I had vaccine envy last March. A bad case. At that time, the vaccine was available only to 65 and over. At 64, I was frustrated. Mere months away from eligibility, I began plotting how to get it.
“We got ours today!” friends told me. “So relieved!”
“So lucky…” I replied, thinking, I’m so jealous!
The vaccine had become my “had to have.” It was that access to relief and ultimately freedom from worry about dying from the Coronavirus.
I had no connections, no way of sneaking under the radar to get that coveted jab. I wanted the vaccine but there was a cost I would not pay – I wouldn’t lie to get it. It had to be legit. My vaccine envy went just so far.
I signed up to volunteer to help with the vaccine roll-out. It was not of a pure heart, or to give back to society, or to be a part of the solution. I did it for me.
I searched my emails daily in hopes that I would get a volunteer position and may be offered the vaccine as a reward. When nothing came of that, I was like an addict desperate for a fix, showing up at vaccine sites all over the city to see if there were any shots left at the end of the day that they needed a willing arm to take. I even messaged a friend who is a pharmacist. “Got any leftover’s?”
I wanted the vaccine, and I wanted it bad.
Over dinner one night, I leered at my husband as we took a chance eating inside a restaurant in Park City. “Swell, you’re vaccinated,” I said, gesturing at the tables of people clustered around us. I took a sip of my drink and slipped my mask back on. “But I’m a sitting duck!”
He downplayed it, but he wasn’t the one who’d be awake that night sure he’d caught the virus over a lousy piece of salmon. How could I have taken a chance like that when I’d almost made it to the finish line? What have I done? I’m almost there and I’m taking these risks!
But I’d also gotten that other malady – Covid fatigue and its symptoms took over my thinking. I longed for some normalcy, sitting inside a restaurant. Yet, at what price?
Two days later, while still in Park City, the vaccine eligibility age opened to forty years-old and older. As a part-time resident of that town, I grabbed an appointment. I had to change my return flight home to get it, but it was worth it. My eyes welled as the nurse injected my arm. Tears of relief, of thanks, and in the name of science.
When I boarded my flight home a few hours later, looking out the window at the mountains in the distance. Everything looked brighter. The first vaccine was in my arm.
Once I’d gotten the vaccine and its follow up dose, I was contacted by one of the volunteer organizations I’d signed up with earlier, CORE (Community Organized Relief Efforts). Why volunteer now? I’d gotten what I was after.
Still, I signed up for the Zoom training. Once I was trained, it seemed the numbers of patients showing up at the vaccine sites was dwindling. By now it was May. “If you still want to volunteer, we’ll send you to our mobile units.” CORE offered.
I checked the box. I was in.
What had changed? Why did I still care? I got what I needed. Two shots were in my arm. Done.
“I want to be a part of the solution now, I guess," I said when a friend asked why I would still volunteer not knowing where my mobile site would be.
"But, you'll be around all those unvaccinated people."
"I'll be masked up," I replied. "Somehow, I feel it's an opportunity to help out where getting the vaccine isn’t so easy to get for people."
A week later, I received a text: This is Shirley Phung. I’m the Chinatown Service Center CORE Site Manager. This is very late notice but I’m contacting to see if you can help out at the vaccine site tomorrow. It’s 8AM-3PM. If you can, it’ll be every Thursday as needed. Below the text, a site map of Chinatown pinpointing the address on College Street.
I’ll be there at 8!
Yay! She replied.
The next morning at the mobile clinic in Chinatown, Shirley handed me a neon orange vest and a nametag. “You’ll be the Gate Keeper,” she said. “But, right now, we need to set up,” she said, handing me two white folding chairs. "Let's start in the waiting area."
“What’s a Gate Keeper?”
“You see the patients coming in and going out,” she told me. “Check their ID and their CDC card.”
I looked out at the line-up of patients waiting to take seats. Most were Chinese mixed with many other cultures that make up our city. “What if they don’t speak English?”
“Gesture,” she told me. “Use your hands,” she added. “Like this,” she said, swiping her hands in the direction of the check-in table. “Then, point to number four, or hold up four fingers.”
Inside the glass doors, nurses waited at folded tables, plastic trays of vaccines at the ready. Two pharmacists were madly working in the back to fill the syringes.
“You’ll do great,” I’d offered an anxious patient. Almost every patient halfway through my first shift, whether they spoke English or not, offered a quick nod, a smile, sometimes even a “thank you." I felt connected to these people. No matter the language or culture barriers, we were in it together to fight this pandemic.
One vaccine at a time.
As patients pulled up their sleeves, I noted the looks on their faces: the relief as they passed by me. I felt like Ryan Seacrest at the American Idol audition exit door as each patient flashed their marked CDC card. “I got the golden ticket!”
This “golden ticket” might just save their lives.
I directed the patients, after they received their vaccination, to the observation area to be monitored for 15 minutes. Not one patient in all the time I volunteered had an adverse reaction – and I shepherded more than 700 patients.
In late June, Shirley came up to relieve me at my post. “Heather, you can take your lunch now,” she said, pushing up her glasses with her index finger, “Oh, and I’m afraid we don’t need you next Thursday.”
I felt sad, though I knew this day was coming. “I’ve never enjoyed a volunteer job more,” I told her, looking at the empty chairs behind me. Just two patients waited to be vaccinated. “The numbers are dwindling. I get it.”
Shirley, this young woman who kept us all on track. Energy emanating from her tiny frame had impressed me. “It’s been good working with you. I’ll miss you guys.”
|Last day on the job. A leak in the building caused the mobile clinic to move outside to vaccinate in the parking lot.|
“What’s your take-away?” She asked me later at the end of my shift.
“It’s funny, Shirley, I signed up to volunteer so that I could get the vaccine before it was open to my age group. I was hysterical to get it, and then I did. I reached the finish line. So why volunteer?”
“And, now?” she asked. “You’ve been here on Thursdays for six weeks.”
“I kept watching these patients passing through my ‘gateway,’ and saw how we’re all the same despite language, lifestyle, or culture. We’re all just humans trying to fight this damn virus.”
A young woman with a streak of hot pink in her chestnut hair stood up from the monitoring area, her time complete. Slinging her handbag on her shoulder, she headed toward us. “Thank you,” she said, passing by.
“Thank you for getting the vaccine,” Shirley called out.
The pink-streak-haired woman stopped. “I just think about all those people in India,” she said, adjusting the strap on her handbag. “And, kind of all over the world who would do anything to get this vaccine.”
“I feel so lucky,” she said, as she left.
My shift over, I crossed over to the parking lot. I took off the florescent orange vest. When I’d tried to turn it in, Shirley had told me to keep it. “We may need you again,” she smiled.
I placed it in the trunk of my car and before shutting the lid, gazed at it, this flimsy garment, now a prized possession, reminding me of those patients, their faces, doing their part for the greater good.
A few weeks later, the news reported that the Delta variant was wreaking havoc to those not vaccinated. My vest sits in my trunk, ready to go, should I be called back.
I don’t want people to get sick. It would be better for all if the virus would just die out, but that’s not what it’s doing.