The Curiously Complicated Emotions of Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine

Spoiler warning, I suppose: I got my first dose of The Vaccine.

It was Moderna at a Wegman’s with a candlestick wait no that’s Clue. (Forget the candlestick part. The rest remains accurate.) Securing the appointment was not easy, and was based almost exclusively on luck — I had not realized that Wegman’s seems to update their appointments at Tuesdays around 11AM, and that’s when I clicked. The first four appointments I clicked did not take me through, but the final one suddenly… scheduled. (I’ll be honest, it’s not unlike how I got a PS5. Pure clickity-clickety luck.) A week later, that appointment happened. It was a simple, fast execution. I went in. Told them I qualify (not a lie, in case anyone fears me a line-jumper, though I have complicated thoughts about line-jumpers, most of which adds up to, “Well, anyone who gets the vaccine needs the vaccine and they’re one fewer link in the infection chain”). I went over, leaned across a pharmacy desk, and a very nice nurse stuck me with a needle so painless that if I had not been watching her do it, I would’ve assumed it was an act of pure medical mimery. Then they scheduled my second dose and after a waiting period of fifteen minutes, off I went, back into the world, my body now in possession of the Death Star Plans, aware of the flaws in its design.

The external process was easy.

The internal process was a little more complicated.

By internal process, I mean — what I was thinking, what I was feeling.

Here’s the thing. I haven’t been inside a store since March of 2020. I’ve remained a relative hermit. Our kiddo’s virtual. I don’t even go to grocery stores, having the combo-pack privilege of money and location so I can order food curbside, or delivery, or from a CSA. This isn’t entirely anathema to my life anyway, as I am a writer who writes in a shed in his backyard, so I’m pretty used to being happy in relative isolation — just the same, I love to travel. I love to people watch. Hell, I love grocery stores. I love shopping for groceries. It calms me. Maybe that’s weird, but it’s me.

So, it’s… interesting, at least, that my next trip to a grocery store was a year later, getting a vaccine for the disease that stopped me from going to grocery stores in the first fucking place. I masked up. I pushed past the small panic attack (ohmygodpeople ohmygodvirus ohmygodsixfeetSIXFEET) and did the deed. And upon receiving the shot it was like —

It was like it all hit me at one time, a cresting wave, a hole beneath me, a light from above. All of it. A pyramid of feelings spun upside-down, its sharp peak pressing down upon that space between my shoulder blades. I was happy, obviously. It’s hard not to be happy, I guess. Just the theoretical promise of even a rough semblance of normalcy felt buoyant, the feeling of being in a cage but seeing someone walking toward it with the door key in hand. Hurry up, you think, get over here, I got shit to do, I’m ready to stretch my legs, I’m ready to run, I want to go shop for produce, is there an orgy, can I get an invite, I dunno that I wanna go, I’m just saying, I’d like the option is all, because now life is all about options again, woooo. 

I felt happy. Obviously. Definitely. Yes.

But I felt… other things.

And it’s the other things I want to talk about.

I was happy about that return to normalcy, but angry, too, for how many people never left normalcy in the first place. So many people who chose to ignore the fire that was burning down their neighbor’s house. People who kept on living life at their maximum, sacrificing nothing while others sacrificed everything. And that anger mounted, too, because those people were sold a lie, a bill-of-sale for a bridge in Brooklyn, handed this disinformation debt from a toxic political environment stirred by a propagandist, a brute, a fool. I was angry at the politicians who even now act like masking is an act of terror against the nation of their faces, their beautiful faces, their God-chosen God-shined God-blessed faces, how dare you cover up their holy mouths with a crass slip of fabric. So what if it protects others? Protecting others isn’t the mandate of this country, damnit. Oh, no no no, individual liberty trumps communal responsibility every time. Who cares if the boat is sinking, you can’t make me use a bucket to bail it out. That impacts the freedom of my hands not to wield a clumsy bucket. Jesus Christ, I might get splinters! How unfair is that?

How dare I be asked to change literally anything in the midst of a pandemic?

And that makes me worried, too, because what happens in the next crisis? We have strong leadership now, but turns out, there are a whooooole lot of people in this country — and, I’m quite sure, the world beyond it — who are happy to ignore reality because it will inconvenience them in some way. We live in this age of Choose Your Own Adventure truth, where if you don’t like the option you picked, you just go back and flip to another page. “I turn to page 37, where climate change isn’t real,” and you get lost in the storyline you prefer rather than the one the rest of us are living in. It feels like swimming upstream, because it’s easier to sell a lie than to deliver the truth.

