Note: I wrote up my experience, thoughts, and conversations on the days when I received doses of vaccine, and when I reached statistical immunity. Nothing dramatic happened, but I wanted to have a contemporary account to look back on later.
Compared to others in the US, I was lucky to receive my first dose when I did. For other countries where access is still being negotiated and a new wave of infections is starting, the wait is still longer. I know this isn’t a great time to read about vaccinations. Sorry.
For people who read this and feel that your personal safety and job are no longer at risk from COVID, I encourage you to donate to feedingamerica.org , foodbankscanada.ca, directrelief.org, or end.org
Dose 1, March 30, 2021
For the past year, I’ve pictured getting vaccinated in an abandoned football stadium, a National Guard encampment, or a line of trucks crossing into the Canadian Free Zone. We’ve been watching and living a lot of dystopian movies, is what I’m saying.
Instead an Uber driver drops me at a mini-mall southeast of Phoenix. I wear a black KN95 mask, ‘Universal Basic Income’ shirt, and shorts.
Does a vaccination make this nondescript location part of my life story? I’ve never been here before, and won’t return. Even the second dose will be somewhere else. It’s pure accident that I’m here specifically. This 2005-era CVS will fade from memory like any highway rest stop on a trip between destinations.
Their system texted me to do a virtual check-in, so I click that link before going inside and greeting the man at the table. He fills in my card. I ask him to confirm that their vaccines are free to everyone (the driver had just asked me how much it cost, I wanted to check). Then I step up to a taped line on the carpet along one wall of the CVS. I remember we’re waiting near the makeup aisles.
The two (nurses? pharmacy techs?) each have a shoddy three-sided plastic curtain. My nurse waves me in. She seems nice, but I sit and stare straight ahead so I won’t see the needle. I don’t know what to do with my hands. She needs my sleeve higher up. Soon I feel the pinch and bandage. As I form a response, she says “you have thick skin!” so I continue my planned “thanks”, and she adds “literally”. Either I don’t know how to talk anymore or it’s the right time to go, either way I check that I have my papers and move to the waiting aisle.
After a flu shot I would wander for a few minutes, make a purchase, and leave, but this wait is taken seriously. A CVS employee has a stack of timers velcroed to a wall.
I recognize a family from the line. I nod and ask the older people across the aisle how’s it going, hoping to make this day more social, but they don’t notice. Their timer finishes first.
Everyone else is on their phones. I go between my phone and watching the assistant struggle with one timer that keeps un-velcro-ing. A passing customer asks about the shot and is told that it’s booked online for the next three days.
Every seat becomes un- and re-occupied. I try to remember who was here when I arrived. Soon the attendant faces me and say it’s time to go. I thank them, thank the front desk guy for being here, and call an Uber.
This driver’s question is, so have you started craving human flesh?
I laugh. Not yet, probably after I fall asleep tonight.
I start reflecting on the weirdness of going from a next-day-vaccination high to the five-week wait for immunity.
Dose 2, April 20, 2021
I’ve moved to Colorado. My mom is on her first post-immunity vacation, so she can travel with me to a Target/CVS in Denver.
We’ve been lucky as a family. After all of the times that my mom missed a baby shark level phenomenon, now she’s missed the online conspiracies.
It snowed 2 inches the night before. Luckily my appointment is in the late afternoon. We have time for most snow to melt, to hike at Castle Rock, and eat at Tocabe (a Chipotle-like restaurant of Native American foods). I feel almost surprised that the shot is real. As we sit inside I tell my mom ‘it’s like Santa is actually real now and waiting there’.
We’re following the news on my Twitter app as Derek Chauvin is convicted.
CVS and the internet have recommended drinking plenty of water. I wear a sweatshirt, ‘nothing to fear but fear itself’ Covid-research-themed shirt, grey slacks, and a black KF94 mask.
Within a minute of entering Target, we see the converted fitting rooms in the corner. People are already waiting in chairs spaced in a square form. I’m too early to check into the site, so we search for snow gloves (no luck) and windshield wiper fluid (success). At the 15-minute window, I check in. The site manager gives me a form to complete. I think everyone here was receiving their second dose. One person forgot their card from last time. We’re advised to take a picture of it.
I’m very suddenly placed second in line. I can see into the fitting room space, and a Target dog statue is at the end of the hall. The vaccinator (again, we don’t hear if he’s a nurse or pharmacist?) turns in his previous form and accepts mine. His name is Mark. He turns the chair around so I can get the vaccine in my left arm. There is a huge sack of paper and plastic trash from this long day.
Mark was a little funny. I explained why I was looking at the wall: “I don’t like to see the needle”, and he replied “I’ll be looking at the needle when I do it”. He didn’t repeat the health questions from the form. A minute later I feel the sharp needle, and confirm we’re done. Mark mentions the possibility of a booster shot in the future. There are no timers in the waiting area, but I don’t want to confuse anyone by leaving and shopping. I feel a weird tension in my shoulders, but maybe that’s from the chair.
I walk out of the Target with no purchases, feeling amazing. There is a sense of freedom. I keep repeating that I’m optimistic about no side effects.
We considered visiting Krispy Kreme for a free donut, but we’re both full, so we stop for gas and head home.
Immunity, May 4, 2021
It’s a Tuesday morning. According to whatever I read, my body has produced a good amount of antibodies by now. My brothers have received at least their first doses; one even received his at the Patriots’ stadium.
I wish I could say that this day was a big party going from highlight to highlight, the ‘movable feast’ of Hemingway in Paris [I’m looking this up now and am using it incorrectly…]. Instead there is a lot of work to do before launching a redistricting website tomorrow. When I woke up, my planned breakfast place was not open but the Slack messages were already coming in. In between Zoom calls and DNS settings, I find time for a lunch break. I absent-mindedly open up a KF94 mask, but choose a light surgical mask since I’m only picking up Subway. I don’t feel that I can relax until a checklist is resolved around 3pm. I take a short walk through the backyard up to the Garden of the Gods park, which looks straight out of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or a Star Trek TOS planet.
If there wasn’t a pandemic, I don’t know where we’d all be and what we’d be doing. I’d likely never spend weeks here or Myrtle Beach or Phoenix. Interviewing for jobs has been harder. There’s been so much time in isolation, with time to think about what we’ve lost in humanity and in opportunities. I don’t have anything profound on this, but it leaves a bitter taste when someone claims this was a time for reflection or learning. It is a joyless time — interrupted by some people and events for sure — but I’ve been craving normalcy and trying to anticipate how to return to normal.
Maybe this is what returning to normal looks like, though. Back to work, a short walk through the park, some AI/ML community stuff, and travel planning for Alaska.