It’s not quite three weeks since I got my second COVID-19 shot. This is how it’s going.
About a week after my first shot, I felt the lifting of my lingering long-haul symptoms. So that was great.
I had no aftereffects from either shot. My arm was sore after the first shot, but I barely felt the second injection at all.
As soon as I had my appointments, I booked a plane ticket. I would be flying on the first day I was considered fully vaccinated.
The week we got our second shot, our county changed the rules. It’s now allowed for people who have had both their shots to walk outside and go to the park without a mask. We took advantage of that fact! Nobody got within ten feet of us anyway. It felt like such a luxury to be outdoors, something that we never used to give a second thought.
We went to the grocery store to buy ice cream. Another activity that used to be completely normal but that we had given up for a year. It was nice to go to the store without a face shield and not break into a flop sweat.
I prepared for my flight with trepidation.
It’s one thing to walk around the neighborhood and go to the park, knowing there are no other people within several yards. It’s something else to go to the store, where max occupancy is enforced.
It’s an entirely different category to go to an airport with thousands of other people traveling from who knows where.
As much as I want things to go back to normal, my tolerance for personal risk is basically zero. I knew there would have to be a way to go on my trip without being exposed to every type of pathogen from every region under the sun. I bought a special helmet.
Much to my disappointment, I was required to take off my mask in the security line. Everyone has to. When you show your ID, they want to make sure it’s really you, so you can have the correct name on your headstone after they give you COVID.
I put my helmet back on after I got on the plane, hoping it wasn’t too late.
This is the important part. Despite all my planning, I was exposed to roughly two hundred people with my helmet off. Not only that, I had to take off my cloth mask in a spot only a few feet away from the line, where one person after another had also stood with a bare face.
Nothing about that felt safe at all. I strongly doubt the CDC got any say in the TSA regulations.
For my purposes, while I’m definitely still worried about COVID-19, I want to avoid any and all respiratory illnesses. I don’t even want the common cold, much less influenza or, worse, any emerging thing that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’m definitely a convert to the mask life.
I had a good time wearing my helmet and realizing how much of the world was now reopened to me. I would feel safe wearing my helmet on the bus or the subway, and that means I can basically go anywhere I want.
I got to my destination, where about half of the people I came to see are fully vaccinated, while the other half have only had their first shot.
If you haven’t had to manage this yet, it’s not all that complicated. The fully vaccinated can hug in one room, and those who aren’t there yet can keep their masks on in another room. When everyone is together, we all just put our masks back on.
Now it’s been five days since I was at the airport with my mask off.
I’ve been nervous, I’ll admit it. I sneezed a couple of times and had to ask myself:
WHAT WAS THAT???
Reaction to pet dander?
I sneeze in bright sunlight, and I also sneeze if I taste strong peppermint, which is probably why it has “pepper” in its name, but it still seems like a corny joke.
Culturally, our natural reaction is going to be, “Wow, this person is really a hypochondriac.” Getting worked up over a sneeze? Get over yourself.
Yet my first symptoms of COVID were a sneezing fit and itchy eyes.
At the time that I got sick, these were not recognized as potential coronavirus symptoms. I was feeling very weird, and I had gone to a social outing five days before, so my husband and I Googled and read through several lists of COVID symptoms, just to be safe.
I didn’t have a single symptom on the list, and not a single one of my symptoms were on the list.
Two weeks later, I was gasping for air like a trout on a riverbank and having tachycardia several times a day.
This is why I still pay careful attention to my state of health every time I sneeze.
I keep hearing of local cases - cases in my area, cases of people in my industry, cases of people who are one or two degrees of separation from me - where half a dozen or more people got the coronavirus at work because one individual thought they had “mild allergy symptoms.”
It’s high time people quit going out or going to work in person when they are sneezing or coughing or having a runny nose. Yet I fear it’s never going to change. Our Puritan work ethic is too deep in the bone, even though nothing destroys productivity more than a global pandemic.
The good news is, in spite of a couple of sneezes, I appear to be fine. I appear to have escaped the TSA plague gauntlet with no repercussions.
That sorta supports the idea that the shot worked. Or at least it doesn’t refute it.
Soon I will have been on my visit long enough to pass through a quarantine period. Then none of us will have to wear masks around each other and it will be just like the old days, sitting at home like normal.
I went to the airport for the first time in a year and a half, and I bought a new MicroClimate helmet for the trip. This is my experience.
