My phone rings, my laptop pings—proof that I remain popular with the many, many websites and organizations that took my information so I could get the COVID-19 vaccine, or “the jab,” if you listen to BBC radio, into my arm and into the arms of people in my care.
In January, I became eligible for vaccination as an elder-care provider. I also qualified due to comorbidities, but rather than saying I’m plump and old, let’s stick with my eligibility via my profession.
Initially, I had no idea of the time it would take to lock in my appointment, let alone schedule my clients, who qualified by virtue of age or health status. My initial foray was to sign up online everywhere: on New Jersey’s official registration system, at county websites, health care groups and hyperlocal locations, plus getting notifications from Facebook and Twitter. I optimistically and naively sat back and waited, but no one responded.
I observed that caregivers who worked with agencies were getting vaccinated (I am a self-employed consultant)—and returned to my task more aggressively, more singularly focused on getting myself vaccinated. In a plane crash, we’re told to put our own oxygen masks on before we help others, right?
I sat at the computer at the website of a health care consortium that I heard had a wide range of available time slots. The tips I found on a Facebook page suggested that loading the sign-up page and hitting refresh over and over might turn up an appointment, but you had to immediately put your information in lest you lose out to a faster typist. I finally secured an appointment an hour away, at the end of the month. The relief I felt is hard to describe.
A week before my appointment, I was told they were rescheduling everyone for some time in the future, as they were not given the promised allotment of vaccines. It was back to the drawing board for me. So close!
The frustration, anxiety and sense of futility when I made no progress made me decide to limit my attempts to once in the morning and once before bed. Finally, I secured appointments for myself and two family members, and eventually for some of my clients.
The next step was getting the vaccine itself. A client with intellectual disabilities was up first. I drove him an hour away, parked, then nearly fainted when I saw the line snaking around the building. A staff member with a counter said there were 250 people ahead of us. Thank heavens, it was a nice day. We later learned that two days’ worth of appointments canceled due to snow had been rescheduled for that day. What bad luck.
But the line moved quickly enough; we were scheduled for 1:15 and the shot was administered around 3:00. When I regaled friends with this story, some asked why I stayed in the line at all. What choice did I have—return to the drawing board, pushing the vaccine date out by weeks or months? Fortunately, the rest of my clients’ appointments went smoothly.
When my date came, I drove 35 minutes to an empty department store. My second dose also went without a hitch. I had no side effects beyond fatigue. The nurse administering the vaccine told me it was the “happiest place” she ever worked. My own feeling was of a weight being lifted, or an exhalation of long-held breath.
For the remaining client appointments, I turned to a group of vaccine volunteers who found a spot at a pharmacy close to home. When I took a client, he was one of three people who showed up for 12 doses. They, like other pharmacies in my area, had begun calling people to claim immediate appointments.
Everyone I know who wanted to be vaccinated is now a card-carrying member of the club. The world is reopening for many of us. I had an Easter dinner with family I hadn’t seen in the pandemic, and my daughter will have an in-person, outdoor, college graduation in May.
All that’s left for me is to get myself off all the lists, websites and social media pages that offered vaccine sign-ups. This could take a while.
Pepper Evans works as an independent-living consultant, helping older adults age in place. She is the empty-nest mother of two adult daughters and has extensive personal and professional experience as a caregiver. She has worked as a researcher and editor for authors and filmmakers. She also puts her time and resources to use in the nonprofit sector and serves on the Board of Education in Lawrence Township, NJ.