Today was a tough day. It was a typical work day with all the typical hassles that occur, but I felt like I counted down each and every moment until 2:25 pm. You see at 2:25 pm, I was scheduled for my first COVID-19 vaccine. My journey to this moment has been painful for many reasons.
My job went virtual in March 2020. I stayed virtual until the end of October 2020. I applied for ADA accommodations because I take an immunocompromising drug. I was denied not once, but twice. Apparently being immunocompromised isn’t worthy of ADA accommodations during a global pandemic. Granted, I only applied for my wonky immune system. I left out that I live with depression and anxiety. If I added those to my request, I probably would have been approved. My pride of not wanting to lay all of my cards on the table for HR held me back. I already feel broken by my body. Admitting more felt like adding insult to injury. As things panned out, I had to take two bereavement leaves. My dad died from COVID-19 on November 10. Twenty-two days later, on December 2, my uncle died from complications from COVID-19. Twenty-two days later, my cousin lost her battle with cancer on Christmas Eve. The number 22 always seemed so benign. Now it is ugly by association.
I returned to in-person work for one week in October but was out again until the 2nd week of December with two consecutive bereavements leaves and one two week virtual school mandate. I am grateful I was able to be with my mom during that time. Upon my return to in-person work, I had to try my best to maintain the utmost precautions. I have two offices. One is an 8×8 closet in which I am to work with two individuals and we are all supposed to maintain 6 feet distance. I am able to use plexiglass for one student, but the other one I am fully exposed to. In my big office, I can have up to 5 kids. I feel like the worst educator in the world because I remain firmly on the other side of the room at all times. I do this to keep myself COVID free and so I don’t pass it on to anyone I care about. My mom has moderate to severe COPD. I can’t risk exposing her. At this point, I must travel to her home about every two weeks to help her. With the pandemic, my mom is hesitant to have anyone come in the house. Her medical issues make doing normal chores a bit more difficult. Now that she is alone, I worry about her taking laundry to and from the basement. My dad is no longer there to call for help if needed. I beg her to wait for me. Due to this situation, I go no where. I don’t go to the grocery store. I don’t go shopping. I don’t visit with friends, go to restaurants or bars. I go to work and straight home. Then I get tested and when I get a negative test, I go to my mom’s house. (I do this fully knowing that I may be positive the following day, but I am trying to be so cautious that it isn’t likely). I am dying for a mani/pedi, but I can’t risk it for my mom’s sake. I’m not writing this to sound like a martyr, it’s just my reality until we can get a new laundry set up for mom. I’m barely functioning after losing two family members to COVID. I honestly don’t know if I could handle a third.
To inject or not to inject, that is the question….
When the topic of vaccines and “operation warp speed” came up last summer, I wasn’t on board. The speed at which this vaccine was being produced made me very wary. I am not an anti-vaxxer. I have no issues with people who are, I just believe in the science. I also volunteered in Uganda in 2010. I saw the presence of diseases that are non-existent in the USA as a result of vaccines. I also worked with a lot of kids on the autism spectrum in Uganda who never received a vaccine. That is all I will say about that. Believe what you want. My issue with the getting the COVID19 vaccine stemmed more from not wanting to “be a guinea pig”. You see when Apple releases the latest iPhone, I don’t get it…..even though I REALLY want it. I don’t trust the first versions of anything and I prefer for all bugs to be worked out before I go all in. My original plan was to wait and see how things go. Of course, at that time, I had no idea that I would lose Dad and my uncle to the virus, OR that I would be denied ADA accommodations, or that I couldn’t afford to take a medical or family leave, OR that I would be the lone support system for my mom. These were all game changers.
I did some research. I called my rheumatologist and was told to take the vaccine. There was no need to stop or delay my biologic drug. I had no history of negative reactions to any other vaccine, so they thought I would be fine. I checked the vaccination schedule and according to the site, as an educator, I was listed in category 1b (the second round of vaccines). Healthcare professionals and individuals over 75 and/or seniors in residential facilities were all rightfully in category 1a. Two weeks pass and suddenly, my job as a speech-language pathologist elevated me to stage 1a. If you know any speech-language pathologists, we are a resourceful bunch. One of my colleagues found a place for us to go and all of us scheduled our vaccines. A few days later, the county offered us an earlier option. Today was the day.
I walked in to the building at 2:22 for my 2:25 appointment. I no longer find that 22 ironic, more of annoying. As a person who has basically shunned society, it was unnerving to be in a large room with a lot of people. I waited in a long line. Seeing some friends and colleagues in queues, too. When it came time for me to get my shot, I teared up. The nurse asked if I was okay and I told her about my losses. She responded by saying, “A lot of people here have cried for the same reason. Let’s make you safer.” I bawled my eyes out in a corner of a gymnasium, surrounded by strangers who had no idea why I was a wreck. I cried for my dad. I cried fo my uncle. I cried for my mom and cousins. Mostly, I cried for myself. The vaccine was 2 months late for my loved ones. I know I may not be safe for a few more weeks, but I am finally seeing some hope. After feeling so very low, I need that glimmer of hope.
Here are 22 reasons why I chose to get the vaccine.
- Uncle Jerry
- My mom
- My health
- My job
- My rheumatologist recommended it
- My endocrinologist recommended it
- My general practitioner recommended it
- My therapist recommended it
- For my mental health, I need to feel safe
- After doing research, I felt much better about the speed of which this was produced.
- I did a podcast with Dr. Alfred Kim, Washington University, St. Louis and I learned a lot.
- I spoke with other patients
- I weighed the risks of remaining unprotected vs. protected.
- I want to go back to normal society
- Pfizer’s efficacy rate is 95%
- Moderna’s efficacy rate is 94.1%
- The flu shot is only 40-60% effective
- I chose Moderna because it doesn’t require the same level of temperature guarantee
- I read a lot about side effects and risks. The risks were not as great as I feared.
- I had a productive dialogue with Dr. Kim and Tiffany Westrich-Robinson about the vaccine and will share it on 1/24/21
- My life is forever changed, but I am hopeful it can get back to normal with this vaccine.
My discussion with Dr. Alfred Kim and Tiffany Westrich-Robertson will be featured on AiArthritis Voices 360 Talk Show airing Sunday 1/24/2021 at 9 am. You can find it anywhere you listen to podcasts or download it directly from our website.