My itinerary began at LAX, with a layover at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, and continued on to PDX. This is a trip I have made many times, and I have spent untold hours at each of these airports over the past 15 years.
I’m a pretty experienced traveler - or at least I used to be, in the before-times. Things are different now.
I figured that the form factor of my MicroClimate helmet would advertise itself pretty clearly. This is a serious piece of equipment. I had read up on the corporate website, and it looked like other users were experiencing friction from various airport personnel. I assumed that I would get different responses depending on where I went and who I interacted with, and I was right about that.
TSA and my airline, Southwest, were both pretty clear that a mask “covers the mouth and nose” and that it loops behind the ears.
Obviously my MicroClimate helmet covers the mouth and nose, correct? But my mouth and nose are visible!
This is where I recall all the cartoons I ever saw of confused computers and robots with steam blasting out of their vents, going all swirly-eyed and then exploding.
My first issue was at the baggage check counter in LAX. I had been in the airport just long enough to check in and print out my baggage claim stickers. The agent told me that she understood, but TSA was going to make me take off the helmet and they weren’t going to let me wear it on the plane.
I turned away, took off the helmet, and pulled out the double-layer fabric mask that I had in my pocket. “I apologize for making you uncomfortable,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not me, I’m here to help *you*,” she said.
I put the helmet back on for the short walk down the hallway and into the public restroom. I saw nobody, and thus no one said anything. I had felt anxious about being in the enclosed area of an airport restroom during the pandemic, and wearing the helmet definitely helped me feel better.
When I emerged, I realized that swapping out the helmet for a cloth mask in the security line was not an experience I wanted to have. It was a cattle call. Nobody was distancing more than about 18 inches and there were at least 100 people packed together.
I stepped to the side and put on my fabric mask and zipped my helmet back into my bag. This was very disappointing because this 1000-square-foot area was the precise reason I wanted the helmet in the first place.
Hundreds of thousands of people a day pass through LAX from all over the world. I have gotten respiratory illnesses probably more than half the time that I have traveled through this airport. I don’t care what the statistics are about being onboard an airplane, or how their filtration systems are rated. I care about standing in line at the airport itself so the TSA can examine my internal organs.
When it was my turn to hand over my ID, the TSA agent asked me to remove my fabric face mask.
There ya go. My exact worst nightmare. Standing in the filthiest place on Earth with a bare face, where another dude was standing doing the same thing five seconds earlier. Buy any mask or filtration system or biohazard suit you like, and TSA will interfere with you and insist that you participate in equal-opportunity disease exposure.
I made it to my flight on time, boarded, waited until takeoff, and put my helmet back on. Not a single person said a thing. My seatmates on either side glanced at me and went back to whatever they were doing, clearly unfazed.
We landed, and I decided I would just push it as far as I could go. I would leave the helmet on as we disembarked. A few of the flight attendants and gate agents made eye contact with me and said nothing. Cool.
As I walked into McCarran, it was immediately obvious that we were in Vegas, for two reasons. First, the slot machines, and second, the anything-goes atmosphere. A lady walked up to me, all smiles, and asked where I got the helmet. A man gave me a thumbs-up. People were checking me out as I walked to my gate. I sat for an hour, texting with my family and my husband.
Someone sitting directly behind me coughed, and I didn’t have to worry.
The performance of the helmet itself is, as far as I can tell, flawless. The fan does a good job of unobtrusively tuning out most background sounds, like a white noise generator. I was a bit hot, but probably because I tried to dress for Oregon, not Nevada or California, and I would have been more comfortable in short sleeves.
Face ID recognized me on my iPhone, but not on my iPad. Go figure. I was able to pair my AirPods and listen to a show, although I did have to turn up the volume higher than normal.
I don’t really like the chin strap - I wear a XXS bike helmet and the MicroClimate helmet is one-size-fits-all. It took a lot of finagling to adjust it so it would stay in place on my tiny little head. As a competent costumer married to an engineer, I will probably go in and rig a more customized strap setup for myself. And then send a drawing and photos to MicroClimate.
We boarded our connecting flight. The ticket agent greeted me but said nothing about the helmet. The flight attendant at the end of the jetway greeted me and said nothing. The flight attendants doing the safety presentation said nothing.
Then another flight attendant came over and handed me a surgical mask, making eye contact but saying nothing. I put it in my lap.
