Having a little skin in the game

This is the last background story for the Uganda trip.


The reality of traveling to Uganda didn’t really sink in until April 4 – shot day. Before that, the process had consisted of passport paperwork and purchasing plane tickets (which I didn’t even do).

Each developing country requires a different set of shots based on potential exposure. For perspective, some of these shots can’t be administered at your local doctor’s office or health department because either a) the disease they prevent is so rare it doesn’t exist in the US or b) the vaccine is so rare its centralized at one point. Comforting, right?

Most international travelers from the Sooner State invariably land at the Oklahoma Health Department (ODH) in Oklahoma City. For those that have never been to the ODH, let me paint you a picture. It is the modern day equivalent of Ellis Island.

I arrived on a cloudless spring day with pep in my step. Adventures always generate personal energy and somehow you think that everyone else will match your excitement. They typically do not.

Entering ODH, I’m greeted by a man, who I’m convinced played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. When I asked where to go for international travel shots, he pointed to a rather large sign that reads “international travel” in block letters. His frown called me stupid. I smiled sheepishly and thanked him.

On the far wall of the main room at the ODH there are six windows that resemble bank tellers, except the ladies there are ensconced behind thick sheets of bullet proof glass. In hindsight, this should have been a clue.

At window 5, I found a pleasant lady with a broad smile. She asked me about my trip, while whipping through paperwork on a clipboard. When I asked if she had traveled abroad, she said, “Oh heaven no. I would never go to one of those countries.”


I took my place in the sea of maroon plastic chairs and surveyed my fellow ODH detainees. One guy about eight rows back had his hoodie pulled low and was sound asleep (because the chairs were so comfortable). A woman sat quietly a few rows in front of me. To her left, a mother wrangled a figidity child.

All in all, a pretty normal crowd sans the young man three rows back noisily devouring a bag of Funyuns. For the record, Funyuns are neither fun nor onions. They possess roughly 26,000 chemical compounds and emit an odor akin to summertime road kill. If you look at the list of ingredients on the side of the bag, it just says: Seriously you don’t want to know. Yet, this – I’m guessing – teenager ate them with an eagerness only seen by the kids in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

As I pondered the deeper meanings behind Thomas the Train (playing on the room’s large TV), I noticed I was not issued a number but a letter – K.

K? K stood for what? Konundrum? No, that’s not right. Was it random? No explanation. It will go down as another unanswerable question of the ODH like What’s that smell? and Why does it look like 1972 in here?

About 20 minutes into my 10 minute wait, Jenni came and fished me out of the waiting pool. Jenni was about 55, lean with a toothy smile. She had red hair which I took as a good sign. Gingers trust others gingers. It’s hard to explain, but I felt instantly connected to my shot Sherpa. 

We weaved our way back into the bowels of the ODH building. We passed two other smaller waiting rooms both plastered with anti-drugs and abstinence posters before landing in a small gray cubicle the size of refrigerator box. Other shot recipients were within arm’s reach. So much for privacy.

Visitors to Uganda are only required to receive a yellow fever shot. However, Jenni provided me a Typhoid Mary menu that listed all the potential diseases and the outcome to my health if I were to contract one. You can order up anything you want to appease your inner hypochondriac: tetanus, meningitis and the hepatitis twins A and B, among many others.

Jenni went through them one-by-one as though she was giving a dramatic reading of King Lear.

Bottom line: Jenni was convinced I was probably going to get sick from this trip. At one point she leaned close and whispered, “They have several diseases over there that we don’t have here.” This is the moment my confidence died. Umm … yup, I know, Jenni, that’s why I’m here.

I also learned a new phrase that will haunt my dreams and I now impart it to you – traveler’s diarrhea. (Shudder. Gag. Sigh). “You’re probably going to get this,” she said. I asked Jenni if she had ever experienced any of these diseases from her travels. She said, “Oh heaven no. I would never go to one of those countries.”

Double nice.

As she wrapped up her presentation, Jenni gave me two warnings, “Don’t drink the water. Don’t brush your teeth with it. Don’t swim in it.” Apparently if I look at the water I’m doomed.

Secondly, she said these exact words: “If you see someone coughing up blood, don’t go talk to them.” Wait, what? So you’re saying I’m not supposed to rush in and splash their blood on my face? Why, Jenni? Sheesh. If someone within a 10-block radius of my house in Ardmore started coughing up blood, I’d move.  

In the end I ordered up yellow fever and Hep A shots. Jenni expertly administered them. I never felt either shot. (A few weeks later, I would follow up at the Ardmore Health Department and get tetanus and meningitis’s shots. I did feel those).

Having someone intentionally plunge live viruses into your body does bring a certain clarity. I now had skin in the game – literally. This clearly wasn’t a vacation. No one heading to Disney World is worried they’ll contract typhoid from Mickey Mouse.

This trip – at some small level – carries with it risk. In reality, it can be mitigated (malaria pills and shots, planning and proper resources) but the chance any problems might occur generates fear and with it the desire to count the personal cost.

So often when the Lord has asks me to serve, I weigh the cost against desire. There is no obedience just a little scale in my head. That’s the truth. The preparation for the trip was a lesson in not counting the cost – both financially and personally. I needed to go.

Even though I’m just hours into it (and even though a small child screamed in my ear for 9 hours), this trip holds meaning on multiple levels. I believe that.

In the future, I will try not to weight the cost. I will fail undoubtedly but this trip has already affirmed the joy that comes with walking in obedience. Lead me where I need to go, Lord, just give me the grace and strength to follow … and please, don’t ask me to eat Funyuns.  

I wonder if they have a shot for those?




4 responses to “Having a little skin in the game

  1. Adam, you killed me with this post. I loved the lines from the two women about traveling abroad. “Oh heaven no. I would never go to one of those countries.” Nice!

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