Nothing puts into stark reality better that you are heading to a foreign land than when you have to take health precautions. So it is with Brazil. Yellow fever, measles, and polio are on the worry list. I went to the government facility downtown on Friday where vaccines are given.
My first impression was here was a group of Jamaicans from the country. People looked just like those seen coming off a bus near Coronation Market. I mean that as an observation only. Women in simple dresses and head scarves. Men in plaid shirts and ragged trousers.
I went to the room designated for the shots. A few people were already seated there. We all looked different to the general population at the centre. We were all dressed a bit differently from the rest of the people, with crisp cotton shirts, pressed blouses, and neat shoes. We were the travelling class.
The public health nurse asked all of us into a small room. “You’re all here for vaccines for Brazil?” she asked.
She then apologized for the size and lack of decor of the room. (I wondered if she would have done that for any group, or if we seemed to warrant that.) She told us about the pre-existing conditions that may make us ineligible for the yellow fever vaccines–allergic to eggs, having had another live virus vaccine in the past four weeks, etc. She indicated that, if relevant, those things would be discussed individually. She then sent us out, except the first two people (a couple). I was next in line and waited with the others on a bench outside the room.
The couple and I had gotten into a good conversation about ethics and conflicts of interest. The man had started off by talking about an executive for Pepsi saying publicly that Coke was better. Would it be reasonable for him to keep his jobs. We played around with alternatives and ways in which lawyers would try to make the case fuzzy. I did not want to allude to the recent Bain case. Then the man, explained that he was thinking about the Bain case. I laughed and explained how I had wanted to avoid making that connection. We discussed some more before the nurse called us in. (Interestingly, I later read that Prof. Bain had received a court injunction on his dismissal from his UWI/CHART post, pending an appeal.)
I got into another set of conversations with those waiting, getting an idea of when people were heading to Brazil (one as early as Saturday), for how long (most for 14 days), if they were going alone or with friends (friends would be met in Brazil). I said we could for a Brazil support group. “I wont support Brazil!” came back a waggish reply from one man. Point made.
I went in for my jabs. The nurse was now accompanied by another plump and smiling lady, who had the card in front of her and wanted my personal details. We chatted about injections and the days as a child when we got the polio vaccine on a lump of sugar. No more: the public health nurse asked me to open my mouth and administered some drops on my tongue. They tasted bitter; I wanted my sugar cube. She then brought a tray with two needles. She kept talking and asked with which hand did I write. She then pulled up the left sleeve of my shirt, rubbed alcohol on the corner of my shoulder, and then stabbed me with the needles. I wondered if this was really a fun thing. I remembered times when I had to have injections in my bottom, and not being able to walk for a day or so. The little tingle in my arm was nothing. My card was signed and stamped and I was free to leave.
I saw again the man who had taken my money at the beginning. He had told me that he needed the vaccine, but had been too afraid to ever get it. I told him again to just ‘man up’ and get his jabs. “Later,…” he said, and I headed out.
The vaccines are only given on Fridays, and with my travel planned, I would not get another shot at them before heading to Brazil. I had been lucky to realize that, as I know that without the yellow fever vaccine, I was likely to be returned from Rio.
I had to join my daughter’s class on a visit to a basic school and headed there. Playing a little with those 3-6 year olds would take my mind off the arm that was beginning to throb a little.
The rest of the day was really diversion. My daughter and her class had their promotion from elementary to middle school (from 5th to 6th grade), at school, and a doctor friend of mine came to give the speech, inspiring them to focus, try hard, and surround themselves with friends with positive energy. I was nearly in tears in my role welcoming her, after watching the class perform poetry, song and dance to represent what 5th grade had meant to them. I hugged my daughter as she cried and someone tapped my shoulder. I let out a little yelp. They remembered my vaccine. No harm.
It was well after 2pm, and the principal invited us to watch the World Cup match that was already underway–Spain-Netherlands. Suddenly, the screen that had been used for a backdrop with images of the children’s year was filled with football players running. However, they had arranged the hook-up, it was good. A few people started to watch and I did too, for a few moments. I figured that heading home fast would be better, as half time had arrived. A fast drive over the hills, with some other people following who did not know the way.
Parents and children had been invited back to our house for a social, with some light food and drinks. The parents lounged on the verandah. The children, changed out of swanky dresses or nice trousers and shirts into tee shirts and shorts, started playing on the lawn. That was about 3.30pm.
Drinks were served. Food arrived–a nice easy array prepared by one of Jamaica’s top, young chefs, with pasta with vegetables, potato wedges, pineapple chicken wings, quesadilllas, and veggie wraps. Lay into that! The class teacher had also arranged some sandwiches, prepared as a whole loaf round. We tucked into that quickly.
I had put on the television as soon as I got home. A gaggle of people wandered into the TV room, that opens out onto the veranda, and slumped into the sofa. We were in the right place. Match-watching was underway. The kids grabbed food and drink and started to play on the lawn.
They were kicking a football, and soon, a game with about 15 boys and girls was underway. It kept going the whole afternoon, including with the addition of ‘super sub’ puppy, who plays football quite well, and barked and yapped with the kids for a good while. (One child was afraid of dogs and puppy got banished to a room inside the hose.)
The match watchers were comfortable. We absorbed the shock result of Spain losing 5-1 to Holland, including through a most spectacular header from Robin van Persie. Yes, he’s now ‘The flying Dutchman’.
I pointed out that the next match was coming up soon. More people crowded onto the sofa. The kids played on, some peeping in on their parents, but mostly absorbed in their own fun. The Chile-Australia match got underway at about 5. Fans were ready and cheering started early as the first Chilean goal was scored. More people came to huddle near the TV.
At half-time, we had a pause for a birthday celebration, with lighted candles and singing. Everyone grabbed their cake and soon returned to their places.
We, watching the match, stayed in the TV area till the game was done. The kids played on, most were now in the pool. The dog had been let out. All seemed calm in the yard. Some post-prandial torpor had set in.
It was about 7pm when people decided that it was time to go. My arm was aching as the side effects of the vaccine were apparent. People slowly drifted away, with children stacked together in groups that had set up sleepovers. It was clear that they had planned the afternoon of fun well. School officially had one more week to run, but my daughter was done. It had the feel of the end of term, and the afternoon just cemented that idea. Several children and their parents were due to leave Jamaica because of new work assignments. The sad reality of that was not dwelt on during the afternoon. It had its moment after the ceremony, when a wave of hugging and tears had begun. The class is a small, tightly knit bunch. The love each other.
I thought back to their afternoon, in contrast to their time with the little kids earlier in the day. At the basic school the morning had been filled with “He pushed me!”, “She hit me!”, “He wont share the ball…”, and so on. The children had many problems interacting without conflict. By contrast, my daughter’s class had spent about four hours playing with not a peep of dispute. I talked to her teacher to say that we needed to spend more time with the basic school kids.
At that time, as the children were leaving, some medical students arrived to study with my wife’s nephew. I showed them the left overs in the kitchen. Happy land. They shared out their meals and we started some little banter. They fired up an iPad and started watching highlights of the day’s World Cup matches. “That goal. How did he bend his neck so?”
World Cup fever is here, and I have the fever in my body.