We took off. After the safety presentation, a different flight attendant came over and firmly told me that I needed to wear the surgical mask.
I understand how this works, because I also work on a team in which we sometimes take turns being “the enforcer” or “good cop” or “bad cop.”
Having no desire to give any hard-working safety professional a bad day, I indeed put the mask on underneath my helmet and obediently wore it over my mouth and nose throughout the flight.
Is this all they want from me? That I check the box for their baseline instructions and pointlessly wear the paper mask, even though I am wearing a helmet that literally covers my entire head and has its own air filtration system?
All right, fine.
Get used to it, though. Given another pandemic of a respiratory virus, and/or heavy wildfire smoke or a volcanic eruption, and/or any kind of chemical spill, and/or [insert nameless dread here], more and more people are going to decide to get themselves a helmet just like this.
The reception of the crowd to this device was either positive or neutral. Almost everyone completely ignored me. Not a single person gave me a dirty look or appeared scared or annoyed. A little girl waved at me - and I waved back and smiled - and it may have been one of the few times she saw a stranger’s actual smiling face in well over a year.
A couple of women came up to me and asked me where I bought the helmet, looking very intrigued. It would have been a great opportunity for MicroClimate to include a bunch of business cards, or even put a QR code on the back of the helmet. I wouldn’t really mind if people wanted to take pictures of me wearing it. I am a photo-shy person but I feel somehow anonymous in my helmet, like a person from the future.
Which I am, now.
I had to double-check the news just to make sure that it applied to California, but I did, and we were good to go. We are officially allowed to walk outside and go to the park without masks! The very first day that we had off, that’s what we did.
Every week I check the weather forecast to see if there is going to be a nice enough day. All year, it’s been touch-and-go. Sometimes, there will be one warm-weather day, and sometimes, that day will fall on the weekend. I plan our entire week around making sure we get to the park that day.
If there is only a two-hour window of warm and sunny weather, by gum, we’re going to be sitting in the middle of a grassy field and making the most of it.
It was glorious. 78F, not a cloud in the sky, flowers blooming, butterflies and bees and hummingbirds, the full springtime experience.
We walked down the trail to the park, and we didn’t have masks on, and nobody came near us, so it probably didn’t matter anyway.
We’ve both had our second shot. I wanted those shots, and I booked them the first day that I had permission, and I got there early. I’ve already started feeling the effects, as the sense of lingering illness that I have had over the past year has finally started to dissipate.
At the same time, though, I don’t know if I truly believe that it will work.
I talked it out with my husband. A hundred million people in the US have been vaccinated for COVID-19, and about 5600 have had breakthrough infections.
“That’s about one in twenty thousand,” he explained.
“Yeah, that feels like a big enough risk to me to still be careful,” I replied.
I was one of the first 400 COVID cases in California, a state with a population of nearly forty million people. I’m not great at math, but that’s... one in 100,000. I have no problem with being extra-cautious, considering that so far, most of the planning I thought was very conservative was nowhere near what we truly needed.
Storing food supplies for one month, for instance!
In February 2020, I thought we were planning very carefully and being smart.
What I’m worried about right now is the indication that the Pfizer vaccine might not be effective against the South African variant.
A vaccine-hesitant person might use that as some kind of excuse not to get the shot.
Not me. I see it as a laundry list of Pandemic Problems, most of which I have just crossed off by getting my jab. Let’s see, now all I need is a booster shot that covers that strain and I’ll be good to go.
I fully expect there to be annual boosters of the COVID vaccine, and I am ready and eager to roll up my sleeve.
I have two other plans for the future, considering that I’m 45 and a COVID survivor. One is to start getting the flu shot twice a year, once at the very beginning of flu season and the other six months later. Say, late September and again in February or March.
Although... it looks like all the social distancing and masking may be driving influenza to extinction all around the world. Even better, it looks like all this medical research may be bringing us a universal flu vaccine, which is magnificent!
If you’ve been paying attention, it looks like we may also be getting both an effective malaria vaccine and an HIV vaccine. Coronavirus bonanzas.
I said I have two plans for the future, and one is to get the flu shot twice a year instead of just once. The other is to ask my doctor what other vaccines are on the market and please can’t I have them?
I don’t think it will happen for us this year, but I do believe that eventually world travel will be back on the table. (I’m still sticking with my original prediction, circa March 2020, that the pandemic will last until January 2023). I am much more concerned now about picking up some random contagion now.
