Getting a Concussion from the Flu Shot

Reading Time: ~3 minutes

Before I start, let’s take a look the word I instinctively chose to represent “flu shot.” I chose “THE,” not the more casual and far less menacing “A.” That’s a common choice of diction when it comes to vaccines these days, whether Michelle Bachmann is saying that she met an anonymous woman whose child suffered learning disabilities from “the” HPV vaccine or FOX News viewers believing that “the” swine flu vaccine is deadlier than the virus itself.

Now, I haven’t gotten either of those vaccines (the former hasn’t been recommended for males yet, kinda). But I hadn’t received the flu vaccine before last Tuesday, either. In fact, the last time I visited a doctor was in 2006, so I could get some shots for college.

Yes, I am officially in my Young Dumb Male phase – fully employed, in my twenties, living in an apartment with two other Stupid Young Males. That’s in part why I signed up to receive the flu vaccine when it was offered at my office – I was trying to force myself out of the phase.

“I always say that I believe in scientific advancements and stuff, but I never really endorse them by using them,” I had thought to myself, nodding enthusiastically at my capacity for self-reflection.

So I made an appointment and the fateful day arrived at Tuesday, around noon. I strode into a meeting room of bright lights and cheesy cardboard signs, where lonely insurance representatives stood behind tables and tried to look happy.

I immediately found Flu Shot Alley, where makeshift partitions separated the people currently being needled. I wrote my name on a piece of paper and idly wondered if I would have some kind of Violent Reaction.

A lady ushered me into one of the corners and sat me down on a stool. “We just ask that you stay for 15 minutes after, in case you have a reaction,” she said.

“A reaction?” I asked.

“They’re rare.” She patted my arm with a damp cloth and then injected me. I didn’t watch. In fact, I kept waiting for it to hurt more, but nothing happened.

“That’s it?” I asked in wonderment.

“That’s it,” she said.

I hopped off the stool gleefully, proud of myself. Not for enduring a possibly painful episode, but for actually taking the time to schedule the thing and go through with it.

“This is what I have to do to take care of myself and it’s better that I get started sooner than later,” I thought victoriously. And, radiant with confidence, I approached my coworker. “She said that we have to wait for 15 minutes, but I think we’re probably fine if we want to go to lunch.”

And then a fuzzy panic started in me, like all the thoughts in my head were bubbling right out of my brain. I had a transcendental feeling of denial. “This feels pretty weird, what if I just died right now?” I wondered.


I woke up to two paramedics waving in my face and asking me questions. My first instinct was to casually laugh at whatever I had done and try to rise, but they told me to stay on the floor, where there was some very warm stuff behind my head.

As I lay there, bobbing on the undercurrent of consciousness, I relaxed and floated onto a stretcher, which the paramedics promptly rammed into the side of the elevator. “Sorry, buddy,” they told me.

The ambulance ride was passed in a daze. One paramedic asked me where I was from and the other injected me with a variety of Stuff.

So — what happened? Nothing extraordinary. The inital fear that I had an allergic reaction quickly gave way to the realization that I had simply wimped/passed out. The problem was that I fell straight backwards, onto the tissue-thick carpet blanketing our office’s cement floor.

It still kind of weirds me out. The CDC says that the side effects of the flu shot, other than a very rare allergic reaction, are soreness, a fever, and aches. I mean, maybe soreness and aches covers the concussion. Not sure.

Fainting from vaccinations isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare. I think the moral of my experience is to sit down after a vaccination, not just during it. 

Not that everything is sunshine and flu-free weekends now, either. As with (I assume) any concussion: I can’t move my head too fast or it jets off into the sky, trying to flee my body, I can’t lift my head without my neck complaining, I can’t taste or smell anything, and for the past two days, a tiny Mozart has been playing in my ear. He’s not very good.

Seems a high price to pay for the certainty of avoiding the flu. It made me reconsider the whole idea of vaccinations. Maybe it would have been better to risk getting sick (like I did last year, and the year before, and the year I didn’t get the swine flu vaccine)… worst case scenario, I would have ended up in the hospital anyway, sans concussion.

Instead, I got the worst of both worlds – I got a shot that triggered a whole chain reaction of other medical requirements. Then again, the bright side is that I may have been cured by my Young Dumb Male condition, despite the fact that I was injured by trying to scrape my way out of it.

Because now I have to find a doctor who can look at my head.

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