Immunizations

While I loved to travel overseas, getting our shot records up to date before leaving was . . . a pain—in the arm. —Vann Baker


I my first encounter with the “shot doctor” before going to Germany in 1962. It would not be my last.
As a child I had my immunizations needed for starting the first grade, but this was nothing compared to what we needed for traveling to what was then called West Germany.

Late in the summer of 1962, my mother took myself, my brother and my baby sister in our red and white Chevrolet Bel Aire, onto the sprawling post that was Fort Benning, not far from Columbus, Georgia where we lived.

We lived off post and it was always exciting to go to where dad had been working before he left for Mannheim, Germany. But little did we know what was in store for us this day.

As would often be the case, dad had gone on to his duty station ahead of us, missing out on all the packing, car selling, and other requirements for the rest of the family to join him.

Since there were always waiting lists for post housing, it made sense for dad to go on ahead and get us on a list and spare us the trouble of living off post and having to move twice, but this meant a lot of work for my mother in addition to the daily routines of raising three children under the age 9.

We arrived at a processing center that was in a smaller building, separate from the hospital. It was a red brick building, but then again, most of the buildings and houses in Columbus, Georgia were also red brick. Columbus was smack in the middle of red clay country, and red bricks were made by thousands every day by Bickerstaff and others.

We took our place in the back of the long, along with other families. There was not a lot of polite conversation as every few seconds you would hear the crying of children coming from inside the room where the line terminated, and the whining of the children further back in line wondering aloud what was going on.

My brother and I were no strangers to needles. About two years before this, we had both gotten tetanus shots after our boxer knocked us down and scratched us up trying to wrestle with us. But this was different, very different.

While we were not at in the hospital, the place reeked of the antiseptic smell that hospital labs had, mostly from the constant swabbing of arms with alcohol pads.

Finally it was our turn. The nurse administered the shots to my sister first. My mother tried to distract her, which worked for about two seconds, and after that she was giving her lungs a good workout.

My brother and I were next. This was first time I had been addressed as, “Young man.” Followed by, “this won’t hurt . . . ” I did my best not to think about the shots, but I wanted to see, and the first two were small needles and didn’t sting that much, but the last one really hurt my arm.

I knew if I cried I would never hear the end of it from my brother and I secretly hoped he would cry first so I would have the pleasure of reminding him of how he was crybaby for a few days or weeks, or until he threatened to beat me up. But he didn’t cry either and just rubbed the needle entry points.

Finally it was all over and my mother was handed the bright yellow immunization records that would travel with with us for many years.

Like a passport, the shot record document was stamped, signed and a record of what shots we had received was recorded. Without the proper immunizations, entry into certain countries was not permitted, and could have meant sickness and death we later learned.

Before I left home after high school, part of my rite of passage was my mother giving me my medical records and my shot record, so I would have my medical history to take with me.

I still have my medical records, and I used to have the bright yellow shot record, but it became yet another victim of the many moves I have made after beginning my “civilian” life.

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2 Comments
  1. Going to Japan as a kid was a nightmare but very adventurous. It took 8 shots and an extra one before walking up the gang plank in San Francisco. The US Mann was a WWII ship so it had no special renovations. We hit a huge typhoon that tailed us across the Pacific. After over a month we ran out of food, only saurkraut was left which we had for all three meals that last couple of days.

    I miss the old Japan of the early 50’s. We all had maid and I had art lessons from her and an old Japanese man who could not speak English. He would bring things for me to draw in an ofurow (thick silk bandana).

    Peggy Firth

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  2. The shot gauntlet I remember was when I was ten, and we had six weeks to be in Germany. I remember walking through this line, where you would get a shot, say, in the right arm, move forward to get a shot in the left arm, and so on. I even remember which arm received which shot. Right arm: tetanus, tiphus polio. Left arm: small pox vaccination, and the alltime bad bugger, typhoid! My arms were so swollen for 2 days, I rested in our padded rocker with pillows on the arms.

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