I’d far, far rather go through a course of multiple injections that just lock my door and never go anywhere interesting ever again.
These are the sorts of things I’m thinking about as I sit here in the park on a beautiful warm spring day.
The park is very busy. We got to watch a group of third-graders give each other presentations on the US presidents. They were so much more confident than I was at that age, or, to be honest, even thirty years later.
We sat off to the side, on an embankment that is too steep for much besides our inflatable chairs, and made up our own fake presidential facts.
“Teddy Roosevelt wrestled a moose,” I intoned.
Something we noticed is that there were far more kids in masks today than there have been any other time in the past year. Our region has been extremely sloppy about masking. It seems, though, that the news is getting out. COVID seems to be having a stronger effect on little kids. Did you see the story about the poor little boy who went on vacation with his vaccinated parents, and he died??
By this time next year, maybe testing will indicate that the COVID vaccine is safe for children as well. Or maybe there will be a formulation that is safe on infants. At that point, we can finally break the back of this stupid virus and drive it to extinction.
We noticed today that a few people were enjoying the new order, that it’s okay to go without masks outdoors like we are doing. I would have assumed that everyone would take advantage of that fact, that even unvaccinated people would just go bare-faced and assume nobody would call them out on it.
It would be useful if we had some kind of signal for who was vaccinated and who wasn’t, like a colored ribbon, although that system could be abused as well. For now, though, it seems like people are going for it. Mask if no vaccine, bare face if elite.
How weird would it be if suddenly wearing a mask started to become a signal that one was part of the vaccine resistance? If the hesitant or the politically motivated started using masks to indicate where their loyalties lie? I would think it would make a terrific canvas for various symbols or slogans, like a nice little DONT TREAD ON ME serpent. Instant Etsy income.
This has been a surprisingly great day. We’ve enjoyed relaxing in the fine spring weather and smelling the freshly mown grass. Now we’re going to walk down to the beach, pull our masks out of our pockets, and get takeout burritos.
The weather is hot, and I got my shot, so now I’ll have fun with barely a thought. And that’s a great feeling that cannot be bought.
My hubby and I got our second shots last week. We are, as they say, in like Flynn.
Word is getting out, and people are starting to ask questions of us. We haven’t really gotten our heads around the idea that in another week and a half, we’ll be 94% protected against COVID-19.
Now that we’re in the vaccinated elite, it’s like doors have opened to us and we don’t even know what’s on the other side of those doors yet.
The first thing that happened is that some of our young people have started asking what our rules are for socializing.
The second thing is that our work asked on which exact date my hubby would be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ and thus free to travel again. Business trips.
There you have it. Right back to where we were in 2019, with a social calendar and a variable amount of business travel.
In the meantime, we’ve only just realized that we can go out in public and get PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS again.
My hubby needs to renew his passport. I called for him and found that he can get his photo taken 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, right up the street. He mentioned getting a haircut first.
“What, don’t you like my $6-equivalent home haircuts anymore?”
Haha, like I’m offended. The only thing more stressful than giving someone else an amateur haircut is: driving on the freeway. I might be willing to cut a man’s hair again under certain pressing circumstances - not sure what those would be - but it is unlikely that I will be called upon to do this again.
We keep talking about what else we’re going to do, once we’re free to go out and about.
Well, technically we’re free now. I think we could even go to see a movie at the mall. The pool is open at our building again, residents only. The gym next door is allowing people in. Cases are finally dropping in our area and things seem to be going well.
I have done something since we got our shots. I went to the store and bought some fresh raspberries.
I went alone, I wore my mask, I distanced, I was only in the store for ten minutes, the clerk stayed behind his plexiglass barrier, I left. Chances are, these behaviors would have served me just as well before I got my first shot, in the Wild West days.
The difference is that now, I no longer approach transactions like this in a flop sweat, with my hands shaking and my heart racing.
I am what seems to be fairly rare in the US: a true believer that the coronavirus exists and that it wants to kill you. I had COVID, I’ve followed the updates and pre-prints in various research journals, and I understand that I could both get it again and die of it.
A short list of things I would rather have happen than get COVID a second time:
Be audited by the IRS
Be attacked by a coyote
Or a mountain lion
Get a tattoo on my eyeball
Have a tooth pulled without anesthesia
Be hit in the face with a baseball bat
Have food poisoning
I suppose I should match this with a short list of things that I think would be worse than getting COVID again. That would basically be: being trapped in a submarine with the oxygen running out, being dragged underwater by an alligator, or, actually literally dying.
