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HERB BENHAM: Tougher journey to other side

I apologize. If I were dismissive, cavalier and not compassionate enough when people told me about their reactions to the vaccines, I’d like a second chance, a redo, an opportunity to say that I have seen the light after experiencing the sweaty darkness and have become a more sensitive person.

If growth is possible, and that’s doubtful, it would only be because the bar is low.

We got the second dose a few weeks ago and it was a snap (my second preemptive apology is to the people who didn’t have the same snappy experience or who, like the teachers, deserve it way more than many of us do). Michelle Oxford and her crackerjack crew at Bakersfield Heart Hospital made it super efficient and, with an appointment, a 20-minute affair. Michelle gave me two lollipops on the way out because I mentioned a 4-year-old granddaughter, which is the oldest trick in the grandparent book.

The mood in the room was upbeat because this was the second shot for many people. Assuming that the vaccine works, it felt like the beginning of something, an escape from the COVID handcuffs. “Possible” seemed possible again.

“Possible” includes restaurants, travel, greeting people warmly rather than warily and moving freely around the countryside with nary a care in the world.

It had that “new day feel” and if that day wasn’t this day, then maybe it was tomorrow or the day after.

My reaction to the second shot? Elation, a growing sense of optimism and at worst, a sore left deltoid, which has a larger surface area than most.

I had heard of people, even friends, weak as I knew them to be, that had had a reaction to the second shot but how do you take them seriously? Life is like Yelp. There are always a couple of diners who can find fault with the most reliable of restaurants.

Twelve hours after getting the shot, I woke up and I was singing the lines from the Bruce Springsteen song:

“At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet

And a freight train running through the middle of my head.”

Sheets — wet. Pillows — wet. I’m surprised the curtains, carpet and walls weren’t wet. It was time for ServiceMaster and the big fans.

I felt old, not 66 years old but 150 years old and not a young 150. I needed to be suspended from the ceiling like the Kobe beef cows because no position was comfortable. My hands ached as if I had been stringing beads for a week. This felt like the flu, but a flu with sharper teeth.

I took a bike ride the next morning. That’s usually a tonic. Breathe some fresh air, get the blood moving, change your physical location.

The blood may have been moving but it wasn’t moving fast enough. The cyclists with whom I ride, not known for their philanthropy, chopped me like garlic. I was so bad people stopped making fun of me and looked at me like “What did you think was going to happen when you brought that weak sauce out here?”

“Weak sauce” had a muffin when he got home, Weak sauce went down for an hour nap and Weak sauce went to bed by 7 p.m. that night and slept for 11 hours.

Funny thing about feeling bad. When you wake up the next day and determine you did not die, you feel a flush of health. The sky is blue, the birds are singing and you are grateful.

Like many people, I’m normally not a big go-to-the-doctor person because I think I know better, which I probably don’t. I usually forgo the flu shot but this seems different.

I’d like to get to the other side. I would prefer company. There is never enough.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.