Vaccine Journey: Part 1

Later, people said that it was like:

  • A Black Friday deal
  • Brunch in San Francisco, pre-pandemic
  • That’s what it was like. But for me, it was like there was a whisper, a secret announcement that I heard and I rushed to get my first dose on Thursday afternoon.

    It started like this:
    Chris saw a post on Buy Nothing about available vaccines, now available to people anyone 16+, in specific zip codes. One of which was ours. He told our group chat to go. “NOW,” he said.
    He does this often. For news. For deals. I know that most people in the chat often ignore his updates, but being the one closest to him, I felt compelled to listen. You want to be the one that always supports him.
    But of course I was hesitant. I had a meeting at 3 pm. I was in the middle of listening in on a zoom call although not an active participant at all. It was 1:50 pm. Then he message me directly. “GO!” he said.
    I protested. But I had a meeting in an hour that I couldn’t miss because I was leading it. You can get it done within an hour. They said that it won’t take that much time.
    And with that, I gathered all my things, random mail with proof of residency, and drove to San Francisco General.
    I had been there once when I fell after riding into the muni tracks and hit my head. It was a very expensive emergency room visit, because it resulted in nothing and just comfort (?) that I was going to die in my sleep with a hematoma. During that period, Chris lived down the street, so I knew the area well.
    But that Thursday, as I was driving toward the hospital, I realized that I had no idea where to go. Which building? Was it outside? Where do I park? I was having all these thoughts as well as the anxiety of not returning in time.
    I had not driven myself in that area so I wasn’t familiar with anything. I saw signs for the testing, but not for vaccines. Where was I supposed to go? It was past 2 pm. I made some stupid 3-point turn at a stop sign because I didn’t turn far away enough and then saw the vaccine sign. I turned into the driveway, realizing quickly that it was only dropoff. No parking there! So I drove out and quickly thought about where to park. Not in the garage. $3! Maybe on the street. But it’s only reserved for covid sheriff, what’s that! So I drove up to Kansas and fortunately found something on the corner. I jogged all the way to the hospital, trying not to look like I was frantic. I turned toward where I saw the vaccine sign and asked, “is this for the walk ins?”
    She said, “Follow the signs up.”
    I did and found the line. A short one, well-spaced of six people. And two were just leaving. Chris was right. It was short. I could get a vaccine and I peered inside…maybe that was it!
    I was worried. It was now 2:18 pm. Will I get in? Some guy asked about my id. I showed him and also showed my mail. He probably only needed my zip code but I was tired of speaking and worried. I was quickly registered and checked in. I rocked on my heels as another guy checked my information already in the system and gave me a post-it that said 4e. “Where do I go?” I asked.
    He pointed to the right as I was supposed to have known. I went and there was another short line. Another guy holding up a flower sign that twirled. This was where I had asked for directions earlier. It was happening. The vaccines are just inside. Then he said, “You three come with me.”
    We followed him in well-spaced lines and I realized what was inside was registration peoples for various offices. I was suddenly overwhelmed. I had not been inside a hospital for over a year or any clinic really. It was really happening. These people, everything that happened in this building was about saving people, saving people’s lives, from dying.
    And now, they were keeping people living. I thought, how can anyone not start tearing up.
    A guy pressed the elevator and the doors opened. “4th floor,” he said as we entered.
    Someone pressed the button and the three us headed to the corners of the elevator. I had not ridden in an elevator since I was at work in March 2020.
    We got out of the elevator and there was another line. There were markers on the floor and toward the front, nurses were moving tray trolleys filling out a paper screener. I craned my neck to see how long it would take. 2:28 pm. Maybe I could make it?
    People moved fast and I was overwhelmed emotionally again. We are here, saving each other. Finally. Then it was my turn.
    It was this stunning moment. Of emotion. Of having to answer such benign questions from a stranger. I never talked to strangers anymore really. She asked me if I was Chinese. I was surprised but I answered in the affirmative, not denying my heritage. Do you speak Chinese, she asked. I was surprised by that question, but I knew what she was asking and I simply said, I prefer English. I asked whether the fact that when I gave blood, sometimes I had to stop because my blood pressure was too low and my arm would get bruised. No, I don’t have anemia. No, I don’t faint.
    And soon, it was done. I was soon sent to another registration person who said that it was going to be Pfizer. Then I was sent to another person who gave me basic information about the vaccine. What language? she asked. English, I said.
    Then I was sent down a roped line to the back and soon directed to #3 or was it #5. it was an odd number. At this point, I knew that I couldn’t make it. The person said that I wouldn’t be able to leave until after the waiting period which would end at 3:00 pm. I sent a message to the group apologizing and asking whether we could meet later. Push it by 30 minutes or an hour. And I sat down and I rolled my sleeve. My sleeve wasn’t high enough so I had to hold it while she administered the shot and I turned my head away. Maybe I was supposed to cry now, but I didn’t want to be kicked out saying that I wasn’t ready.
    Also at that point, I had my period and you know how it goes. I was feeling uncomfortable and all that great stuff.
    I felt a small pinch. “Does it hurt?” she asked.
    It only hurt with the shot, but nothing now. That was the answer that she wanted to hear. I got up and headed to the waiting room area. I looked in an empty room and asked whether I was supposed to take a seat. She pointed me to another room. And we sat there silently. I looked down at my phone. my face covered with double mask. Did everybody know that I was being cautious and wearing double masks? I messaged and apologized profusely. My work isn’t a life or death or situation. So it was fine. It’s totally fine. Shortly before 3 pm, someone said that it was okay to go and I got up, gathering my things, fumbling for my keys.
    A paper floated to the ground. A nurse looked at me and she chuckled. “Oh!” she said, laughing..
    “I know, I don’t want to lose that,” I said, picking up my vaccine card.
    Then I went to the elevator, turned down an elevator that was barely full. Went down and down, back into the world, the same, but so so so very different.

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