Probably none of those things will happen to me or to anyone I know. I sure hope not. (Except the dying part - can’t do much about that). Probably I won’t get COVID again, either, because I am now paranoid for life. I don’t really have a problem with the idea of wearing a mask in public forever, because so far it has kept me from getting the flu or even the common cold.
Also I don’t have to worry if there’s spinach in my teeth.
What are we going to do, now that we’re in the vaccinated elite?
Probably we will re-enter society gradually, one step at a time.
We do have rules for having people over. Those rules are 1, you must be fully vaccinated, 2, you must show your documentation, and 3, if you bring someone with you who is not fully vaccinated yet, then I will throw a huge fit and shove the whole group of you away from my door with a broom. Because a 10-foot pole won’t fit in my apartment.
Probably we will be expected to return to work soon.
I am not excited about this, because I know that there will be a certain number of vaccine skeptics on staff. I won’t know who they are, and thus I might wind up in a small room with one sitting on either side of me.
Am I paranoid? I am. The Pfizer vaccine that I just got is not protective against the South African strain. How long will it take to produce a booster shot that will include that strain? No idea.
Going in to work as a physical entity, rather than a virtual avatar, means I’m going to have to wear a mask at least ten hours a day. I will probably wind up eating my lunch in the parking lot so that I can feel safe to take off my mask.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t feel all that elite yet. I have a piece of information that stresses me out, which is that there is still a deadly and highly contagious strain of a virus circulating out there, and my injection does not protect me against it.
Going to work and being on site 50 hours a week with 3000 people, many of whom travel regularly, is a completely different risk profile than going to the grocery store for ten minutes, or getting a haircut in a private salon with one stylist and a locking door.
In some ways, being a part of the vaccinated elite is great. It’s our best chance to achieve true herd immunity and finally end the pandemic. On the other hand, it’s not perfect, and it creates a certain amount of pressure to get back to business and pretend that everything is normal, when it isn’t yet.
The rest of 2021 promises to be both exciting and super weird.
Have you booked your appointment yet? Or are you already elite like us?
My husband and I went back for our second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine today. I thought I’d share my experience.
It’s been over 4 hours since we got injected. My arm isn’t even sore.
Because we work in critical infrastructure, we’re in the tier that opened right before the general community started getting their chance. A lot of our colleagues are a month or more ahead of us. We did a little canvassing, and it turns out that how people reacted to their vaccines was all over the map.
My boss and his wife reported zero effects.
A younger friend in her thirties got really tired and signed off to take a nap.
One of our friends in his seventies felt woozy for a day or two.
When I first signed up for my appointment, I was 100% convinced that I would get the full range of the worst side effects. As badly as I wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible, I was also a little scared. I didn’t really want to spend two separate weekends resting my face on my bathroom floor. I felt that if my immune system started revving up and was even vaguely reminiscent of my experience being sick with COVID, I would sob for hours, rocking myself in my closet.
That was the boogeyman that lived in my brain.
A lot of us have those, don’t we?
Instead of being overcome by waves of wooziness when my immune system kicked into gear, I felt: nothing. Just a sore arm.
Then I got the second shot. So far, it’s even less than that. My arm still doesn’t hurt.
I barely even felt the needle go in. Our nurse has undoubtedly given thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of injections by now. That’s one thing we can say about this. Anyone with medical training who is certified to give people shots has suddenly had the opportunity to become much more experienced.
Our nurse had just gotten back from the funeral of a cousin who died of COVID. That’s the second one in her family.
How do they even do that? How do they watch so many people die of this disease, including their own loved ones, and then just have to shake it off and get back to work?
If I ever go out to a restaurant again and I see anyone there who works in healthcare, I’m going to call over the waiter and secretly pick up their tab. It seems like none of these brave souls should ever have to buy their own drinks or tacos again for the rest of their lives.
We got our shots, we took each other’s photos, we went to the waiting area to make sure our arms didn’t turn green and fall off or whatever.
We had shown up about a half hour early - living with an Upholder will do that to you - and we didn’t have to wait. Same experience as last time. We were actually done with our post-injection waiting period and getting up to go at the time of our official appointments.
