Eyjafjallajoekull Volcano

April 20, 2010

“Are you allergic to eggs?” she asked as she reached into the mini-fridge.

When someone asks a question as specific as that, I am determined to come up with the answer as honestly and dramatically as possible. “Uh…” I searched my memory for any possible egg-related sniffling. “No,” I said, conclusively. I was not allergic to eggs. What this had to do with me going to Kenya, I couldn’t figure out at the moment.

“Good. Because this vaccine has eggs in it,” said the Penn travel medicine nurse, closing the mini-fridge door.

I imagined her syringe dipping into a nice plate of eggs benedict or maybe huevos rancheros.

“Eggs?” I asked.

“It’s the protein medium for the yellow fever vaccine,” she answered, turning to me with the needle in hand. “It’s a live virus vaccine.”

That sounded a bit counter-intuitive to me, the words “live virus.”

Jenn, Bill, and Kathleen, who were also squeezed into the travel medicine office, had already gotten the yellow fever vaccine. I was jealous. Jen turned to me and wrinkled her nose, “Yeah, I felt pretty bad after this one. Gotta warn ya’.”

My experience living in Center City Philadelphia, steeping in that hotbed of American history, instantly made me think of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 that happened right here! That ill-fated outbreak that could very well be one of the reasons why the practice of medicine advanced as it did and why I’m at this Very University getting These Vaccinations in the First Place! And my arm was a bit goose bumby when I gave it to the nurse practitioner to stick with the eggy concoction.

So we’re all caught up on our vaccines and anti-malaria scripts and ready to go. Then news of the volcano in Iceland hit. It’s delaying flights all over Europe and we’re supposed to fly to Amsterdam then on to Nairobi tomorrow. As of this evening, Kathleen has been haggling with the travel agent who says a flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg (or “Joburg,” in the government parlance) may be in the cards for us on Saturday. This might include 30 hours of travel time including layovers.

I can’t even pronounce Eyjafjallajoekull and it may well truncate our entire itinerary.