Tuesday, June 1, 2021

They Smited Me With Science!

Spinning the Wheel of Vaccine Side Effects

There I was, safe in the assumption that science has got my back. When my number was called (age group), I marched to the vaccination site in a parking lot next to a cemetery in Prague. I should have known that this was a sign. I should have known that even though I had chosen the LEAST likely brand of vaccine to cause nasty side effects (Pfizer), that things could always go tits up.

Maybe I shouldn't have made the remark about hideous side effects like infected bumps in the junkal region. Am I CRAZY? Am I a PROPHET? Am I just tempting fate?

Oh, yeah. Side effects followed. Like hell raining from above instead of below, I got smitten in the biblical sense of the word. The fifth seal of the viral apocalypse was opened, and infectious bumps rained down upon me, dangerously close to my junkal region.

Science decided to smite me. Or maybe it was the god of the rednecks, smiting me for being an unapologetic atheist. What a god! If the fecker exists, why would anyone follow a monster like that?

Angry Boils

Have you seen the classic cult movie
How to Get Ahead in Advertising? Oh, it's a doozy. It's a classic formula flick: Man gets boil on neck, man screams at boil as it grows in size and anger, boil literally comes to a head, and replaces the man's head and takes over everything.

A few days after my intramuscular injection of untested hard drugs (aka corona vaccine), I started getting weird pimples in weird places. Left buttock, right buttock, chest, left thigh. One after the other, they appeared, angry enough to cause me to pop them rather than give them a second thought.

I've had plenty of experience dealing with pimples as an adolescent, and now that I'm in my second adolescence (middle age), I know EXACTLY how to deal with the feckers. At first I attributed the sudden appearance of these nostalgic reminders of pubescence as a side effect of working at home and ordering KFC bucket deliveries.

But then something strange happened: the angry boil on top of my left thigh grew in prominence. Pissed off that I would try to squeeze the life out of the fecker, the oozing chancre decided to try to take over my life. And for the last 5 days, it did.

Nemocnice Bulovka

Every city has a medical institution that is so subpar that it gets a bad reputation. And nicknames follow. Way back when I was a feckless yoot with a low-paying post-high-school job, I drove Ford Escorts carrying packages of nuclear medicine to hospitals up and down the California valley. I loved the rock music blaring on the speakers, windows down, wind in my hair, 70 mph on CA highways, carrying unknown isotopes in needles waiting to be injected into unknown people.

One of the hospitals on my route was the UCD Med Center, a teaching branch of the University of California, Davis Medical degree program. Part of the program was an outreach for indigent locals, meaning, poor people without insurance.

The waiting rooms were full of them as I rushed past with my radioactive payload waiting to be delivered. They coughed, sweated, stank, and pissed themselves as an introduction. We soon began calling the place the UCD Wretch Center. The name stuck. Oh, the humanity.

Cut to: Act 2 in Big Sir's life, middle age, living in Prague. After a week of cursing my growing carbuncle, it got REALLY painful. Like making-me-limp-all-day painful. It grew to the size of a golf ball, so I went to the nearest emergency room.

Sadly, when you are Libeň La Vida Loca in an industrial Prague suburb, that emergency room is at the infamous Nemocnice Bulovka. Bulovka Hospital is not just a dilapidated, confusing sprawl of crumbling buildings with the accessibility of a hostile foreign country, they built the fucker on several hills. Because they wanted the shuffling, moaning, staggering, limping fucks to WORK for their treatment.

Cabs can't park inside, buses don't take you anywhere near the building you need to go. And you need to go to several. Just for one problem. But on a Friday night, it's the only place you can go if you fear that the oozing, infected, black-and-crimson-red, golf-ball-sized blight on your thigh just might possibly be slowly killing you.

The Evil Eye

I waited outside the night emergency room entrance at Nemocnice Bulovka. It seemed like the back entrance to a library rather than a building of medical treatment. I asked a young couple in front of me just in case. “Yeah, this is the emergency room entrance,” they said.

Are you in the line?” I asked. They answered 'yes' and I joined them, standing. No seats for the wicked.

Soon they went inside and I was next at the outside entrance. Then a carload of loud yoots listening to mindless disco music pulled up and dumped its payload of babyshit onto the sidewalk. I call them babyshit because they were so green that they had no idea of the rules of ordinary, well-formed, solid shirtbird adults like me.

So they cut in front of me, barged through the door, and took their place right behind the kindly couple who had previously advised me. Then I heard them laughing and speaking Russian. Da. Da-hahaha.

