Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Trip to the Health Department

One of my default positions, when I was unhappy with life, was to think about returning to school--longtime readers of this blog might argue it's still one of my default positions.  In the past, I've thought about public health, but long ago, people who went into public health could look forward to a career of contacting people's sexual partners to let them know they were at risk of a disease.  What kind of job would that be?

Yesterday I went to the Broward County health department to get a tetanus shot.  I haven't been to a county health department in decades.  In fact, the last time I went was probably the last time I got a tetanus shot, the summer we were married, 25 years ago. 

I've been meaning to get a tetanus shot since our disastrous hurricane season of 2005, which showed that even if you're not expecting to do home repair or be exposed to dirty metal, it could happen.  But I haven't gotten around to it.

I've spent the last several weeks helping with home repair, being acutely aware of rusty nails and all sorts of metal points waiting to do injury to me.  On Monday, when I noticed blood running down my leg, I decided I should not procrastinate any longer.

You may wonder why I didn't just go to my primary care provider.  I don't really have one.  Last year, I asked my OB/GYN if her office did tetanus shots, and she said, "No.  But we should."

I was happily surprised to find out that the county health department still gives shots, and that they'd be delighted to give one to me at low cost at the walk-in clinic.  So on Tuesday morning after boot camp class, I headed on over.  I put my name on the list and waited.  I'd brought a book, so it wasn't so bad.

Alas, waiting rooms these days are full of screens, and at times, I couldn't concentrate.  I found myself enchanted by this public service announcement, which made me want to start a midlife career in public health.  But I suspect it would still be depressing.

After all, I was in a place with a children's dental clinic and eye charts on the wall.  You could get a complete set of immunizations.  I pretty sure that for many poor residents of our county, this walk-in clinic is as close as they get to having a primary care doctor.

Will that change with the new health care legislation?  Florida's Republican governor has been doing all that he can do to make sure that it doesn't change.  And that approach makes me so sad. 

I saw so many young parents who clearly just want the best for their children.  What was more sobering was the fact that for most of the morning, I was the only white, non-Hispanic person in the clinic.  Not for the first time was I struck by all the intersections between race, gender, and class--and where poverty strikes.

Eventually, I got my tetanus shot and a band-aid and was on my way.  All day, I was struck by how many people asked me if I had gotten a flu shot--another indicator of class status?  But down here, why get a flu shot?  We rarely have outbreaks this far south.

Of course, many of us travel, so perhaps a flu shot isn't an extravagance.  And many of us are surrounded by those disease vectors known as children.

I spent the day trying to not sink into discouragement.  I tried to envision a more just world, where public health departments wouldn't be necessary, except to keep a watchful eye on possible outbreaks of disease.  Yesterday was one of those kind of days that threw all kinds of challenges to my usual sunny nature.  Perhaps I'll blog more about it later.

Or maybe I'll just keep hoping for a world where children get their shots, and parents have good jobs, and the U.S. government raises the debt ceiling and doesn't send the U.S. into default.

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