Seriously? Is THIS how I check out?

Long story…short message.

A few weeks ago, my EC and I were traveling in Utah doing the Grandparent Thing, and loving it. Our ever-thoughtful Bonus Son texted us with info about the Covid vaccine in Utah. (We had not received ours yet because we were farther down the list and, Arizona.)

Turns out that there were a few locations who would be giving shots the next weekend in Southern Utah to anybody that would show up – didn’t matter your age, or what state your are from. So, we rearranged our schedules and headed south.

After staying the night with our daughter in Monticello, we headed off to Montezuma Creek, in the 4-Corners area of Utah, and part of the Navajo nation. It was a lovely morning as we sat in line in our car for two hours talking, and listening to music. Nice.

While in line, we called the clinic and registered. Our turn finally came and we signed forms, received instructions and got our injections. It was fun to watch that the LDS missionaries were heavily involved in the process or directing traffic and helping.

After the injection, one of the elders wrote what time it was, and what time it would be in 15 minutes with a grease pencil on our windshield. We were then directed to the parking lot where we were to wait for any “adverse reactions” to the injection. After 15 minutes, we were feeling good. They asked us some questions and sent us on our way. Five hours, and we’d be home.

For those unfamiliar with NE Arizona, it can vary wildly from some of the most beautiful, dramatic landscapes on earth, to some of the most boring desolate desert on earth. It was in the latter area that the story got interesting.

We were about 45 minutes out from Montezuma Creek and an hour post-vaccine that things started going wrong. First, my eyes started going in and out of focus, both close and distance. Then my scalp started to itch, then the palms of my hands. I recognized the feeling

Backstory: When I was a teenager, I had pretty severe allergic reactions. Every so often I would itch, swell and have difficulty breathing that would require me to go to the E.R. and get an epinephrine injection. Scary stuff. It hadn’t happened since I was young, but I remembered the sensations.

I pulled over onto the shoulder of the road and put the car in park.

“Honey, I think we have a problem.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t see the road. My eyes are going in and out of focus and it’s scaring me. And I’m starting to itch all over.”

Chrissie, having had similar instances in her life immediately understood what was happening: I was having an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine.

And then my neck and throat began to swell and feel tight. My voice started changing, and my airflow began to constrict.

I was at the beginning of a full-blown anaphylactic response – and we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I glanced at my cellphone to see zero bars. Of course.

Then the thought crossed my mind: “Is this it? Is this where I check out? On the side of a highway on the middle of the desert, an hour away from anything?”

Of course, I didn’t share that part with Chrissie, but I know she was thinking the same thing.

Chrissie, being Chrissie, was prepared. She dug an Albuterol inhaler out of her bag along with a bunch of Benadryl. I took several puffs from the inhaler and a couple pills We traded places and she started driving, because sitting there on the side of the highway seemed futile. Yes, we were both scared.

The symptoms got stronger as we drove, and I was feeling worse. I sat in the passenger seat and tried to find calm and not think terrifying thoughts of “What if?” Thankfully, the meds started kicking in before we reached the town of Kayenta. We stopped in a parking lot across the street from the medical center and waited – reluctant to go into a medical center on the reservation mired in COVID, and unlikely to even see me or take my insurance.

After some time we decided to get back on the road and aim for Flagstaff. By this time, I was feeling quite a bit better. We stopped again in Flagstaff, ate and waited. Eventually, we set out for the last leg of our journey.

We arrived home later that evening – our five hour trip took 11 hours.

As we pulled into the driveway, a song came on that begins with the lyric:

Today was a good day
Yeah, we made it out alive
Such a good day

Of course I got all weepy cuz I’m like that. We were thankful and relieved that we made it. I was thankful and relieved that I was alive.

It turns out that anaphylactic reactions to the vaccine are rare, and usually happen within the first 15 minutes. I was just slow to react. Even so, we are signed up to get out second shot next week locally. We are going to take all precautions and give it another go. Yes, I’ll take the risk. It is worth it to me. (I am pro-vaccine.)

While my allergic reaction very real, it was also relatively minor, controllable, and the serious aspects resolved quickly. In my defense, I didn’t know at the time that they would. My fear was based on the immediate worst-case-scenario, a place where I don’t like to dwell.

Most of us do not have the faintest idea as to when we will check out of this mortal existence. For some, it is a long, expected process, for others it is a sudden moment that they we never see coming. Either way, our time is finite here on earth.

My thoughts always turn to Shakespeare’s Hamlet where he delves into the idea as to when our time might be at hand:

“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.” (link)

I’m sure most all of you have had experiences where you have asked yourself, “Is this where I check out?” (I’d love to hear about them.) A good scare can be a positive thing if it leads to reassessment, refocus, and renewed effort. Will it stick? I don’t know, but I do know I am grateful to be around to keep loving and living this thing we call mortality.

The readiness is all…


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  1. Pingback: A Second Shot
  2. Brad – I would absolutely see if your physician would prescribe an EpiPen. You just never know what could set you off … unlikely, but a new food you haven’t had (or even one you haven’t had in decades!) could be an issue. Sending best wishes.