So I looked through the window and gave them the Evil Eye. The same type of Evil Eye that was burning inside the angry boil dangerously close to my junkal region. It was an eye raised during the Cold War, watching the Russians and Americans scoff, threaten, cajole, and abuse each other nonstop. Fortunately for mankind, the Russians ran out of credit first. End of Cold War.

But Fuck the Russians anyway. They STILL wanna take over the world. That's how I was raised, and these sons-of-Stalin whores just Pushkined past me like a piece of American trailer trash (how did they know?).

I began the hairy eyeball routine with the weakest of the group. As they tittered and whispered, an older one would look out the window at me to check the threat. They found the burning Evil Eye watching them. Yes, I am old, fat, and hobbled from a leg infection that burns like a white hot knife wound. But I am ANGRIER than my boil. And in the immortal words of Ivan Drago: I must BREAK you.

They must have seen me channeling Dolph Lundgren, because the oldest one soon came out with younguns in tow, and said 'we go after you.' Or maybe they saw my tiny role as a Russian General in the casino commercial. Mad respect. You don't fuck with that dude.

That's right, bitches. Age and treachery before youth and ambition.

Another Ring of Hell

After my referral from the emergency room physician, I hobbled uphill to the next ring of hell. It was the surgery center, and I was in for a fine Friday night indeed. At first I was pleasantly surprised. The long, dimly-lit hallway only held a half dozen people waiting for treatment. So I checked in with the medical receptionist, who told me to take a seat at the end of the hall.

I plunked down on one of the rows of cold steel chairs lining the hall of the basement in the Bulovka surgery center. It was exactly like sitting at a bus stop in a ghetto. Why did they make the seats out of steel? Easier to clean? Durable? Or just another ring of hell the poor wretches must work through to receive their treatment.

After three hours I wondered why I had not brought a book. My phone battery had died, there was no reception in the basement anyway, and I had been to CZ hospitals several times before. You always wait at least 2 hours, even when you have an appointment for a specific time. It's the commie way. You must wait long enough to earn the right to be called a patient.

Finally, the door swung open and they called my name. I limped in, and they told me to take off my pants. They must have read my file from the previous doctor. Rarely do I have that effect on people otherwise.

On a side note, I remember reading a sales pitch for a private medical clinic disparaging ordinary public Czech health insurance. “They are cold, impersonal, and will command you to unceremoniously undress in front of a room full of people.” Hmm. Maybe the expats expect them to play Pomp and Circumstance first? I'm sure the finer halls of medicine have disco music and stripper poles for the money-grubbing whores. #dieyuppiescum!

Those of us who live in the real world (aka American refugees, non-yuppie-scum, etc) take the public health insurance offered by the employer. So far, it has probably saved my life a few times. So when I bitch and moan about Czech medicine, it's only the natural reaction of a sick person with a finger suddenly thrust up the buttockal region. Yes, it is abrupt, invasive, sudden, and stern. But it is fair.

Nonspecific Abscess

After my unceremonious disrobing without music, I proceeded to receive the diagnosis: nonspecific abscess. After some brief interrogation (are you gonna kill me cuz I'm American?), the doctor told me that I had a nonspecific abscess possibly due to my COVID vaccination. What? B-B-but. I got the PFIZER. Ain't that the good jab?

She smiled the knowing smile of someone in the medical profession who pretends to know everything. But just practicing.

So she wielded the metal tools of her trade dangerously close to my junkal region, looked down her nose at me and said nothing. She didn't speak English. And my Czech is bad on a good day, when there's no evil boil burning on me like hellfire.

First came a small sting. She then said 'lokal.' I got it. Local anesthetic. Cool. Pop away, doc. Then came a scalpel. Ooh. This is getting good. I expect a right proper gorefest to follow. My hand slowly covered my junkal region, just in case. I never know if the night doctors have exceeded their 5 cocktail maximum.

I kept looking over my belly at the progress of the wide-awake mini surgery. There was blood. There was pus. There were weird colors of both. Suddenly, the attending nurse pointed to the doctor's name tag. She stopped cutting and swabbing blood and pus to look.

Aw Jeez. Did I spurt some on ya, doc? My bad. I'm embarrassed. It was an awfully angry boil on an awfully angry dude. So sorry.

But then she laughed, and the nurse tittered. They pointed to each other's name tags and compared them. I understood from bits and chunks of Czech convo that the doctor's name tag photo was new, and that the nurse was jealous. Hers was old and outdated, just like her and the hospital. This exchange went on for a minute.

