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Maddie came into our bedroom late Sunday night complaining of being itchy all over. Myself being sleepy all over, I told her to climb in bed with me and go back to sleep.

Monday morning she woke up looking like she had little bug bites across her trunk. Unsure as to whether or not it was bites or an allergic reaction, but not seeing anything severely wrong, I sent Maddie off to school with crossed fingers.

By the time Maddie came home after school, the poor girl had giant hives – I mean, a single hive four inches across – in her armpits, across her chest and back, down her legs, and starting onto her neck. Pretty certain by this time that it was a reaction of some kind rather than bites, but wanting to be sure, I took Maddie straight to my dermatologist to get an expert’s opinion.

The verdict? An allergic reaction to her flu shot.

Maddie’s never had a reaction to a vaccine before. She’s never been allergic to eggs, and she got the “dead” version, the shot, rather than the “live” inhalation vaccine.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening feeling crabby about the flu shot and its necessity. I struggle with vaccines and though I do believe strongly in childhood vaccination, we did vaccinate on an alternate, more spread-out schedule. And I’ve heard lots of doctors admit that the flu shot is often a crap shoot, covering just a few of the dozens of strains out there every year. At best, they say, you’ll have a lesser bout with the flu if you do catch it.

So I’m feeling counter-societal, ready to swear off flu vaccines forever, when I go teach class last night and run into a despondent teenager. When asked why she was so down, she said, “A friend of mine’s sister died of the flu last night. She’d been in the hospital for several days and just died yesterday.”

“How old was she?” I asked sympathetically, expecting to hear about an infant or toddler.

“Thirteen,” she replied.

And that put Maddie’s hives into a little bit better perspective.


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