Two Shots

Note: This is a very rough draft. Apologies in advance for any grammatical errors.

I didn’t expect to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for a while.

I work in elderly housing. We provide housing, meals, and cleaning to one of the populations most vulnerable to the virus. But because we aren’t licensed to provide any sort of medical care to those sheltered in our two buildings, neither our residents nor our staff qualified for the round of vaccines that went to nursing homes and other similar facilities.

We operate in a frustrating gray area, and it’s been a long winter of keeping everyone safe and healthy as vaccines rolled out to various age groups.

I’d accepted and made peace with the fact that it would probably be summer at the earliest before I’d get the shots.

One afternoon in the middle of January, I grabbed the mail from the mailbox. It didn’t look like anything exceptional, though there was something from an agency I work with.

Under healthier circumstances, through this agency I support a young adult who needs a helping hand here and there. Starting back at the end of last summer, I was able to start up my time with him again. But when numbers starting rising in Vermont after Halloween, we decided to put things on pause, hoping things would turn around soon.

The letter that arrived in the mail a few weeks back informed me that I qualified for the COVID-19 vaccine and could set up an appointment at the local hospital. 

I didn’t jump up and down, cheering as waves of relief washed over me. In fact, I didn’t know what to do. So I slept on it and spent the next couple days talking with my family and the manager at my job.

It’s not that I didn’t want to take the vaccine or that I didn’t trust the vaccine. Quite the opposite. But I didn’t know if, under the circumstances faced by everyone around me, it was the appropriate thing to do.

Folks who’ve lived decades longer than me, unable to receive shots.

Co-workers – including my wife and daughter – at least as much at risk as I was each day, and in most cases at greater risk. But unvaccinated.

My parents – one of whom is immunocompromised – also not able to be vaccinated yet.

And so many close friends and people I admire who work in schools, not given the opportunity.

Who the hell was I to skip to the front of the line?

What I figured out as I talked with others is that I’m someone who’d be vaccinated against COVID-19 at a time when others were unable to be. Someone who, under dire circumstances, would still be safe and healthy. Someone given a precious opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.

So I made my appointment and got the first shot on Tuesday, Jan. 26. 

Piece of cake. A nurse was putting one of those cute, little, round Band-Aids on my shoulder, and I asked if she was going to give me the shot first. She said she already had. I literally didn’t feel a thing. My arm was a bit sore for a day or so, but that was it.

My next shot was scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 16. But then Monday, Feb. 15 showed up.

The day began with predictions for a serious winter storm on Tuesday. Never a great start to the week. Then I got to work and received the best phone call ever. A local ambulance service had leftover vaccines from a weekend clinic, and they wouldn’t be good after Wednesday. They wanted to know if we could use them at our facility.

The 75-plus age group in the general public had been receiving shots in Vermont for a couple weeks by then. A handful of our residents had their first round of the vaccine. But we’re a 55+ facility, and that left plenty of folks still in need of shots, not to mention our staff. We quickly said yes to the offer and made arrangements with residents who wanted to receive the vaccine.

In the middle of that, I got my second phone call of the day. Tuesday’s clinic where I’d get my second shot was rescheduled for Thursday due to the storm. Bummer, but at least I’d still be able to get it fairly soon. Besides, I was in a doubly good mood. Not only would vaccines arrive Tuesday for our residents and staff, but my parents would also be able to register for their first appointments.

Tuesday morning was long. In my inexperienced mind, the EMTs would arrive, dispense shots, and that was that. I didn’t take into consideration the wait times after administering the vaccines. If you’ve never experienced an allergic reaction to medical treatments, you need to hang around for 15 minutes after your shot for observation. If you have had reactions before, the observation time is half an hour. 

No one cared. Not a single recipient complained about having to wait a little while after getting their shots. There was nothing but gratitude and excitement. Chatting about what it all means and how much better things will get after all this. 

Every resident who wanted a vaccine was able to get one, and all of our full time staff who qualified got theirs. And the crew would be back in three weeks to administer second shots. 

Big sigh of relief all around.

Side effects from the vaccinations varied from tender arms in the area the shot was given to a bit of diarrhea, if anything. 

When I got home, I called my folks and found out they’d get their first shots the first week of March. I cried a bit as a tremendous sense of relief washed over me.

Thursday I got my second shot. I was nervous. Not because of the shot itself, but because I knew that side effects tended to be more intense – aches and pains, chills, fever – if they were experienced at all. I’d originally planned to take the day off after this shot, but due to the date change, that wouldn’t be able to happen.

Receiving the vaccine was similar to the first. Didn’t feel the shot, and my observation time was uneventful.

When I went to bed that night, I felt fine. I woke up around 3:30 the next morning, achy in my legs. After sleeping a couple more hours, I was achy all over. After seeing my wife off to work, I went back to bed. I didn’t need to be in until 9, so I slept as much as I could. When I got back up, I felt fine. A bit worn out, but the ashiness was gone.

And that was it. No more side effects. 

I’m fully vaccinated and have not turned into a lizard, changed sexual orientation, or become a deep state ninja assassin. I’m just … vaccinated. And that’s great.

Since then, opportunities have opened up for my friends in education to begin getting vaccinated. My parents got their first shots yesterday. They both had sore arms. They’re all set to get their next shots in three weeks. Second shots will be administered at work this coming week. 

I was grocery shopping yesterday and heard a couple people talking. They just know that this is all a trick, and there’s no way they’re taking any vaccines.

I surprised myself by not getting upset. The last year has taught me again and again the limits of what any one person can control. Like COVID-19. There’s no controlling it. The best we can do is maneuver around it with clean hands, face masks, six feet of distance, and at long last, a vaccine. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that, it’s on them. Along with whatever havoc their actions wreak.

There’s never been a time in my life when the answer to the questions posed by tomorrow are so obvious: do better and be better. 

For me, that meant receiving the vaccine and helping as many others as possible to do the same, among other things. That’s why I’ve written this surprisingly lengthy piece. 

The first day of spring is two weeks away, and as life returns to the frozen earth, we begin to stretch and rise from our year-long hibernation. Sunnier, warmer days are ahead, and for the first time in a long time, we’ll be able to join together in the sun.

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