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The Covid Show, Part II

 We got our second Covid vaccination on March 10 and were thrilled to have done so, even though I was sick for a couple days after. But, okay… to be expected. Now that we and our son are all vaccinated, there is a new comfort level in our being together and out in the general population. Not invincible, mind you, but a little more protected.

     Texas, of course, has opened up like a beach long closed after shark attacks; people here are crazy wild with what they think are new-found freedoms from both the increase in vaccinations and the actions of an irresponsible governor. So, I still feel the need to balance the confidence gained from my own vaccine with the unreasonable and careless behavior of others around us who seem hell-bent on returning to the “old normal.” 

     One of the “old normal” things that I had foregone last year (happily, I might add) was the round of all those yearly medical tests/check-ups/diagnostics/visits that are such a part of life, especially of the lives of older people. All those doctors with their lists of recommendations by the American Academies of whatever that one should have or do by virtue of one’s age — please! Well-care is one thing, but unnecessary tests (for non-specific reasons) and redundant referrals (to tell you what you already know) have always rankled me. At the risk of sounding like Trump about Covid testing, the more tests you do, the more cases you’ll find. 

    However, now fully vaccinated and with established safety protocols in place in labs and offices, I did decide that my first nod to normalcy after a year’s hiatus should be the resumption of some well-care routines. I went on and scheduled a mammogram and a subsequent gynecological exam this month.  When I called the breast center to schedule, the person on the phone asked if I had been vaccinated for Covid and then said that I needed to schedule four weeks out from the last shot — no details, no reasons, just that it was recommended. Okay, so that’s what I did. Went earlier this week, four weeks to the day from my last inoculation.

   When I arrived at the center to sign in, the woman at the desk asked whether I had been vaccinated for Covid (didn’t they already know?) and, if so, what was the date of my second shot. When I told her, she hesitated, then consulted a colleague, and then proceeded to tell me that the new recommendations from the radiological association of whatever was that the procedure needed to be scheduled at least six weeks out. (Note: I have now read that some major medical centers are recommending six to ten weeks out, but never mind …) I explained to her that the scheduler had told me four weeks. She shrugged, and said it was my choice to reschedule for later or to go on with the procedure at the time.

     “So, what happens if I have it now?” I asked. “Will I shrivel up and keel over dead?”

     “I doubt it, but you will probably have to come back for another test, and that will take more time,” she replied. “But then maybe not.”

     Having just spent an hour of my time in traffic getting over there and already feeling my blood pressure rise, I decided to go on and have the mammogram.  Of course, late the very next day, I got a call from my gynecologist’s office that “they” (the ubiquitous “they”) needed me to come back for a sonogram to investigate a mass.

     “What do they suspect?” I asked this receptionist. “Is it urgent?” Of course she didn’t know, but went on to tell me that she had already scheduled me for the sonogram two weeks hence.

     I got off the phone and freaked out. And then I got on line, as we all do, and found that a false reading due to inflamed lymph glands are not unusual after the second doses of a Covid vaccine. Furthermore, radiologists reading the results should be informed of when and into which arm the last vaccine was administered. No one had asked me about that. My mass is in the right breast, and sure enough, my last Covid does was in the right arm. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but that little bit calmed me down.

      I will navigate this latest issue with the vaccine, stress and all, and will see my doctor next week. Even after the hassles of getting a vaccine appointment, the odd occurrence of “Covid arm” after my first does (which I also, in alarm, had to research on the internet), the couple days of flu and discomfort after the second dose, and now this, I am still thankful that I have gotten vaccinated, both for myself and for everyone else. But here’s the thing: there are still so many unknowns and so many variables that to act as though the vaccine is the be-all and end-all to any threats from the pandemic is more than foolish, it’s stupid. Questions linger and advice changes from day-to-day: one injection or two; how far apart; how long until immunity is achieved; how long will that immunity last; will we need booster shots come fall; can a vaccinated person still get Covid or be a carrier; how effective are any of these against new variants; how about vaccinating children; and, finally, are there any other as yet unknown, unreported side effects? 

     I have two dear friends who are reluctant to get vaccinated right now. They are not conspiracy crazies or political nuts; they are sophisticated, well-educated, rational people who are nevertheless wary because they want to wait and see what happens among the general population and what the projections are for long-term immunity. Given that research on the vaccines continues even as they are being widely used, that caution doesn’t sound totally unreasonable to me. Let’s face it: we are still in the “emergency use” phase of the FDA. In effect, all of us who are getting vaccinated have become participants in a grand national test trial, much of which might have been done prior to dissemination were it not for the “emergency” of Covid.  

     I reported my earlier vaccine reactions to the CDC and have been getting regular text inquiries about my post-vaccine health ever since. I haven’t yet reported the mammogram incident, because I want to be sure that it is, in fact, just a false reading. Meanwhile, I know the CDC cares even if they don’t have all the answers. That’s something, I guess.    

4 Comments

  1. I’m sure your own doctor can answer your concerns, and they are more qualified to do so than I, but I’ll help with a bit more info for .the moment. I’m a retired imaging tech (X-Ray and MRI). To get really bottom-line simple about it, the COVID vaccines all produce a strong response from our immune system. That’s our bodies making antibodies that will fight the virus (or other viruses if they are similar enough). Part of that immune system response is a temporary period of tissue inflammation, specifically swollen lymph nodes, which can appear in breast tissue as “shadows” (opacity) IN THE IMAGES. It doesn’t mean you have any sort of illness or condition. You got a shot that can temporarily cause the IMAGES to LOOK similar to tumor tissue in the early stages. That makes it a “false positive”.

    Radiologists and techs should all know this already, as does the CDC/WHO/AMA etc. It’s one of the reasons they asked when you got the vaccine. Lymph node swelling in response to a vaccine varies from person to person. When it goes away enough to not interfere with imaging also varies. This is a fairly newly documented effect from the vaccines, so some clinics haven’t yet standardized the period of time they want patients to defer mammograms. Here’s an article with more about it written for general readers to click on:
    https://www.healthline.com/health-news/covid-19-vaccine-can-cause-false-positives-on-breast-cancer-mammograms

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  2. Diane Thiel

    Living in Florida, where disregard for others health has become a way of life, I still wear a mask although fully vaccinated and wonder if “normal” will ever return. I, too, have returned for routine medical exams and labs feeling like my Doctor’s office is one of the truly safe places to go. Appreciate Invisible Mikey’s comment. There is so much we don’t know about the virus, the mutations, how long we will have immunity, will we need a booster or a yearly SARS vaccine along with our flu vaccine? I only know I am grateful to have been vaccinated.

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  3. Exactly. I, too, wonder if “normal” will ever return, but then again, I’m not sure I want it to. But that’s another discussion.
    Thanks for commenting.

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