Injection Gone Wrong: Part 1

by Brenda F. Johnson Brenda F. Johnson, MSN

Specializes in Gastrointestinal Nursing. Has 30 years experience.

This is part one of a story about a flu shot gone wrong. Susan’s name has been changed to protect the innocent, but her story needs to be told. This is just the beginning of her tale, so watch for part two to find out what happened next.

Injection Gone Wrong: Part 1

Susan stepped up to the next available person and handed her the flu shot questionnaire filled out and signed. The tiny room was full of activity. There were piles of syringes and alcohol pads next to papers on the wood table. Office chairs were pushed back against the wall as people lined up to get their annual flu shot. The woman took Susan's paper, glanced at it, then placed it on the table next to her. Picking up a syringe and an alcohol pad, she turned to Susan and tore open the alcohol package.

Susan turned her head away as she pushed up her sleeve on her left arm so she could get the shot. After all the years of giving shots, Susan still hated receiving one. She got a whiff of rubbing alcohol just before her knees buckled. The pain in her left shoulder took her breath away as heat rushed over her body from the top of her head to her toes. It took Susan a second to gather herself, leaning on the table for a second. As she walked out of the room, she rubbed her left shoulder. Susan was sure the needle had hit the bone and the pain was unbearable.

As she entered the elevator, a wave of nausea surged up her gut. Overwhelmed, Susan inhaled deeply, as she concentrated on keeping her breakfast in her stomach. Beads of cold sweat glistened on her pale forehead, her brown bangs absorbed the sweat and clung to her skin. Her hand shook as she wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. What was happening? She asked herself as she stepped off the elevator.

Entering the break room, Susan declared rubbing her shoulder, "Man, they sure did give my flu shot high on my shoulder. It really hurts! And I'm sure they hit bone!" She sat down in one of the chairs in the crowded break room.

"Yeah. they gave me mine high too! But I have more fat on me, you are so small. Eat a hamburger girl!" one of the co-workers joked. Throughout the rest of the morning, more people declared how high their flu shot was given too. Some complained of soreness, but Susan was sure no one felt like she did. The charge nurse herself had received a shot too high on her arm and after hearing everyone else talk about it, she reassured everyone that she would report the issue.

Susan took some ibuprofen and applied some ice to her shoulder and made it through the day. Over the next couple of weeks, the pain persisted. Changing clothes, especially her shirt, was difficult, she often had to ask her family for help. Susan tried to lift her arm to her shoulder, but the pain was so bad it brought tears to her eyes. It took a lot of extra time to get ready for work in the morning. Favoring her left arm, she tried to use her right arm for everything. One morning while she tried to brush her hair, frustration, pain, and anger engulfed her. She threw the brush against the wall and collapsed on the bathroom floor in tears.

Able to do most of her job, she continued to work. Every day she took OTC medication along with heating pad or ice packs to try and dull the pain, hoping that it would go away. She hated to complain. She questioned herself on how a flu shot could change her life so much. Finally, after two weeks, Susan timidly sent her department manager an email, explaining what had been happening. Embarrassed, she felt silly, but she could not take it anymore.

Within the next day or two, she received calls from the Occupational Health departments and Workmen's Compensation.

Walking into the Occupational Health department Susan felt hopeful. This was a step towards fixing what was wrong, getting rid of the pain. After she signed in and filled out the questionnaire, she sat down in one of the cold chairs. She pulled her lab jacket around her small frame in an effort to ward off the chill. She cringed as her left shoulder sent a sharp pain down her arm.

"Hello Susan, how are you? Please come this way," she walked ahead of Susan to the room. On the way to the exam room, Susan noticed another employee in the room next to hers. "He is here for the same reason you are," she said. Taken aback, Susan didn't know how to feel. Several emotions passed through her body as she hopped up on the exam table. The woman standing before her was the one who had organized the flu shot event this year, and here she was telling her that more than just herself had had a problem.

