Stayin' Alive: Suck It Up And Get A Tetanus Shot (I Did!)

As I stood in my own ambulance bay in Phoenicia on September the 16th -- anxious, profusely sweating, and feeling rather defeated after I denied repeated offers of a tetanus vaccine from the kind and concerned representatives from the Ulster County Department of Health -- I came to the conclusion that the only way I could morally and ethically continue writing the Stayin’ Alive column for the Watershed Post was to not only get a vaccine (my last being “a few years back” of course), but also to publically humiliate myself by finally admitting that I am in fact the only Paramedic in the United States known to be deathly afraid of needles.

(I am not afraid to give needles -- as a matter of fact, it doesn’t bother me one bit -- but if one of them makes their way towards me, forget it, I’m more scared than a rabbit in a foxhole. Don’t ask me how and don’t ask me why, but I am.)

The previous leads us to my harrowing, white knuckled drive to a fellow healthcare provider’s office today to receive my vaccine. The whole ordeal was rather anticlimactic, and lasted a whole three minutes. Ironically, the topic of conversation amongst the usual knee-slapping stone-busting was the weather. Apparently, once the word "rain" was mentioned in the forecast, my vaccinator decided it was the most opportune time to give me the shot, and without the slightest wince I was on my way with my shiny new Snoopy band-aid on my right arm and a “Great Patient” sticker on my shirt. It didn’t even hurt.

So, the moral of the story: I did it, so should you.

It would be an understatement to say that our area has been devastated. Anyone that has been here since the 28th of August could attest to that fact. As we now focus on recovery and rebuilding, the mainstay of all efforts is to mitigate with the utmost safety in mind. There is still a lot of work to be done. However, without taking proper steps to ensure your health as well as your neighbors’ with the extraordinary circumstances we are faced with, we could lose far more than what we have already lost in our area’s veritable decent into the maelstrom.

In the upcoming weeks, please exercise extreme caution during travel. Observe warning signs, do not pass roadblocks, and do not at any time attempt to travel on a roadway or bridge that has been compromised, no matter how familiar you may be with the area. Be mindful of debris on or around the roadways. Although the water has receded, the streams in the area have sustained major damage, and areas that were once safe may have debris under the water or banks may be undercut.

So, watch your step if working near the streams. In fact, a good rule of thumb would be to just stay clear of the streams altogether. Particularly relay the risk to children, whose curiosity may be piqued with all the new things to play on or in. Do not allow children to play on debris piles, and stress that the stagnant water that is in puddles and looks “yucky” probably is exactly that.

At home, be certain to know what you are cleaning with, as certain harmless chemicals mixed together create deadly concoctions that could overwhelm the unsuspecting individual within seconds. Read warning labels, and do a little research before you enroll “Auntie Joan’s Homemade Mold Killing Formula” in your flood cleanup regime. Also be mindful of mold that may be forming in porous surfaces in the home exposed to dampness, and mitigate it as soon as possible, as it can pose serious health risks to you and your family. More information can be obtained at the Centers for Disease Control’s emergency preparedness website.

If involved in many of the wonderful volunteer groups helping during cleanup in the various towns of the area, please be sure to use respiratory protection for dust and particulates, wear gloves, stay hydrated, eat, and make sure you have a current tetanus shot. Tetanus is a horrible neurotoxin that is misleadingly associated with rusty metals; however, the cause of tetanus infection is not metal itself, but a bacterium. The Tetanus bacterium's endospores can lie dormant in a low-oxygen habitat -- for instance, on the rough surface of a rusty nail -- until introduced into an environment where they can thrive, as in your body through a new or existing cut or puncture wound. Debris lying alongside the roadway is a perfect host for tetanus, so be sure to safeguard against it at any of the local tetanus clinics offered in your area (even if you are afraid of needles).

The next FREE Tetanus clinics in Ulster County are as follows;

9/23 - UCDOH Clinic – 230 Aaron Ct. Kingston 12401 – 4-6 PM

9/26 – Trudy Farber Building – 50 Center St. Ellenville 12428 – 4-6 PM

For more information call UCDOH @ (845) 340-3090

Out of Ulster-Contact your County Public Health Department

Delaware- (607) 832-5200

Greene- (518) 719-3782

Schoharie- (518) 219-8365

Above all other health concerns, please look out for your own mental health and that of your loved ones, as we have all been through an awful lot in a short period. If professional help is needed, do not hesitate to contact your local mental health professionals or crisis lines. Don’t forget that a call to a good friend or a good laugh (see above), even if you don’t think you need it, will go a long way, especially if you are both enduring the same tribulations.

County Mental Health Contacts

Ulster- (845) 679-2485 or (845) 338-2370

Delaware- (607) 865-6522

Greene- (518) 947-8010

Schoharie- (518) 295-8336

I would be remiss if I were to exclude mention of the selfless dedication of the countless emergency responders and support personnel near and far that came to the aid of the citizens of the area affected by this disaster, and to their families and loved ones that dealt with the long hours they spent away from them. Without their help and the support of their families, the losses our towns would have incurred would be far more insurmountable. Be sure to give them a pat on the back if you see them around, as many have been to hell and back for the past month.

Persevere, and stay safe out there, as we continuously strive for some semblance of normalcy.

P.S. Get a tetanus shot.

Rich Muellerleile is the captain of the Shandaken Ambulance Service. He posts regular safety tips in his new column, Stayin' Alive, on our Shandaken town page.