But then I get hopeful, too. Because if you’d told me a year ago we would have a vaccine, a real goddamn vaccine with real goddamn efficacy, I’d have patted your head and said, well, that’s nice. But we have three to choose from, and may have more on the way. And and and, two of those vaccines are based on new technology pioneered by small companies that were ignored by investors because it wasn’t viewed as reliable, or properly capitalistic enough, or whatever their reasons. And it may lead us to new vaccines for other troublesome diseases. Which is amazing! Technology is amazing! Especially, especially when the important, life-giving, world-essential stuff isn’t subject purely to the whims of unregulated capitalism! Except it sometimes still is! And there enters sadness.

Sadness for those who haven’t gotten the shot yet. Who can’t get it. Who are marginalized and underserved in this country and in other countries, too poor to get the shot, too Black, too brown, too this, too that, you don’t live in the right area, you aren’t white, you aren’t in a more liberal state, you aren’t in America at all, and so on, and so forth. And it’s not just the people who can’t get the shot now. It’s the people who can never get it, because they didn’t survive. The right loves to regale you with how low the chances of death are, when the disease has killed well over a half-a-million people in this country already. We’re coming up on one Wyoming’s worth of people gone from the space-time continuum because we didn’t know how to protect them. One year. So many lost. We broke the world for 3,000 dead in 9/11. But some people shrug off a number that is 180 9/11s. One. Hundred. Eighty. Sometimes we were losing three thousand people in a single day of this disease. A horror show of pain and misery, lost lives, broken families, lost jobs, lost health from long COVID, and when I say lost, it’s not just lost, it was taken, stolen by people who politicized the disease, who governmentally codified a callous, uncaring response.

But, we’ve turned the corner, at least. You can say that much. A lot of doses have reached a lot of arms. We have better leadership now, better than I imagined we’d get. There’s a light at the end. We’re not in that light yet, and of course some people are running rampant (don’t even look up videos of spring break right now, or you’ll shit bees), but we’re… getting there. Rickety, clumsy, drunken. But we’re getting there. And so anger and sadness give way once more to happiness and hope, because for all the torment and woe, any chance out of *gestures broadly) ALL THIS is a good thing.

It’s a wild, whirling blender of emotions, is what I’m saying.

It’s a lot to process, but after you get that shot, you gotta sit there for fifteen minutes, doing very little but waiting to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction or puke up frogs or whatever, and while sitting there, it was hard not to just sit with it all. Because truly, I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about it in the day-to-day, because it’s too damn much. But in that moment, it felt right to dwell. Even to dwell upon what went, and what felt, wrong.

I guess I note all this just because I expected to feel happy and relieved, which I did. But I didn’t really expect that door to open and let all those other unruly feelings in, too. I guess it’s my way of saying, if I’m feeling it, maybe you’re feeling it, too. These days I think there’s more and more value in reminding people that it’s okay to feel things, even when those feelings are complicated.

To epilogue this motherfucker, I’ll note that the after-effects of the first shot have been mild. On the way home, my shot arm got weirdly hot right in the crook of my arm, as if I were bending the joint around a hot curling iron. It lasted for maybe five minutes, and then was done. During dinner last night, my tinnitus kicked up real hard — I pretty much always have it in my left ear, never in my right. The left dialed up loud and the right started, too. That was maybe ten minutes. Other than that, this morning I feel like I shouldered open a door with all the arm pain, but it’s not too terrible.

I’m told the second-dose is likelier to be a doozy, and to prepare for a day or two of downtime. That’s okay. Sometimes when you update the ol’ meat computer, it takes a while to properly install the upgrades. The antivirus software will have some bug fixes. That’s okay. I’m giving off good 5G software now as the Tiny Robot Tom Hankses inside me are learning their way around. My teeth are microchips, which is cool. I can access my own thoughts via an app, which was unexpected, but hey, the future is wild, y’all. The future. Is. Wild.

Anyway, eat shit, coronavirus.

Hope y’all get some shots in your arms real soon.

Be well, stay safe, mask up in the meantime. Care about others. Yay science.