Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

The Roles Of Vaccines

Vaccines.  We all got them as babies. and then, we had to get more in school.  I remember waiting in my first grade assembly line, we were getting our measles booster.  It was this loud air-powered gun that hit your flesh without any kind of warning.  It hurt like hell and left a round imprint on the outside of your biscep.  But other than tetatnus shots, these on average would be the last vaccine’s many would see.

The concept was simple.  Get the shot of the disease you are trying to prevent (either in live form virus or dead)  which would then trigger your body into an immune response, making antibodies to help fight off a future infection.  This is how getting the measles shot, chicken pox vaccine’s prevent getting the actual disease, but if by chance you get the disease first, if your body’s immune system is working properly, and with some luck, you will survive and build up immunity on your own.  This is why most people only get Chicken Pox once, or do they?

There are vaccines available for so many things today from polio, HPV, and a new strain of flu every year.  There are also vaccine’s against pneumonia and meningitis.  But these vaccines also have the possibitlity of giving someone a false sense of security.  We have all heard that “this year’s shot does not prevent all flu’s from occurring.”  Measles and polio we are pretty sure it is one shot and done.  We get the MMRV for measles, mumps, rhubella, and varicella (covers chicken pox) so that we do not get the chicken pox.  Researchers now believe that another booster is needed.

Back in the days of  my diagnostics, I had a procedure done called a laparotomy.  This was the diagnostic test being done, which was to determine what stage of Hodgkin’s Disease I was in.  The procedure involves going in through my abdomen, and removing my spleen, some lymph nodes, and a biopsy of my liver.  Involvement of any would determine my staging, and treatment.  When I questioned the removal of the spleen, and how we can live without it, as so many do, I had been told while it does have a purpose, we can live without it.  And we can live without it, I am proof.  Spleen removal was also popular for people who were in car accidents or had other severe trauma with interior bleeding.

When you realize the amount of things that a spleen does:   main function of the immune system filtering out old red cells while holding extra blood, hemoglobin is metabolized so that its byproducts can be handled by the liver, antibodies are removed of their bacteria just as if it were a large lymph node.  Today researchers know that the spleen plays a vital role in recovering from a heart attack by helping to regenerate cells.  The spleen does all of these things, yet we can live without it if we have to.

The bad news is that there are precautions that have to be taken if you become “asplenic” – aka, without a spleen.  Risks of infection and contracting illnesses are much higher.  A simple cut on the finger, some dental work involving scraping away bacteria (that is why we floss people), a co-worker who decides to tough it out rather than use a paid sick day, all increase our risks of not only becoming septic, which for the majority of patients is fatal, let alone those without a spleen.

So what do we do if we do not have this “non-vital organ” that clearly protects us from infections and diseases.  In my case, prior to my splenectomy (part of the laparotomy), I had been injected with the Pneumovax vaccine.  At the time I was told it would be for life.  Since then, the value has been bumped up to needing every ten years or so.  But in my particular case, the Pneumovax has not worked.  Part of my long term cancer surveillance has included monitoring my titers for pneumonia and meningitis.  Titers are simply proof that your body reacted to having been exposed to that particular illness.  My titers showed nothing for either pneumonia or meningitis.  Over a period of 3 years I had received over 10 Pneumovax shots and at least 6 menningicoccal shots.  As far as I can tell, I have been okay as far as the titers for menningitis.  But I am majorly struggling against the pneumoccal titers.

You need to understand,  The Pneumovax only protects against one type of pneumnia I believe.  The problem is, there are many many more types.  So after a bout last year with pneumonia and sepsis, and another bout with double pneumonia, and all of the shots I have taken, my body has still only generated enough titers to show 50% protection.  Simple terms, I am nowhere near the protection I need and am now faced with yet more vaccines.  Now they will try something called Prevnar, which is a pneumococcal vaccine that covers several types of pneumonia to see what that does for me.

It sucks really.  I have gone through all of those vaccines, and twice last year, I came down with severe cases of pneumonia.  Worse yet, I had no obvious symptoms (breathing, coughing, congestion, NOTHING), except by some dumb fluke, my wife took my temperature which resulted in a trip to the emergency room both times, one by ambulance.

At this point, I am scared to have any more junk injected into me afraid of what all that exposure will do.  I have to be TB tested every year, which is basicly done with the skin test, you are injected with TB.  For Flu, you are injected with the flu, either live virus or dead virus.  I can never receive a live virus vaccine, especially like the one from a couple of years ago for the swine flu.  I have been fortunate, having actually had chicken pox, I have not had shingles.  Shingles for a long term cancer survivor, especially one without a spleen is pure torture.  And I know several people who get them many times a year.  The vaccines are not an option because they are live virus vaccines.

So what is my best defense?  You.  Both of us, wash our hands.  Cover our mouth and nose when we cough and sneeze, then sanitize our hands again.  Stay home from work if you are sick.  And while I respect a parent’s right not to have their child vaccinated, you do not have the right to expose my child or have my child become a carrier and infect me.

On my Med Alert bracelet is a lot of information about me.  But there is one important word on there that gets everyone’s attention when treating me… “asplenic”.  This lets every EMT, every nurse, tech, doctor, know that extra precautions must be taken with me if I am being treated.  Now you know.

no to shingles/live vaccines

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