On Dec. 15, 1976, I got my first-ever flu shot. It was for the swine flu.

On Dec. 16, 1976, the government suspended the mass-innoculation program due to concerns associated with the vaccine.

Swell.

While I didn't know anyone who had an adverse reaction to the vaccine, I made up my mind then and there, that I would forego any future flu vaccines.

For the most part, I have been lucky. In over 30 years, I can remember only one time that I actually had the flu Feb. 14, 1989.

My temperature was 101, and I was coughing, sneezing and achy all over. I put my two youngest kids to bed, put a bag of garbage on the back porch where my husband, who was skiing with our 13-year-old, would take care of it when he got home and then I put myself to bed.

Within an hour, my daughter came banging through the back door, yelling that Jim fell skiing. She helped him into the house, and though I tried to help him up the stairs, he couldn't put any weight on his leg. I propped him up on the couch, brought him a pillow and blanket, and prayed that in the morning he would be better.

Despite being as sick as a dog, I could not sleep. I lie awake, worrying how he would work (he is self-employed) and how we would pay for any medical care if he needed it (our insurance at the time only covered catastrophes). As I ruminated on these dilemmas, I could hear scratching and scraping coming from just below me, on the back porch. Our cat, a black and white wanderer, had taken off the day before and was probably trying to get someone to let him in.

"Serves him right," I thought, in my fever-induced, stressed-out state.

As dawn neared, I gave up on sleeping and headed down to let the cat in. I peeked through the screen door and saw him in the corner, working his way through the torn open garbage bag, and gnawing on a steak bone. Grumbling to myself about the mess I was going to have to clean up, I opened the door to let him in.

I realized, just a tiny bit too late, that it was not my cat, but a skunk.

I closed the door quietly, and let slip an expletive. It was already getting lighter, and this skunk was in no hurry to head home.

I woke my husband, and told him we had a bigger problem than his knee. He hobbled into the kitchen on a pair of used crutches.

I still don't know how he did it, or why, but cranky and in pain, he balanced on one crutch, and proceeded to kick the door with his good leg, hoping to scare off the skunk.

It worked, except, the skunk, still in no hurry, waddled off the porch and into the yard, but not before leaving us with not one, but three puffs of his unique scent.

I quickly slammed the back door, but it was too late. Imagine a noxious green cloud forming, and then following us first into the kitchen, then the dining room and all the way to the living room on the opposite end of the house. I hurried upstairs, gagging, and closed the doors to the bedrooms, which kept some of the stench from saturating the bed linens and curtains.

Every porous surface in our house was affected, from stuffed animals and furniture to pasta and crackers (I ate one before I realized it.)

With a towel wrapped around my face to help me breathe, I packed suitcases and sent the kids off with my parents. I then took my husband to the hospital, where we proceeded to make people's eyes water, as they scrambled to move as far away from us as possible. We couldn't even stand the smell of each other.

By late afternoon, after opening every window in the house, despite below-freezing temperatures outside, we were on our way to my parents', where we stayed for three days before attempting to venture back into the house. Even then, it took weeks and cases of tomato juice to rid the porch of the smell.

Although this story proves, to me at least, that getting the flu is not the worst thing that could happen, I decided this year I would get the flu shot. More because I'm concerned with passing it on to my parents or my pregnant daughter or granddaughter, if I do get it.

I also decided years ago, NEVER to leave the garbage on the back porch.