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'I didn't want to get the COVID vaccine. Here's why I changed my mind.'

This is my pro-vax story... words I never thought I would say.

Before today, I wasn’t pro-vax or anti-vax, or anywhere in between. I simply had vax-iety. 

I am a person with illness anxiety disorder, or as it is more commonly known – a hypochondriac.  

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It started when I was three, after a two-week stay in the children’s ward of the Royal Brisbane hospital. I underwent more tests in those two weeks than most people will endure in their lifetime. But I got lucky. 

A few months earlier a doctor in my hospital had been at a medical conference somewhere in the United States. 

At that conference, a case study was discussed about a boy with famous parents who had recently been diagnosed with a rare illness that only affects a minuscule percentage of children worldwide. 

The illness was Kawasaki Disease, and the boy was Jett Travolta. I think about Jett often. He’s the reason I am alive today, but he never got to see his 17th birthday or become an adult like I did. 

I received the treatment in time and made a full recovery. But the experience stayed with me. 

Three years later in the middle of an art gallery on the other side of the world, I started screaming “No way Jose! No way Jose!”. The man I was screaming at was the same man who drew my blood every day when I was sick. 

A year after that I watched the movie Outbreak where a monkey bites a man, who sneezes on a cookie, and Ebola Virus spreads around the world. 

For six months I had night terrors, and during the day I anxiously waited for Ebola Virus to come and liquefy the insides of all my loved ones. 

A year after that a news story broke about a child who died, and after they found a microscopic worm in his eye that he contracted from a snail which had slithered over infected bat poo. I didn’t play outside for months. 

A few years after that a boy down the road died from Meningococcal and his parents displayed his trophies and medals at his bedroom window for passers-by to see. 

I could drive anyone to that house now and point out the exact window. It stuck with me. 

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Illness anxiety can manifest in so many ways. 

For me, it isn’t the fear of getting sick, it is the fear of being sick and not knowing that I am. So I get check-ups every two or so months. 

I even have a favourite blood test lady who has this soothing South African accent and ability to extract blood without even a pinch. 

I take medications for generalised anxiety disorder, and they have worked wonders. But as the saying goes, old habits die hard. 

Illness anxiety disorder will always be a part of me, and I have come to accept that. It’s why I was so surprised that 2020 didn’t really phase me. 

The threat of a highly contagious and deadly virus should have shaken me to my core, but it didn’t. I guess because I could manage my personal risk by staying indoors, and one of my thermometers would be there to tell me if I was sick. 

But then came 2021 and the promise of a vaccine was realised. If you asked 2020 me, I was getting it, no questions asked. And then the reports of blood clots started appearing on the news. 

Yes, they were rare, but here’s the thing – Kawasaki Disease essentially is triggered by an infection which sends the immune system into overdrive and inflames the blood vessels. This can lead to blood clots and can severely damage the heart. 

So while I made a full recovery, I was always told a blood clot may be lying dormant in my body ready to strike. 

“KD kids are the ones who drop dead on sporting fields in their teens,” a very ineloquent doctor once told me. 

No number of scans, ECGs or echocardiograms were ever enough to rid that message from my mind. In my world the vaccine became enemy number one, pushing COVID-19 to second place. 

For most of this year, I was unfazed. My age group wasn’t eligible yet and the virus was staying away. Then the outbreak in Sydney occurred and the news of young people getting so sick was everywhere. 

I was overwhelmed with fear. But the solution, a vaccine, was equally overwhelming. I kept a lid on it though. But then my age group became eligible and the table tennis playing in my mind rivalled that of an Olympic match. 

I tentatively booked my vaccine for October 30. Then I had a random panic attack that lasted most of the day. 

As timing would have it, I had an appointment with my wonderful and always helpful psychiatrist pencilled in for the next day. 

She hadn’t seen me in this state for years, so we talked it through. And then she gave me the best piece of advice I think she’s ever told me. 

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It went something like this: “Deep down you know COVID is more likely to harm you than the vaccine, so you know you need to get it, but you’re putting it off because you think if you give yourself more time you can more thoroughly weigh the pros and cons. But all that will happen between now and October 30th is your anxiety levels will keep rising and rising and you will be further from a resolution in your mind then you are now. So tomorrow call every vaccination hub you can and find somewhere that can give you the vaccine this week. I promise you, afterwards your anxiety will resolve itself overnight.” 

She’s almost always right, so I made the calls and I found a vaccine. 

I had 20 minutes to get there, so no time to think. 

I am now 10 hours post-jab and guess what? I feel great, I feel relaxed, all my tension has gone. 

Maybe I will get a clot, maybe I will get myocarditis, or maybe I will be just fine. But I am protected from COVID now and more importantly, I am less likely to pass COVID onto my fully vaxxed, but still vulnerable grandparents. 

I am not a writer, I am just a regular person, and this may not ever see the light of day, but I decided to write my story in case there is someone out there currently anxious or filled with panic because they are scared of both COVID and the vaccine in equal parts. 

If you feel paralysed as I did, make the choice – preferably to get vaccinated – and I promise you will immediately feel a weight lift off your shoulders. 

I was sceptical when I was given this advice, but it worked and I can now put all that mental energy to better use. So put down the racquet like I did and leave the table tennis for the athletes. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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