Twice in the last month I've been asked if I wanted the flu shot. The first time I was asked, the nurse was a bit hesitant, "Now, I know you usually decline it, but I'm obligated to ask...do you want a flu shot this year?" Just like last year, and every year since Ronan's health took a nose dive, I gave her the same reply, "Nope. All set. Thanks."
This nurse, who happens to be one of our favorites, looked up from the computer and apologized for asking, "I'm so sorry to have to ask you that. You know I respect your decision, but I can't get to the next screen without answering this prompt..." I thanked her. Other nurses have not been so kind, so I smiled and said, "I understand. Ronan doesn’t need a flu shot today, thank you."
Years ago, I wouldn’t have been so calm. Being asked if I wanted that shot used to make me really upset. I’d still be polite in my reply, but deep down, I was boiling.
Didn't they know that was one of the worst shots Ronan ever got?
Didn't they remember how awful things got soon after for him?
Can't they see that we're still dealing with the side effects from the last time he got that shot?
Of course they could see! Most of the time, though, their hands are tied. The nurse or whoever’s checking Ronan into the system is following orders from their employer. Thankfully, this nurse knows us well enough to not push us. That’s why when the flu shot was brought up in that appointment, like I knew it would, I was able to let the question she must ask go in one ear and out the other.
Unless I continue the conversation and offer why I’m saying ‘thanks but no thanks’, newer medical providers we sometimes need to see will never fully understand why we’ll never opt for that shot again. So when I was asked the second time in recent weeks if we’d like a flu shot, I let the new nurse we’d just met know why I was saying no.
Having just met, she didn’t know that Ronan had been a happy, typical baby. Nor could she know that Ronan got sick after the flu shot all those years ago. When she met him, Ronan was a non-verbal vaccine-injured teen who has seizures and autism. I could’ve gone on the defense and given her an earful, but I kept it simple.
With Ronan on the exam table, and she at a small counter facing her computer, I watched the nurse scroll to a new field on the screen. Pausing with her hand hovered over the mouse, she asked, “Will Ronan need a flu shot today?”
“Oh, no thank you,” I replied
Never glancing my way, the nurse answered, “Okay,” and clicked a box on the computer screen.
Thinking she was done with that question, she started to scroll down the page. She paused mid-scroll and then scrolled back up.
Here we go, I thought.
Turning to face me, she asked, “Has he already had one, or is it a preference not to get one?”
My simple answer should have been sufficient, but I added to it, “Ronan had a reaction to the shot the last time he got one. We’d rather not see him have a reaction again.”
Concern fell over her face as she said, “Ohhhhh. I understand.” Looking back at the computer she said, “Got it. Okay, let’s see. Next question…”
I could’ve gotten the stink eye, a lecture, or worse, been dismissed from the practice like other parents are being dismissed for foregoing shots. But as easy as that, she moved onto the next screen and to the next question.
I know it isn't these two kind souls who are the ones asking the annoying question I’d grown to hate - it's the system that wants to know. With how available the flu shot is, especially this time of year, I get to tell the system that when it comes to some medical interventions, we’re all set.
When we're asked if we want the flu shot, I say nope.
When we're asked if I'm sure, I say yep.
If I’m asked for a reason, I’m honest.
If whoever’s asking doesn’t like the answer I’ve given, I am free to walk out the door and never return. I may not always have the luxury to do that, but thankfully, we haven’t run into a situation where I need to pack up our stuff and leave immediately. In the future should I ever feel threatened, though, I will be ready to do that.
It took years of reading and it took lots of time to build the confidence I needed to be able to say ‘no, thanks’ to our mainstream providers, but now, I speak up. When needed, I defend my decision. And always, I remain firm in my response.
Saying no hasn’t always been easy, but it has been possible to go against what's considered the norm. Since this year’s flu shot push hasn’t reached its peak yet, I'm sure I'll be asked again if I want that ineffective vaccine the next time we head to the hospital. I can, of course, try to go elsewhere where vaccines aren't pushed, but with a medically fragile child and medically complicated kiddo, sometimes we have to go where shots are the norm. That's okay. I know how to say no.
No flu shots for me or my kiddo, thank you very much. I say it firmly, confidently, and respectfully. Then, I politely redirect whomever it is I’m speaking to and remind them why we are there, "Ronan's appointment today…he’s here to see Dr. So and So and to talk about..."
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.