"Yes, I started getting a lot of phone calls the same day you got your shot," she told Susan. "Many people were complaining of pain in the arm they got their shot in and that the shot was given too high. We went over and educated those people as soon as we could. At the end of the day, we told them not to come back. Their services were no longer needed."

Susan's blue-green eyes widened, and her pulse increased. A flush came to her cheeks as she processed what was being told to her. She gripped the arms of the chair she was now sitting in until her knuckles went white. Forcing herself to relax, she put her hands in her lap and inhaled deeply. The nurse manager continued to tell her that she had looked at Susan's consent and found out who had given her the shot and now was contacting all the other people who they had given shots to.

Susan's mind raced with questions. Why was the education taken place after the damage was done? Who were these people, and what was their credentials? How could she trust the woman standing in front of her now, knowing that she had not taken proper precautions before subjecting the entire hospital staff to someone obviously not qualified?

To find out the rest of the story, stay tuned!!

Here's the rest of the story...

Injection Gone Wrong: Part 2

Injection Gone Wrong: Part 3

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30 Comment(s)



Specializes in retired LTC. 7,735 Posts

Hey Mods, please hurry up with Part 2. This inquiring mind wants to know ...

klone, MSN, RN

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership. Has 16 years experience. 14,363 Posts

Sounds more like it hit a nerve than the bone.

In my experience, most nurses give the deltoid way too low. It should be only 1-2 inches below the acromium (I do 2 finger widths).

3ringnursing, BSN

Specializes in ICU; Telephone Triage Nurse. Has 25 years experience. 1 Article; 543 Posts

I need the rest of the story!!!!


489 Posts

The suspense is going to kill me.


blondy2061h, MSN, RN

Specializes in Oncology. Has 15 years experience. 1 Article; 4,094 Posts

I've seen the shot given far too low and end up subq resulting in quite warm and irritated skin.


Specializes in ED. 187 Posts


Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration. IM injection given too high and with too great depth, the vaccine goes into the subacromial or subdeltoid bursa. It can cause significant injury. Treated a pt with this problem last year. Our educator shared this article with us:

Nursing Interventions for SIRVA



5 Posts

I had that happen to me a few years back, not as bad as this person. But I still have symptoms. I get the flu shot in the other arm only, and make them go low and tell anyone giving me the shot what happened . It stinks...

klone, MSN, RN

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership. Has 16 years experience. 14,363 Posts

I had that happen to me a few years back, not as bad as this person. But I still have symptoms. I get the flu shot in the other arm only, and make them go low and tell anyone giving me the shot what happened . It stinks...

Apparently our old occupational health nurse at the hospital used to give them either way too low or way too high. Nurses told me they would draw a little triangle on their shoulder, like in the textbooks, to landmark it for her.



1 Post

Thank you so much for this article. September of 2015 I received my annual flu shot. It too was administered too high and as soon as the needle entered my arm jerked and I had this immense pain shooting down the arm. I compare this pain to the pain I had with shingles. But the pain never went away. I can't lift that arm more than 45 degrees to the side, have pain when lying on that side and am unable to do many everyday activities. When I went to the doctor to see what was going on I was told that this couldn't have resulted from the flu shot and I must have injured it someway else. I was told this by 4 separate doctors. When the problem did not get any better they finally ordered an x-ray and ultrasound. This showed moderate left rotator cuff tendinopathy most marked at subscapularis tendon where there are at least three tears including a large full-thickness tear of the anterior fibers.

Knowing that I am not the only one this has happened to has helped me immensely. Thank you



Specializes in Urgent Care, Oncology. Has 8 years experience. 983 Posts

1. It's not uncommon for individuals to feel sick or like they are going to pass out after receiving a shot, most likely within 15 minutes.

2. Telling a patient that someone else is there for the same thing is a violation of patient privacy.



Specializes in LTC, Rehab. Has 5 years experience. 1 Article; 1,101 Posts

Very interested to read more. Someone where I work gave one to me that was too high, but it was just a bit sore for a day or two - nothing like the problems described here.