There is some advice going around about making sure you get the best vaccination experience possible. Supposedly it works better if you go to bed early the night before, because sleep is such a key component of the immune system.
I can report that I had a very cruddy night of sleep the night before my shot.
Another thing is to avoid taking anti-inflammatories until *after* the shot. Don’t pre-game. I’m fine with that. Last time I took a couple of Tylenol because my arm was really sore, but this time I haven’t felt the need yet.
Something else that I heard was to rotate your arm in big dorky arm circles whenever it feels sore, to help avoid inflammation. I did it a couple times to show my husband what I was talking about, but that’s it. Maybe it worked.
My suspicion is that I was already covered by the first shot, since I had COVID last year. My immune system must have been like “YOU again??” Preliminary research indicates that COVID survivors mount the same antibody response after one dose as regular people do after the second dose.
It’s not like I was going to skip my second dose! Just that it seems possible I am having an easier time with this shot than my husband did because my poor old carcass is already experienced.
(His arm has started to feel sore. Since we got injected about 90 seconds apart, I would have expected to have the same problem by now).
My reaction to the first dose was fantastic. I started to feel my long-haul symptoms lift away. By the second week, the difference was quite noticeable to me. I have described it as like opening the curtains in a dark room and letting the sunlight in.
Since my first dose, I’ve suddenly had the energy and motivation to do several things I hadn’t really done in a year. Cooking from scratch, reading four times as much, organizing closets, taking shorter naps, dropping a few pounds. It truly feels like magic.
I have high hopes for this second dose as well. Maybe next week I’ll perk up even more. Maybe the last vestiges of this sad year of illness will finally be swept away.
As a side note, I know two people with legitimate health concerns about getting the vaccine.
One has a serious yeast allergy - the anaphylaxis / rushed to the hospital / carries an Epi Pen type of allergy - and there were specific concerns about yeast allergies with the vaccine. Her doctor just gave her the go-ahead to get her shots.
The other is a cancer patient. Both her oncologist and her regular doctor not only gave her the go-ahead, they strongly encouraged her to get at least one dose in before her surgery. The only note there was to avoid doing it within one week before and one week after the surgery date.
While I don’t emotionally resonate with it at all, I do understand the fact that thousands of people are more afraid of vaccinations than they are of getting cancer or dying of COVID-19. It seems to be aided and abetted by this idea that “a lot of people feel this way, so there must be something to it.” This is why I am sharing my own experience and those of people close to me, to help add to the group awareness.
So far, over 91 million Americans have had at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s a lot! I know dozens of people now who have had both their doses, and it’s fine.
I’m thrilled to be one of them. We’re in the end game now. Let’s all get this done and put this sorry chapter of history behind us.
It’s been a little over two weeks since I got my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. I’m scheduled for the second dose this week. I just thought I’d share my impressions, since they’re pretty good.
I was sick with COVID a year ago. In fact, at this point, I wasn’t at all sure that I would live through it. I was having bouts of tachycardia, I was gulping air, and I generally felt like my battery was down to 2%. My hands shook constantly and I couldn’t get warm.
The closest I can come to how I felt was Frodo Baggins after his encounter with the Ring Wraiths.
My experience with recovering from the coronavirus was so bad that I wondered how it compared to radiation poisoning, or malaria or mono. It just dragged on and on. I thought, maybe this is it, maybe I’m just messed up now. Maybe this is the best I can hope for.
I started reading how some long-haul COVID patients were reporting feeling better after they got their vaccine. I didn’t qualify yet, so I had to wait impatiently for my turn. Was it going to work on me?
Supposedly it did work on about a quarter of long-haul patients. A one-in-four chance isn’t all that great, maybe not even worth getting excited about. I was definitely going to get the shot anyway, even if it made me feel worse, because I take concepts like civic duty much more seriously after having been so ill.
When I felt like I was dying, when I had reason to believe I might have fewer than five days to live, it upset me extremely that I felt I hadn’t done anything with my life. All I could do was lie there like a washed-up jellyfish and torment myself, thinking of all the missed opportunities over the years and listing off all the things I could have done, if only I hadn’t been so lazy. I cried when I realized that I couldn’t even be an organ donor now that all my organs were covered in coronavirus drool.
That sort of perspective changes you. When I rose up from what I thought was my deathbed, I had a new determination that I would make my presence felt in some way. If something mattered, I would do it.
Getting the vaccine matters.
