“You put down that you have a history of seizures. Tell me about it,” my new GYN asked.
“Well, it’s happened a few times after getting medical procedures, but it hasn’t happened in over 10 years. I just always put it down, because it’s a part of my medical history.”
It all started during a routine GYN appointment, when my doctor suggested that I get the Gardasil vaccine while I was still of age. I had a few reservations, but ended up agreeing; insurance would be covering it, so who was I to turn it down? She handed over the literature and I looked it over, comfortable with her advice. It was a new office and a new doctor, but I trusted her already.
A nurse came in with the shot and an alcohol swab. We had a casual conversation; she took my blood pressure again and prepped me for the shot.
“Do you want me to warn you, or just do it?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter, I’m fine.”
So in went the needle. I really was fine. Until I wasn’t.
I started talking again, and immediately knew something was wrong. My words weren’t connecting with my brain. I felt really dizzy, and I asked if I could lie down for a second.
You know in the movie Contact, when Jodie Foster’s character is in that ball-space ship thing and goes through that weird light tube, and is on a planet/ beach with her dead father? And then it’s over, and she asks how long she was gone, and they tell her it was about two seconds? That’s exactly what happened to me, minus the whole talking to aliens thing. I had approximately two hours worth of dreams/ hallucinations in that two seconds, and I came out of it hearing, “Somebody help! She’s having a seizure!”
The next thing I knew, I was being shaken awake, my cheeks were being patted, sulfur was being popped under my nose, and there were no less than five nurses standing above me. Two of them were holding my legs up. I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
“Do you know where you are?”
“Yes,” I said, “at the doctor.”
“What is your birthday?”
“December… 12th… 19… 86.”
I still had no idea what was going on, really.They told me later that I’d just completely passed out and started shaking and almost gurgling, choking, and that I’d turned white as a sheet. Nurses brought in water, cold paper towels, ice — anything to make me comfortable. And then, in my still hazy state, a few of the nurses started asking me about my outfit.
“I love your shirt! Where is it from?”
“These pants fit you so nicely!”
“Why are they asking me this right now?” I kept thinking. I responded half-heartedly between breaths, but they kept it up, if only to keep me awake. To this day, I remember this part of the visit the best.
A few of them stayed in the room with me, upwards of 20 or 30 minutes, until the cold sweats stopped and the color returned to my face. In an attempt to cheer me up and get me talking, we talked about boyfriends, drunken antics, and girly conversation.
My doctor came back in and suggested I take the rest of the day off of work, to which I happily obliged. After calling my boss, I drove myself to Wawa and ordered my favorite Italian hoagie, a 32 oz. Diet Coke, and a pack of shark gummies. Then I stayed in bed all day, researching what the hell had just happened to me.
Apparently it’s more common then the literature lets on, this whole passing out after Gardasil injections thing. Although it’s listed as a possible side effect, it happens to about 2,000 women a year, and probably more that go unreported. Some happen right after the injection, and some happen a day later.
A lot of medical professionals will chalk it up to anxiety and nerves, but I knew my case was different, and I was happy to learn that I wasn’t alone. Like I’d told my doctor, I hadn’t had any fainting episodes since junior high. I even got a flu shot in my own office and was perfectly fine! But right after the Gardasil injection, I could literally feel the drugs hit me, and they were strong. How the hell was I going to endure two more of these?
Two months later, I went back for the second injection. The story basically repeats itself, minus the seizure part. I had the same nurse, who remembered me and my little episode, so she knew what to do and what to look out for. This time, I went to work after the appointment, prepared with food and lots of sugar, and a firm note to my coworkers to keep an eye on me.
The third injection came six months after the first, right on schedule. In the days leading up to the appointment, I did start to get anxiety, but not about the shot — about what I knew would ultimately follow. My roommate drove me to the appointment, and I told her she didn’t have to stay, because I felt calm and was determined to fight whatever this was.
The routine followed the first two. I had the same nurse again. She prepped me, I signed the paper. This time, she let me lay down while giving me the shot instead of making me sit up like the previous two times. Would this help? We didn’t know, but we were giving it a shot (zing!).
In goes the shot, out goes my brain. More Contact like hallucination dreams, but this time the nurse just let me come to, which was again only took a few seconds, but had felt like hours. It had become so routine. She handed me a cup of water, put a few wet towels on my forehead, and left the room to let me “get normal” on my own. The ringing in my ears took about five minutes to pass. I was still a little effed up — I know this because I remember another nurse coming in to check on me, but I have no recollection of what either of us said.
15 minutes later I walked out on my own, but not before stopping in another room to grab some paper towels to reach up my skirt and wipe down my inner thigh sweat in full view of a few rooms. I really just didn’t care anymore. I asked for directions to the train station. Seven minutes later, when I saw the train approaching the station while I was still a good .2 miles away, I sprinted for my life uphill through a small forest, lest I be any later for work and have to wait for the next train in the pouring rain. I guess it was my day after all, because the train waited for me. I sat there during that 30-minute ride replaying what had that day. And despite my bizarre reactions to the vaccinations, I would get those shots again in a heartbeat, Michelle Bachmann be damned.