In an earlier Tidbit, I discussed military medicine in general, at least as I experienced it during my twenty-year career. This is a follow up in which I describe my introduction to a nasty machine designed solely for the benefit of medical practitioners with very little thought for patients.
That wonderful time- and money-saving instrument was the immunization gun, a device in which a blast of air under high pressure was used to propel a dosage of immunization fluid through the skin of a patient. The military leapt upon this device with all four feet for a number of reasons.
Once it was hooked to an adequate air pressure supply and fitted with a large reservoir of immunization fluid, a technician could “shoot” a great number of patients in rapid succession without having to change needles, reload a syringe, or other time-consuming activities. It was made to order for inoculating hundreds of basic trainees in one setting in a very short period of time. Just swab ‘em down and shoot ‘em up!
However, there was at least one known issue back then: If the patient flinched when being shot with the fluid, he/she was likely to experience a nasty injection site wound, particularly if the “gun” was tilted away from being perpendicular to the skin.
I had to endure this several times during my Air Force basic training to get protected against all sorts of common – and not so common – maladies. I never flinched, but I never enjoyed the experience, either. The claim that it was painless was an outright lie, for I always got a slight injection site bump that was sore for a day or two afterwards.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I developed a strong desire to avoid shots, regardless of whether a needle was involved or not. And once out of basic training, I learned how to avoid them. The procedures at Yokota Air Base in the mid to late 1960s consisted of having everyone stand in line to have their shot records – heavy paper pamphlets about the size of a passport in which dates and dosages of shots were written – inspected. I suppose that this sequence was to ensure that people did not get unneeded shots or prevent getting shots before they were due.
As a shot record was being verified, medical staff used the opportunity to enter data on the shot about to be received. Then the patient was to move on to the inoculation station. It did not take me long to figured out that as soon as my shot record was updated, there was a golden opportunity to escape and evade. So, I did – and to hell with the actual shot.
Since then, there have been other issues identified with using an injection gun: splash-back, fluid suck-back, and retrograde flow. All three pose serious contamination risks to subsequent recipients. I don’t know when there was a change back to needles, but a 2011 YouTube video shows Air Force basic trainees getting the needle. No more gun – don’t they look happy about that?