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  • Writer's pictureFred

The Guillain Barré Syndrome Dilemma

Pete Parada was the drummer of the punk band the Offspring. Long story short, the Offspring all got Covid shots so they could record and tour in close quarters and Pete said he couldn't get the shot, he had previously had Guillain Barre Syndrome and his doctor recommended against the inoculation. The Offspring then fired Mr. Parada. I don't know if Pete is going to sue the Offspring, but we are going to move away from the band for a minute and talk about me, another GBS survivor....

About 10 years ago, I had Guillain Barre Syndrome stemming from a bad sinus infection. I was one of the lucky ones, because statistics say 1 in 4 GBS patients become paralyzed once GBS hits its advanced stages. Don't get me wrong, GBS sucked, and I lost 99% and 90% use of each one of my feet for a short time, but after months of physical therapy, I was more or less back to normal. (GBS did ruin my mental state for a while, but that's another story for another day.)

The point is, since I had GBS, I'm not supposed to get Flu Shots. For 8 years I didn't get any vaccines. Then, right before Covid, I had to get a tetanus shot. No problem. I am not an anit-vaxxer. Please, go get your recommended shots. But this is how I explain GBS to people who ask me. First and foremost, you can't "catch" GBS, it is a syndrome. Basically your body gets stupid and attacks nerve cells instead foreign attackers. There is no "medicine" for GBS, but there are ways to treat it to try to get your body's immune system back on track.

So as scientists frantically scrambled to get a Covid vaccine, I wasn't sure what to do. GBS was no fun, but the worst cases of Covid sounded gruesome. As 2020 wore on, the Right in America screamed that Covid was a way for the government to curb your liberties and the Left said follow the protocols, well, except for when it came to forwarding the tenets of social justice.

By the beginning of 2021, there was hope for the masses. My wife, the nurse, got the Covid shot first with only very minor side effects. Then it was my turn.....


My next door neighbor Dave was a good man. He was 80 years old and bragged that he never spent a night in a hospital in his life. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army and, despite his advanced age, would putter around the neighborhood helping the locals with their small landscaping projects. Right after my wife got her Covid shot, Dave got his regular Flu shot at the beginning of 2021 and within days developed an advanced case of Guillain Barre Syndrome. After about a month of treatment, he was beginning to turn the corner and then, suddenly, died of complications of GBS.

Now this really upset me. When I had GBS, the doctors told me it was like winning the lottery. THE BAD LOTTERY. Only about 1 in 100,000 Americans get GBS. Dave was the FOURTH person I knew who had it.

#1 My Uncle had GBS as a kid in the 1950's.

#2 Me.

#3 My Wife's ex-boyfriend had GBS right before we dated in the early 1990's.

#4 Dave.

How many people have I known in my life? I don't know, maybe, 10,000? That's, like, 4 in 10,000 odds. I once asked my wife if she was GBS Mary and she wasn't amused at all. How in the world do I know 4 people who had GBS? I certainly don't know 4 lottery winners.

I really didn't want to get that Covid shot. So I asked the Director of Operations at my day job, I work for a local school district, if I decided to opt out of the District's Covid vaccine program if I would still have a job. I explained to him my situation with GBS and he said "Fred, according to district policy, you will still have a job if you opt out." Then he paused, "as of today."

I did not like the way he said that.

Went to the primary care physician. He said, "because of your history with GBS, I recommend you defer on the Covid shot."

Then I got a second opinion and the second doctor said "despite your history with GBS, I recommend that you get the Covid shot."

My wife, the nurse, specifically sought out the infectious disease doctor at her hospital and told her my situation. She told the doctor I was skittish about getting the Covid shot. The top infectious disease doctor in the county told my wife (as of Spring of 2021), "tell your husband to get the Covid shot. If he still doesn't listen, tell him due to his age and weight he has a much higher chance of dying of Covid than he does of dying of GBS."

Uggh. I got the Covid shot in the Spring of 2021.

One week later, I was at the urgent care. My uvula had swollen so much, it had blocked my airway. (I had to breathe through my nose.) The doctor gave me a strep throat test, it was negative. He was perplexed and I told him I had the Covid shot the week before. The doctor said my uvulitis had "absolutely nothing" to do with my Covid shot. Get that second shot was his recommendation.

One month late, I got the second shot.

One week after that, I was at the emergency room. My uvula had swollen so much, it had blocked my airway. As the doctor prepared to give me the strep throat test, I told him the story of the first shot and the urgent care. "I have seen one other (Covid) side effects case like this, you would be the second. The timing is more than a coincidence." He gave me a prescription of steroids and sent me on my way.

The emergency room doctor was super nice, but his words sent a chill up my spine. Somehow I had won a Bad Lottery. Again. He said, "we, as doctors, still don't know what the future holds. I have read some literature that suggests that the Covid shot could potentially become as common as the Flu Shot. In your case, I would avoid the specific brand of Covid shot that you had and hope that the next generation of Covid vaccines, if needed, treat you better.

Science is trying the best it can. To me, a layman, it is astounding that we even have a vaccine just over a year from the initial outbreak.

Sometimes life is simply a set of cascading shitty choices.


Just a reminder, we started off the article by talking about the Offspring. They occupy a weird and unique space between Punk, Rock, and Novelty Music. The whole time I was writing this article, all I could hear was the lyrics to Don't Pick It Up replaying in my head.

I hope Pete Parada finds another drumming gig, but I have a feeling it won't be as good, or as lucrative, as drumming for the Offspring.

I want to be mad at Dexter Holland, the lead singer of the Offspring, thinking he's just an uneducated jerk. But he's not. He has a PhD in Molecular Biology. Surely he's aware of the way that GBS attacks the body on a cellular level.

Sorry, I mean, Dr. Dexter Holland.

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