04. Into the body
It’s lunchtime when Debbie comes up with her ”Have you taken vaccinations?”
My brain, lost in translation, suddenly receives the stimulus, my eyes wide open like that yellow emoji on Whatsapp.
There couldn’t be a more innocent – and worse – sentence to trigger my proverbial hypochondria. However, by injecting the fear into my veins before leaving, I believe that she has prevented me from having an even worse time should the thought occur after departure.
Hypochondriacs are very creative people. They imagine apocalyptic scenarios packed into a near dystopian future which make them entirely suitable for writing catastrophic movies screenplays.
Vietnam has started to show its less romantic side, like if the infatuation phase speeded up and our relationship drastically jumped forward to reveal our mutual flaws before time.
The unexpected risk of some (more or less) exotic disease and my fear of it was the breach of my plan.
Yellow warnings were threatening my love made of red sunsets and boats in backlight.
Only three weeks left before departure. Not enough time to activate the majority of vaccines.
The advice coming from Thao and then from multiple virtual voices come up to the same conclusion: vaccinations are not mandatory but highly recommended.
It appears to be a trick, a contradiction in terms.
Not mandatory. However, highly recommended.
I skim the sentence over and over again in the hope of finding a way to close the split between the two contrary sides, to build an invisible bridge that could make such opposite and ridiculous statements have the same consistent meaning to my eyes.
That sentence was releasing itself from any responsibility and giving me the obligation upon any potential consequence.
A remarkable emotional hypochondriac always surrenders herself to her fears, but not before having put them on a microscope slide, analysed clinically and prefigured any possible side effect.
The strong – “highly recommended” – takes over the weak, eventually.
The plan requires a quick remedial action, translated – after a bunch of phone calls – into five vaccines to be injected with a couple of shots booked in two days in a row. And it is just a basic covering.
I reach the first pharmacy after work. A tiny white-green hole embedded in between multicoloured shops lost in the middle of one of the biggest London shopping malls, Selfridges. A tricky signage gives me a hard time to locate it, making my anxiety levels rise. Waiting for the pharmacist, I think how odd is to have a vaccination there, while people around are buying expensive chocolate. In Italy you must go to the clinic – I think – and have the same pale and empathetic face as the others surrounding you.
Sitting on a corner of that small perimeter, whose boundaries from the adjacent chocolate shop are stated by three or four arched stairs and a change in the floor tiles, I watch those people focused on choosing between sweets boxes and bonbons. I feel like looking at something that I haven’t access to. And it isn’t just because of the 30 quid for a chocolate bar.
An invisible, imaginary and irrational emotive infirmity was keeping me aside from the sweetness of that parallel universe.
I was living an emotional quarantine from the rest of the world.
The pharmacist is reassuring. East European traits along with an accent that I cannot detect, he tells me not to worry, that the risk of anaphylactic shock after a vaccine injection is 1 out of 20,000 and that he is totally prepared for an emergency resuscitation, just in case.
Now, hypochondriac or not, I bet that each of us, in the exact moment of a vaccine injection, believes to be the one black sheep out of twenty thousand successful cases.
Sat in my corner again, monitored by the pharmacist, I wait for the standard five minutes after the injection pass. Looking at the chocolate now and then, I think that it would have been a true Italian drama to faint in the grip of an anaphylactic shock surrounded by those precious sweet bars.
I find the second pharmacy in the middle of Crouch End – a district not too distant from where I live – the following morning.
Microscopical messy shop, toiletries all over the floor, no space to put my feet.
The pharmacist, Middle Eastern traits along with a very recognisable accent, tells me that unfortunately, he has to give me two injections, not just one as booked, but I have not to worry since he is totally prepared for an emergency resuscitation, just in case.
Strange recurrent pattern.
The first unpleasant shot makes a dark blood rivulet pour along my arm with no disinfectant nor sterilised patch to clean it, and later a wide black bruise appears.
After the second injection, I don’t intend to wait for the usual five minutes. I suddenly leave that unpleasantry, pretty sure that I wouldn’t collapse to the ground. Enough.
Luckily there are vaccinations, and there are friends.
They both have contributed to dilute my worries.
Not satisfied, Debbie fills me up with plenty of any additional (medical) advice.
I’m ready to go.
Take a look at the whole Vietnam Photo Book here