Plague House

Before a soldier deploys, there are lots of hoops to jump through. Gear to collect, forms to create, training to complete. And vaccinations. Myriad vaccinations.

After several vaccinations earlier in the month, in good assembly line fashion the Army stabbed Carl with another six on Wednesday. Two of them are live viruses, and one of those is the vaccinia vaccine for smallpox. No ordinary shot, it involves dipping the tip of a sharp implement into a jar of virus solution and then gleefully jabbing the recipient 15 times in the shoulder. Parents take note: if any teenagers have a desire for a tattoo, a smallpox vaccination should cure it.

Because the vaccinia vaccine is a live-virus inoculation, it’s highly communicable. For three weeks the recipient must carefully guard others from any contact with the vaccination site. They keep the vaccination site bandaged, wear long sleeves, collect and wash their own clothes alone in hot soapy water, keep linens and towels separate, dispose of bandages in sealed bags with bleach wipes, and scrub their hands thoroughly and often. The vaccine also tends to make recipients feel a little unwell. And if they happen to already be under the weather from a bad cold, as Carl was, it’s even more fun. 

The Man is all better now, finally able to raise his aerated arms more than 90 degrees and off at 4:30 this morning for pre-deployment training. To make sure I remember him, he left me with his sore throat. As a nicer remembrance, he also surprised me with a new hat and gloves for winter warmth, a journal and cards, and a locket. I’ll miss him.

*Naval quarantine flag from But shhh, don’t tell the Army we borrowed something from the Navy. They’d never let us live it down.


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