For many years I’ve been in no hurry for my birthday. Most adults past a certain age—myself included—would prefer to slow down the clock or start counting backwards. Not this year. Ever since the vaccine became available to people over 65, I’ve yearned for my March 10th birthday to come sooner.
Trying to make an appointment for the Covid 19 vaccine became a Darwinian nightmare for me. Whoever sat the longest and most often at their computers and were most technologically adept won appointments. Others who scored appointments took a more Machiavellian approach, using codes that were intended for healthcare workers. Other lucky folks had connections with influential doctors, sat on hospital boards, or had made donations. These people—all younger than 65 with no underlying conditions— able to skip to the front of the line.
I am completely at peace with front-line workers, the elderly, and others who are at greatest risk getting the first shots. However, I started to develop an acute case of vaccine envy toward those who were ineligible but managed to skip to the front of the line.
Some people were bragging about their ability to get the vaccine early. Neighbors in my building, friends, and people I barely know delighted in telling me about their incredible ability/luck/connections that enabled them to get the life-saving shot. Some people even told me that getting appointments was easy. There was a maddening “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah” quality to these inoculation success stories, with the implication that individuals who quickly and easily scored life-saving shots were smarter, more computer literate and had better doctors with more influence at their hospitals. Welcome to the Hunger Games.
Of course, there were friends and parents in the autism community who kindly and generously shared information and advice. But they seemed to be in the minority.
As Samantha would say, I was NOT a happy camper. After a great deal of work and a friend’s tip, I was able to make an appointment for my husband at a pharmacy in Harlem. What a relief! I was practically jumping for joy.
But my quest to vaccinate everyone else in the family had just begun. My 30 year- old daughter on the autism spectrum became eligible on February 15th (ahead of me). Then I had my 93-year-old mother with breathing issues and atrial fibrillation who needed the vaccine.
After sweating profusely at the computer, I managed to get 3 separate appointments at the Javits Center: March 25th (Mom), April 8th (Samantha) and April 12th (me). That meant six trips to the Javits Center—with me going to all of them! There had to be a better way…. or was there?
Last week the Manhattan JCC kindly extended a block of vaccine appointments to their community of disabled adults AND their caretakers in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Then my mom called to say that her doctor’s office made her an appointment on Thursday, February, 26th at a pharmacy on West 72nd Street. Samantha and I were booked for back-to-back vaccinations at 1:45 and 2 pm on Monday, March 1st in the Bronx. Eureka! I felt like I’d won the lottery. It seemed too good to be true that my family would all be fully vaccinated by the end of March.
While my mother happily sailed through her appointment in Manhattan, my daughter and I endured a five- hour ordeal in the Bronx. My husband drove us to the clinic ahead of time for our 1:45 and 2 PM appointments. When we turned in our paper work, clinic personnel told us we wouldn’t be called for “at least an hour and a half past our appointment time.” The overheated and poorly ventilated room was standing room only and filled beyond capacity. Was the waiting area for our life-saving shot a super spreader event? I worried.
We sat outside the main room, on the floor next to the stairs and felt grateful to find that space. (All of the wall space near the elevators was already taken). Shortly after we settled in and resigned ourselves to a grueling day, a uniformed security guard told us: “You can’t sit there.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“My boss told me no one is allowed to sit on the floor.” The answer was robotic.
“But there are no more chairs in the clinic,” I pointed out politely. “It doesn’t make sense to stand in a hot, crowded room and my daughter has a disability.” I tried to appeal to both reason and compassion. “We’re not blocking the stair-well.”
“Yeah, WHY can’t we sit here?” Samantha chimed in a rebellious tone.
“You have to move,” the security spoke to me in an arrogant tone and ignored my daughter.
Howard looked up from his pile of legal work, pulled out his ear pods, and tried to mediate. “I had a hip replacement and my wife has a bad back. If you can get us chairs, we’ll be happy to move.”
“You want ME to get YOU chairs?” The guard glared at Howard.
“No sir, I thought maybe you could call someone who’d arrange for more chairs,” Howard replied courteously.
The guard gave up on us and walked toward the elevators to chase away other people who were sitting on the floor. I stood up to search for chairs inside the clinic, muttering “What an asshole!”
“Yeah, what a f—– asshole,” Samantha added loudly.
My daughter still hasn’t learned that authority figures have the power to enforce rules that she doesn’t like or understand (http://margueriteelisofon.com/2016/09/autism-airports-and-apples.html). Fortunately, the security guard didn’t hear my daughter or he could have forced us to leave the building before we got our vaccinations.
At 5 pm, we went into a room with 10 other people and were vaccinated two at a time. We had to listen to a mini-crash course on the vaccine and its possible side effects. Each person needed to wait in the room for 15 minutes after their shot in case of an allergic reaction. Samantha and I were the two last people vaccinated in our group. Phew!
Why were appointment times not honored? Sun River Health had overbooked. There was only one vaccination room, and each group of 10 had to remain in the vaccination room for 15 minutes after receiving the shot. Appointments were irrelevant; only the paperwork mattered. The net result was chaos.
“But aren’t you relieved now that you’ve received the shot?” my husband asked.
Yes and no. I’m happy that we survived this excruciating endurance test and grateful for the life-saving vaccine. But I feel like I’m suffering PTSD, not to mention my knife-like back pain. I was hoping that after I turned 65 and before I needed the second shot at the end of March, I could get an appointment elsewhere. But it turns out you MUST return to wherever you received the first shot (even if it’s hell).
After being vaccinated, we were told that the second shot would be faster and easier. No appointment would be needed (LOL), because there would be no more paperwork. Just bring the card showing that we had the first injection. Do you believe that?
I don’t believe in the tooth fairy either.