In case you may be questioning the nastiness of my particular ailment, right when the two ladies were comparing badge photos, an elder nurse walked by and glanced at my open wound. The grimace on her face said everything. In her 60 years of service, there was still something that could twist her face like a pretzel. Not a comforting thing when you are on the surgical table.

Um, hey? Sucking leg wound down here? Ladies, will you please mop up the gore, give me some pain meds, and shove my ass out the outpatient door? Compare badge photos later, if you please.

The Aftermath

I finally got home after midnight. I slammed down some wine and antibiotics, limped to bed, and got up the next day to repeat the process. I had to go back to the Bulovka Hellspital. Four days in a row. Each time a 3-4 hour wait followed.

But I remembered to bring a book. And water. And a snack just in case. I was always told to sit at the far end of the hall at the third door. It's what they call triage. The most serious cases go first. And as angry as my boil and I may be, others have it worse. But everyone in the hallway in Bulovka looks like they're in the same degree of suffering. But I had to wait 6 hours on Friday night, 4 hours on Saturday, and only 2 hours each visit on Sunday and Monday.

It wasn't about the time of day I arrived, it was about the random spinning wheel of fate. It's a bit more obvious in the U.S. Gunshot and stab wounds go first, followed by heart attacks, overdoses, and trouble breathing. But in CZ, you can't tell. A surprising lack of violence here. And zero crack or meth. Just a bunch of people suffering in silence together in a dimly-lit basement hallway of a decrepit old hospital on the side of a suburban Prague hill.

But sometimes a gurney full of fresh pain would come rolling in with ambulance personnel pushing. And I would get pushed to the back of the pain bus again. Such is the nature of probability. Open book, shift buttocks on steel seat, soldier on. Be patient, my patient.

On Monday I got the good news: my wound was healing (they had slashed, sliced, drained, and re-bandaged it 4 times by then). Better yet, this doctor spoke English. He said that I didn't have to keep coming back to Bulovka after this. I could choose the closest clinic to my address.

Now I have a day off from the hospital for the first time in 4 days. I had previously taken Friday and Monday off from work just to relax, pre-boil. But like the man said, man makes plans, God laughs. Fecker.

The last doctor I visited at Bulovka was so friendly that I almost expected him to ask 'Can I do anything else for you?'

I should have replied: Yeah. After 14 hours of sitting on your hospital's cold steel benches, I have a new side effect. Can you kindly treat the angry 'roids which are now festering and burgeoning and brimming with anger inside my angry ass?

Yes, gentle readers. I went into the Bulovka hospital for a four-day treatment of an angry boil and left with a burning ring of fire.

The Takeaway

I don't want this to discourage anyone from getting the vaccine. It's how we beat this thing. But if somehow, somewhere, somebody crawls out of the primordial ooze (alt-right fux) and says: See! Vaccines don't work! They give you the same angry boils I got when I went to that Tijuana Donkey Show!

I can't tell those type of people anything. It's like talking to a wall, a rock, or a religious person. Same stony stare. They might believe that Bill Gates is inserting microbots into the vaccine to take over their minds. And that aliens took their cows and themselves up for a brief whirl around the planet with a side excursion of bonus anal probe.

Weird how rednecks don't believe in science, but they do seem to believe in science fiction.

I'm vexed my damn self. I'll still continue to believe in science, even though the pharmacy business has so tainted the process that profits supersede results.

In the meantime, take some time to read up on the various flavors of vaccines out there, including the long list of side effects. Keep in mind that the side effects are usually much milder than the short and long term effects of the actual coronavirus. That shit could kill you, regardless of age.

Me, I've just got angry boils and a case of the old bum grapes. Like Gloria Gaynor and my Sactown homeboys Cake said, I Will Survive.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Getting My Jab

Spinning the Wheel of Vaccines in Prague

Sorry I haven't written sooner. COVID didn't kill me, but all the lockdown restrictions surely beat the hell out of my joie de vivre. I've had a full-time writing gig for the past 2.5 years, so my blog posts have been few and far between.

It's like when I was a photographer and I never had time to take 'fun' photos in my spare time. Or no creativity left. It's like that with writing, too. Recently I've been moved to a new project at work which is much less writing and much more image-oriented work.

For the past year and a half, I've lived under the shadow of a pandemic reportedly so serious that Czechia was rated as a 'red state' in terms of emergency status. Not commie red or redneck red, nothing so sinister, mind you. But I couldn't travel. And for a Wide Body Jetsetter, that's almost as bad as taking away my beloved fried cheese.

