines yet, but we all had smallpox scars on our shoulders.  Maybe the needles just seemed enormous to a small child, but I am inclined to believe they were longer and duller and more evil back then.  In any case, we the brave were rewarded with a grown-up dinner with  Mom at Bill Knapp’s, a family restaurant across the highway from the Frandor shopping center, while the youngest sister was stuck home with Dad.

The next morning was agony—we could hardly move our arms, and the slightest effort resulted in searing pain.  Arms were red and swollen; maybe we even had fevers.  No one was happy.  It was the sort of cruel truth about consequences we also learned the hard way after tonsil surgery—yes, you can have ice cream, but your throat will hurt too much to enjoy it.

When it came time for the booster shots (What?  There are more?) in a few weeks, we had a better idea what we were in for. Despite the thrilling possibility of another dinner (this time it would be Howard Johnson’s, with 28 flavors of ice cream!), the youngest one was once again in tears, and this time I had a complete meltdown when I got inside the doctor’s office.  As they approached me with the needle, I started screaming and, as the story goes in the family lore, I literally climbed up the curtains to escape.  I remember this.  It was terror.  I must have been subdued somehow, and subjected to the shot torture, but I certainly did NOT get any HoJo dinner, let alone ice cream. I was relegated to eat at home with the little sister, while the older sister had her special moment alone with Mom.  Of course I felt terribly wronged, since the problem was clearly with the shot and not me.

I still am not fond of needles, but have gotten to know them well. When I am at the COVID vaccination clinic, cheerfully chatting up the folks,  they tell me that they “hardly felt a thing” after I have given them the jab.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Thanx Khati, I can see you and your sisters braving – or not braving – those shots and little Khati climbing up those curtains!

    And now you’re at the other end of the long needle – so keep jabbing until we’re all safely immune!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I don’t think they even have curtains like that in medical offices anymore—I clearly remember they went to the floor, and first I tried to hide behind them, then started to shinny up when that didn’t work. To no avail of course.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Khati, somehow, I remember getting shot in my behind. Am I making that up? I know my kids (who are 35 and 32) certainly got everything in their arms. The kid’s pediatrician had them look at the spot where the needle would enter and blow hard, keep blowing as a way to distract them. Somehow, that worked. I, personally, am squeamish, so though I don’t actually mind the needle, I will NOT look! But the story of you literally climbing the curtains is priceless. You obviously got over it all and became a wonderful, caring doctor.

    I have a close friend who is a well-known animal behavioralist. She commented that if we want people to get over vax-hesitancy, quit showing all those big needles going into peoples’ arms on TV. Don’t underestimate how many people are afraid of the needle itself. I thought that was an interesting point.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      One of the questions we ask before proceeding is whether people have a problem with needles—so we can be forewarned in case they might end up on the floor. Distraction is usually the best approach.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Misery loves company, Khati, so thanks for sharing your distaste (to put it mildly) of needles. That said, I don’t know if the needles have gotten better, the injectors more skilled orI am just a big boy now, but shots really don’t bother me at all these days.

    And, in response to Betsy’s point, I also remember that some shots went into the fanny. I’m not sure if I preferred those to the ones in the arm. But I sure remember preferring oral thermometers to rectal ones.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I remember shots in the behind and rectal thermometers too. And mercury to boot. The location of an injection depends on the muscle mass. Even now, for intramuscular injections over 1 cc, (B12 shots, antibiotics etc) we usually use something other than the arm, e.g. the gluteus. Many babies get their shots in the thigh. But big boys and girls get every vaccination I can think of these days in the deltoid. And I agree, they don’t hurt like they useta.

  4. Suzy says:

    This is wonderful, Khati! The bribery of dinner at a restaurant if you behaved was a clever move by your parents, but only worked for you the first time. Good comparison with the “cruel truth” about tonsillectomies. And, like other commenters, I love the image of you climbing up the curtains in an attempt to escape. Thanks for this story, and thanks for giving Covid shots now, and doing it gently. You obviously have the same technique that my father did, making it not hurt at all.

  5. Marian says:

    Aww, I can imagine your reaction, Khati, knowing what those awful shots were like the first time. To Betsy’s point, I recall getting shots in my derierre as well and think my smallpox scar is on my outer hip. Is that possible? Anyway, I’m sorry you missed your meal at HoJo’s. They did have delicious ice cream.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      As Suzy noted, smallpox vaccine could probably be administered any convenient place, though I hadn’t heard of the hip. But why not? Mine is upper outer arm, the default. Fortunately, HoJo’s didn’t close the book on multiple flavors of ice cream, so I have worked my way through quite a few since those days. One of the best was Bud’s ice cream, on 24th and Castro–maybe you know it, as you are in the SF area. Here in the South Okanagan, we have “Tickleberry’s”–not as good, but enormous helpings, and local. Come try when you can ever travel again.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    This story brought back so many memories, Khati. For one, the promise of ice cream after my tonsillectomy with no one explaining it would hurt too much to swallow. Then there was HoJo’s, or any family restaurant, which was also rare in my home growing up. Like you, I hated those childhood shots, but the Moderna jabs and flu shots are relatively painless going in. And I do remember those shots in the rear. Still don’t know why they had to go there, but I got penicillin whenever the pediatrician made a house call for a fever. Great medicine!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Penicillin—the wonder drug! It is, but of course useless for the viruses that caused the common cold—and now we try to limit antibiotic use to avoid resistance and side effects. Sometimes people don’t like that either. The volume of the shot would dictate giving it in the buttock muscle. Not so many paediatric house calls anymore—another memory of the times.

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