Do you remember that scene in “Reality Bites” when Winona Ryder is interviewing for a job and the stodgy old lady in the fancy office asks her to define irony and she can’t think of anything good to say, and then the elevator closes in her face and she is miserable because she doesn’t get the job? I love that scene. I love that whole movie. I especially love the part when Winona Ryder and Janeane Garafolo are dancing to “My Sharona.” It just makes me want to dance! But I am digressing… I was thinking of Winona Ryder and irony when I was laying in bed being sick this weekend, in between episodes of The Office, when I was supposed to be in Denver running a 5k.
Ever since the official start of flu season, I have been wearing a surgical mask when I work at the hospital. Yes, just like the hunting season and the winter season, there is an official start date of flu season, and I know this because it is the day I had to start wearing said mask, per hospital dictum. PS, dictum means the same thing as mandate or order, I just happened to really enjoy using it in a sentence just then. Anyway, the surgical mask has inspired a lot of things, and not just my sense that my patients tend to pay closer attention when I walk in the room, which I think is because they at first regard me as someone “important”, like a surgeon maybe. My wearing of this mask, beside provoking a really hot, sweaty, claustrophobic feeling, the unpredictable fogging of my glasses, and the misery of not being able to spontaneously take a sip of coffee while I am charting, has also elicited the question, “Why are you wearing a mask?” I can count on one hand the other employees who are part of the exclusive Nu Phi Sigma (No Phlu Shot) fraternity, so it is a reasonable thing to ask. The simple answer is that I declined the flu shot, and the hospital gave the “option” of getting the vaccine or wearing the mask for the duration of the flu season, which is officially from December 1 to April 1. The longer answer depends on to whom I am speaking. It includes repeated utterances of this phrase, growing louder with every refrain, sometimes followed by exaggerated hand gestures indicating “No” and “Flu Shot” (my hands waving in front of me, as if in an “X,” then miming the motion of injecting a syringe into my arm) if I am trying to explain it to a geriatric, hard of hearing patient who now has the added challenge of having zero opportunity to read my lips. If I am talking to a co-worker, I might talk in a little greater detail about how I’ve never had the flu before, never gotten the flu shot, and was not comfortable with the risks, however small, of actually getting the flu, or much worse, Guillan Barre (a debilitating neurological condition), both of which are proven to be associated with the flu shot itself.
And then BAM, as if the universe were peering down at me going “How’s that for irony!?”, I ended up in bed with what could only be the flu after spending virtually all winter touting my own perfect immune systems. Curses!