The Wheel of Vaccines

There has been a shortage of vaccines in the Czech Republic as well. While the government 'leaders' (I use this term loosely; more like a gang of former commies caught with their hands in the cash register of Capitalism) hemmed and hawed about 'what to do' every other week, the rest of the world began inoculating their peeps.

But in a country with an unapologetic drunk for a president and a parliament full of smarmy used car salesmen for politicians, it's a wonder we got a vaccine in Czechia at all. But we finally did.

And then the vaccine ran out. So they had to order more from other countries. And in came the flood of unknown, never-before-heard-of vaccines that would put a Prague knockoff shoe salesmen to shame.

There was no Pfizer, so they had something called Moderna. Followed by Johnson & Johnson. Then Nano-Bio-Something. Then AstraZeneca. Then the Russians had to ooze out from beneath their radioactive tombs and dump something called Sputnik on us. Nyet, privyet.

The difference between the vaccines is probably like Coke & Pepsi. They each do the same thing: quench your thirst, rot your teeth, and make you morbidly obese after 40 years of drinking the stuff. Mind you, I am not morbidly obese due to Coke or Pepsi. Smažený sýr and pivo are solely responsible for my morbid obesity.

Each vaccine ostensibly protects you against COVID, but each one has its own unique side effects. How much of this is based on actual research and Facebook memes is uncertain. But you get the idea.

I've heard that Moderna might kill a small number of people. Or wait, was that BioNTech? I do have it on good authority that a woman who works with my wife heard about some women from another neighborhood who got red bumps all over their junkal regions after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.

Gimme the Pfizer

I did the usual amount of reading up on vaccines till my eyes glazed over and I needed a drink. Then I started listening to all the recommendations proffered by the hearsay of third-party old wives tales.

The Czech government said we don't get to choose our vaccine flavor, but I got the inside scoop on where they were serving up the cool vials full of Pfizer. And THAT was the place I registered.

As it happens, the Vinohrady hospital set up a special vaccination site not far from their main block of clinics, conveniently located near a massive cemetery. Nothing like walking a kilometer past a sprawling cemetery to get in the mood for your jabs. And if an American has a bad reaction from the jab, they can just chuck 'em over the cemetary fence for the krematorium proletariat to clean up.

I don't know why I favored the Pfizer. I just hadn't heard any stories of crotch rot or infections of the junkal regions associated with it.

Sputnik? Are the Russians serious with this thing or what? Sorry, I'm not injecting something called Sputnik into my bloodstream. Even if it's 50% vodka and gives out a killer buzz.

The last time I heard of Russian needles, millions of poor malchiks were slamming something called krokodil into their veins. It got them high, twitchy, nervous, and crazy, just like any other street drug. Except that this shit turns the victim's skin into something resembling crocodile skin. Hence the name of the drug.

Somewhere between the Soviet Sputnik spacecraft in the 60s, growing up in the Cold War 80s, to the Crocodile junkies littering the streets of Mother Russia, I lost the narrative.

First Jab

The vaccine is administered in two jabs one month apart. I'm not sure if this is due to lack of supply, safety, or what. So I got my confirmation, went to the site (they didn't even give me a street address. I had to Google that shit), and sat down waiting for my needle.

I finally did my registration, shuffled the medical info, and was sent to an vaccination box. The whole parking lot was filled with what looked like a dozen shipping containers retrofitted for medicinal purposes. It looked like the first scene of your basic zombie apocalypse movie right before the infected monkeys escape from their cages.

The staff members were nice, but one of the questions struck me as odd.

What country are you from?” asked the nurse with the computer.

America?” I replied. Suddenly I sounded like a fucking Millennial. You know, how every sentence ends with an uncertainty. 'Um, like, I'm in a hurry? Cuz I'm like, going to work now?'

Upon hearing me say 'America,' the needle nurse perked up and presented the needle. I rolled up my sleeve and she plunged the needle into my left upper arm. Then she cackled Death to Americans! and began stabbing me with the needle over and over and over and...

Sorry. I've been cooped up too long. And I was sitting in a parking lot full of shipping containers located near a cemetery for fuck's sake. That will get the old imagination churning.

After my injection, I sat with a few dozen others in a special waiting area. If you didn't keel over 15 minutes after your jab, you're good to go. Anyway, no serious side effects so far. The old sore arm routine, not much else. The crumpled sign on the injection box I entered said 'Pfizer' on it. Did that mean that we were getting the Pfizer vaccine, or that the parking lot was sponsored by the Pfizer company?

Well, I'll let you know if I develop any clusters of boils on my junkal region or if I suddenly sprout crocodile skin.