Getting vaccinated was a profound experience. I was surprisingly moved by it. Maybe I’m getting soft in my dotage, but there is something extraordinary in the human response to this pandemic.
The process began for me on the morning of Saturday, April 24. I was sitting in the kitchen with the radio on, enjoying the first coffee of the day, when I heard the public announcement encouraging those of my vintage to register online for our vaccination. I went straight to the computer, logged on to https://www2.hse.ie and clicked on all the required boxes until the screen told me I’d be sent a text message with my appointment.
By the following Friday I had heard nothing and began to wonder if I had missed a crucial box in the course of my clicking. I phoned the helpline where a kindly woman from the HSE confirmed I was registered, all I had to do was wait for a text giving me the time and place.
The next morning being Saturday, the current consort and I were sitting up in the scratcher scrolling through our phones and wondering which of us was going to be the first to get up and brew the coffee. Among my overnight texts messages I found one telling me to present myself at the Radisson Hotel on Monday morning at 11.35 for my AstraZeneca vaccination.
I jumped out of the bed, headed for the kitchen and returned 10 minutes later with a pot of coffee, a pair of cups, and a few slices of buttered brown bread topped off with our neighbour’s home-made marmalade.
“Hmm,” says she, “you should get vaccinated more often.”
Monday came around quickly and, on the advice of people in the know, I took two paracetamol before I left the house for the vaccination centre. It was a cold, miserable, wet and windy day, not a good one for standing in line. I shouldn’t have worried. There was no hanging about, from the moment I joined the cars snaking their way along the short driveway to the hotel carpark everything kept moving.
Volunteers, army personnel, medical professionals, members of the civil defence, along with part-time and full time HSE staff guided me from the carpark to the queue, met me at the door, confirmed I was in the right place at the right time and showed me exactly where to go next. Everyone was in the best of good humour.
With the minimum of fuss and no paperwork I quickly found myself at the door of the vaccination hall, where people were moving in and out of white cubicles like clockwork.
I was guided to a cubicle where two vaccinators, Ann and Marie were ready for me. “Now James, it’s your turn” they said. All of a sudden, I couldn’t speak, I was filling up to cry. Thank goodness for the face-mask and the fact the two women were busy preparing the accoutrements, I had a chance to compose myself.
The wonder of the thing suddenly dawned on me. My mind went back to March 2020 when a GP friend of mine, visibly upset, told me she was afraid most of her older patients would be taken by the virus. Fourteen months later and it looks like a corner has been turned.
As I sat there loosening my shirt, the extraordinary time we have been through seemed to telescope itself into these few moments. It felt as if the fragility of human existence and the wonder of human ingenuity were coming face to face in these small white spaces.
Ann and Marie took me through the ins and outs of the vaccine, confirmed my consent and, before I knew it, the deed was done. I thanked them profusely as I pulled on my shirt. They advised me to take two more paracetamol when I got home and, handing me a card with details of my vaccination, said I’d be called again in 12 weeks. They directed me to the waiting area where I was to sit and rest for 15 minutes, in case there were any instant reactions.
As the vaccinated waited young women went among us offering glasses of water as they cleaned the vacated seats. People sat in silence with their coats on their laps, looking around and absorbing this hive of human goodness. It was like that quiet period after communion when believers take a moment to reflect on the wonder and mystery of what has happened.
On the way home the car radio carried heart-breaking accounts of Covid’s rampage through India. Is it too much to hope that human ingenuity might meet an abundance of justice, compassion and generosity?
It’s not over at all, until it’s over for all.
First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday May 11th 2021