  3. I took my two teenage daughters backpacking in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, back before cell phones. After setting up camp near a river, I tried to radio my husband, as pre-arranged, that we were safe and settled, but I had no reception, couldn’t raise the repeater (ham radio). We hiked up a mountainside. No luck. The 15-year-old nonchalantly trotted out a spur to see if it jutted far enough to get past the barricade of the main mountain. She called back, “Hey Mom, can you come help me? I’m kind of hanging onto the edge of a cliff here.” I’ve got this little fear of heights. Okay, a big fear of heights. I was actually crawling out that spur to keep from losing my footing, trying not to look down the long, bare, steep slopes on both sides of me (no ledges, no shrubs to grab onto), trying not to imagine what would happen if either or both of us fell. “Mom, can you hurry? I’m slipping!” It gave new meaning to the phrase, “balanced on a knife edge.” I prayed every inch of the way. Reached her, grabbed her hand, helped her up. Somehow managed to turn around for the crawl back. Never did get through by radio, but I sure broadcasted a lot by prayer for the rest of that outing.

  4. Needless to say, with my chosen profession I have had multiple “is this it?” Experiences.
    Towards the end of the Cold War, I lived in a 64 ton tank in the fulda gap on the east/west german border. I fully exspected to “check out” in a blaze of “obscure” glory if the balloon ever went up. Who would have believed that just a couple of months after my first FOML entered mortality, that threat would evaporate?

    In another instance, my EC had heart surgery several years ago. I went and waited in the waiting area after the doc told me it would be 4-6 hours. I brought a couple of books with me (side note: watched part of an old movie where Vincent Price played Joseph smith). I settled in for the long hall. Just over an hour later the doc comes looking for me. My heart dropped and I tasted bile in the back of my throat. The doc smiled and saw the look on my face. Then he said “no worries, as soon as we started, we found exactly what we were looking for. You can go back, your wife should be waking up”.
    I’ve learned that oft times, those “is this it” moments are just there to remind us to appreciate mortality.

    1. Cab pilot, when were you there? My husband and I were in Ansbach from December 1983 to January 1988 and Berlin from October 1988 to May 1992. The Fulda gap was exactly where my husband expected to be a speed bump as a part of 1-37 Armor in case the balloon went up. We were in Berlin when the wall fell. Great times!

  5. It was June in Berlin, Germany, not a cool time of year, and I was wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and a long quilted coat. I was still freezing. People were staring at me as I entered the Army hospital dressed like it was 32 degrees and falling.

    The diagnosis was peritonitis which I had developed after surgery. I assumed they would give me some antibiotics and send me home. They didn’t.

    I wasn’t aware that my doctor thought I was going to die, I was just aware that I had two IVs in my arms and one of them burned. I would lift that arm up until the burning stopped and then let it drop down so more of the medicine could flow into my veins. It was a somewhat surreal experience, but I felt at peace through it all.

    It’s been almost 30 years and I have always remembered how I felt surrounded by angels seen and unseen. I felt the love of my Savior and His enabling power carry me through it. It is a beautiful thing to know He is there, that He felt the burning sensation of the antibiotic, that He understood my husband’s fears that he might lose me, and He was able to carry it all. I am forever grateful for that.

  6. Got shocked on 277v one time, major hurt. New appreciation for Laman and Lemuel being shocked

  7. Ahhhh, as the mother of a severely food allergic kiddo, who needs to carry epinephrine ALL the time, I felt your words … like I actually felt them. I understand how scary a reaction is. I am so glad your wife was quick thinking and had some meds on hand to get you home! I’m curious, which vax did you take? Pfizer or Moderna?

    As for “checking out” … I developed pre-eclampsia with my third pregnancy and was sent to the hospital three weeks early to have my daughter. My blood pressure was VERY high during my labor and they had me doing all sorts of things to try and bring it down. My husband told me later that as they were trying to get the epidural into me, he was on top of me holding me down, so the doc could get the needle in — he was giving me a priesthood blessing in his head asking the Lord to let me live (epidurals bring your blood pressure way down). After baby was born and the nurses were cleaning me up, one of them told me that none of them could figure out why I was not dead or had a stroke. All I could say was that God still needed me here. But, yes, I still have life to live and that’s why!

      1. Well, I learned something new about you today. You are VERY brave! I can’t believe you’re willing to go in for dose 2 after this experience. I would be so scared after that happened. I promise I’m not an anti-vaxxer but I’m not especially pro this one. Not to get political here, but if you STILL can get it, and STILL need to mask, social distance and stay away from crowds, what exact benefit do we get from the vaccine? I’m scratching my head here. It just doesn’t appear to change anything about the situation. I’m looking for something more dramatic, I guess.

        1. All valid concerns. The reason that all those things STILL have to happen is because we have to get to a point where the majority of people are immune. If people drag their feet on getting the vaccine that just takes longer and longer. I see getting the vaccine as about my immunity but also about human kindness.

        2. Just like with the flu vaccine, you can still get sick… but not as severely sick as without the vaccine. And “severely sick” takes you all that much closer to “fatally sick.”

  8. In my early 30’s I was picking apples out of tree and the ladder slipped. As I was grabbing for branches (unsuccessfully) on the way down, my thoughts were similar to yours – “Is THIS it?? Is THIS how I’m going to die??” Even at that moment, that thought was with a bit of “Are you kidding me??”. I landed in the neighbour’s yard in soft grass that I felt “give” as I landed…with my head six inches away from their concrete pathway.. Whoa.

  9. Hi Brad, I’m glad you made it out of the Land of Desolation okay. Since you asked … a few years ago I went flying with my uncle in Columbia, SC in his Piper Cherokee. As we approached the landing strip on final approach we were a bit low, and we hit a sudden down draft. One of the wheels clipped a power line and the nose dipped suddenly. Fortunately Uncle Jack is a good pilot, so he hit the throttle and pulled up the nose and we made it okay. I all happened so quickly that we didn’t have time to ponder Eternity, but upon reflection we could have easily “checked out” that day. But whenever it happens, I’m ready. Shalom.

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