There’s nothing like an open invitation from BC Health to make me feel good about myself.
Well, actually, the invite is not really “open,” but extended to my entire CEV group. I read further down the notice to learn that CEV is the acronym for “clinically extremely vulnerable.” I qualify because the chemotherapy treatments I have been receiving for the last eight months have moved me and the rest of my group who are suffering from serious health conditions up to the front of the COVID-19 vaccination line. The notice gives me a phone number to call to book my appointment and emphasizes that the invitation is “for you and you alone.” Don’t I feel special!
I check the invitation to see if there is a dress code requiring attendees to be outfitted in formal attire, but the only two specifications mentioned are a short-sleeved shirt and a mask. Apparently, nobody cares what is covering the lower half of my body.
I RSVP the invitation by dialling the booking number, but I make sure to pull up War and Peace and a couple of other nice long novels I can read while I am put on hold. I have heard that they can keep you waiting for hours and often some people have not been able to get through at all. I hear a click on the other end of the line, which alerts me that a representative will be with me shortly and then some insipid Muzak tune is played into my ear. A more appropriate song for booking a vaccine injection, I think to myself, would be Pat Benatar’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot.
Now comes the surprise. Less than 30 seconds into my holding and waiting, the music clicks off and I find myself speaking to an actual human being who really wants to help me. After we run through a few formalities such as name, birth date and personal health number, the health rep gives me the date and time for my vaccine shot and tells me that the clinic will take place at the local ArtSpring centre. And just like that, it’s all been arranged and I’m ready to get jabbed or poked when the time comes.
The next few days before the vaccination appointment are spent fantasizing about and obsessing on the upcoming event. Will it be like the opening to an art show? Will we, the CEV group, be given the red carpet treatment? Will there be uniformed waiters and servers carrying around silver trays loaded with canapes and hors d’oeuvres such as shrimp quiches and mini sausages? Perhaps instead of food, each tray will be loaded with samples of the leading vaccines. I picture myself with toothpick in hand selecting the Pfizer after having already tried the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s, and AstraZeneca.
As it turns out, all of my musings on the invitation to the vaccination event are completely misinformed. There is no rubbing elbows with the rich and famous (even at a distance of six feet apart). I am greeted at the door by someone who could possibly be doing the same thing at a Walmart, and I have my identity verified. I am then asked to sanitize my hands and adjust my mask so it fits over both my nose and mouth. Although my mouth is completely hidden by my moustache, I slip the mask as far under my chin as my beard will allow, where it perches precariously. I am subsequently ushered into one of the side rooms at ArtSpring which usually serves as a meeting room or as a gallery for an art exhibition.
I am suddenly transported back in time to the mid-1950s when I was still in elementary school. Polio was then the epidemic of the day and the virus caused nerve damage that could lead to partial or complete paralysis. It was very contagious and particularly dangerous to children. When the polio vaccine was developed, it made sense to administer the vaccinations at school. Our class teacher had the habit of organizing school activities alphabetically by student surname and since my name began with Z followed by Y, the last two letters, I felt relatively safe, especially after catching a glimpse of the super-sharp dagger of a needle the public health nurse clutched in her rubber gloved hands. For once in my short life’s experiences I would be only too happy to have to wait to be the last one to be able to do something. Imagine my dismay when the teacher announced that this time we would go alphabetically but in reverse order. What happened after that has been pushed far into the recesses of my subconscious.
With that odious memory in mind, I walk into the ArtSpring makeshift clinic and am directed to the nearest table. The attending nurse takes my CEV invitation letter and goes through a checklist of standard questions to eliminate the possibility that I am presently infected with the virus. She informs me that the vaccine may give me side effects of pain, itchiness, swelling and redness in my arm from immediately after the injection up to seven days after. She mentions that other symptoms such as swollen lymph glands, fatigue and joint soreness may also appear but are less common. She assures me that although some of these symptoms are similar to those caused by COVID-19, the vaccine will not give me the disease.
When she is satisfied that I understand the risks and aftereffects of the procedure, she reaches for her injection kit and innocently asks if I am prone to fainting when poked by a needle. It is at this point that I notice in the far corner of the room a recliner chair partially hidden by a curtain. This is obviously the place they haul the fallen and definitely not where I want to end up today. When I see how tiny the diameter of the business end of the needle is, my fears are quelled as I breathe out a sigh of relief. Compared to the vaccination needle, the IV catheter the nurses try to shove into my veins at my weekly chemo sessions looks to be about the size of a highway culvert.
A few moments later the deed is done. I honestly don’t remember feeling anything, pain or otherwise. I am asked to remain seated on the perimeter of the room for a few minutes to make certain that I don’t develop any allergic anaphylactic shock to the Moderna vaccine. When the allotted time goes by, I am reminded that I will be contacted in four months to arrange for my second dose and then I am sent on my way.
Nobody asked me, but I don’t think the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine could have gone any more smoothly for me here on Salt Spring. The only knock I can give to the entire vaccination operation is that they could have served a few shrimp quiches and mini sausages as well.