Okay, so I was going to get the shot, and I had heard that maybe there was a chance it would do some sort of magic trick in my immune system. What if this was just the placebo effect?
I’LL TAKE IT!
I honestly love the placebo effect. If it works, then great! I wish there was a button I could push that would just click it into place on demand.
There are hypotheses about what might be going on, and within a couple of decades I’m sure science will have determined if it is one of these, or something else.
One of them is the concept of the ‘viral reservoir.’ This means that maybe tiny amounts of a virus can hide out somewhere in the body, where they are undetectable through testing, unless someone were to get lucky and scoop them out of that exact spot. For instance, apparently Ebola survivors can have leftover Ebola virus hiding in their tears. So it is true - viruses can hide in the body - we just don’t know if it is true specifically of coronavirus.
[I suspect a huge number of cases of chronic fatigue or unexplained symptoms are actually caused by infection with one type of undiscovered virus or another, and that more advanced testing methods and Big Data will start to reveal them].
Another idea is that maybe getting a vaccination somehow snaps the immune system to attention, and it starts pushing that mop a little faster and finally finishes the job.
There are other ideas of what might be going on, but the truth is that right now, nobody knows. It’s just guessing, which is a huge part of how science works. I’m totally okay with that. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with a 100% rounded-out medieval view of medical science, or one from antiquity, or perhaps even especially one from the Victorians. Yikes. Give me continually churning modernity.
My husband and I went across town to get our shots together. We both had sore arms for a couple days. I felt a little moody and sad the next day, although probably for circumstantial reasons. That was it. No headaches, no nausea, no whatever. We were both fine.
Then... something changed.
I started feeling... better.
I started working out more. I noticed my pace had picked up a bit.
I finally dropped a few pounds, when I’d been stuck all year. I took off three pounds in two weeks.
I started rearranging closets again, and then I built a new piece of furniture.
I started reading more. In the last week, it seems I’ve read a novel a day. I read more in four days than I’d read in the previous two weeks.
I started cooking from scratch again. There are a few containers of leftover homemade soup in the fridge right now.
My weekend naps dropped from 3.5 hours each to 2 hours.
I didn’t even realize that anything was different until I thought back. How long has it been?
How long has it been since I felt like doing any of those things that used to be a routine part of my day?
It’s almost like I was locked in a basement for a year, and then someone came and unlocked the door (with a syringe) and let me out, and I just climbed the stairs and picked up where I left off.
Now, it hasn’t quite been three weeks yet. I still haven’t had my second dose. It’s probably too soon to tell. Right now, though, I feel like it’s going pretty well. It feels good to feel like myself again.
For anyone who is afraid to get the vaccine, but who also had long-haul COVID like I did, don’t be scared. You’ve had vaccines before, haven’t you? What if you get your shot and a week later you realize that you feel like your old self again?
Personally, I’m incredibly curious to find out how I will feel after my second dose. Thank you, Pfizer!
Hey, are you curious about whatever happened to everyone who went to Virus Brunch, where I got COVID-19 and nearly died?
Considering we were some of the earliest cases in the hottest hot zone in California, considering that we all got coronavirus together before the shutdown, isn’t it interesting to ponder what we’re all doing now that vaccines are available to every adult?
Well, let’s start with me. You know my story. I got COVID, and I was deathly ill for a month, and I got a secondary lung infection and almost died from that, and then I got bacterial pneumonia two months later. It’s taken me a year to feel like I’m fully recovered, and even then I still have skin problems and a weird heartbeat sometimes.
Then there’s my friend who is now on short-term disability. She has other health conditions and COVID didn’t treat her very well.
Then there’s our other friend who has lupus. She’s one of the few who didn’t catch COVID at Virus Brunch. She speculated that maybe she didn’t get it like the rest of us because she has been on hydroxychroloquine for many years.
...but then she contracted it a few months ago and was quite ill.
All three of us have gotten our first shot and we’re impatiently waiting for our second dose.
We were sick enough for long enough, and we know enough other people who also got sick, that we don’t need any more information. COVID sucks. We don’t want it again. We’re all quite pleased that the vaccine was developed so quickly, and it’s free, and as soon as we got a chance we got in line.
Not so for everyone else in our group.
This is interesting stuff. We all know each other. We all live in the same place at the same point in the timeline. We were all present at an early-days super-spreader event. Yet we’ve reacted to that event in quite different ways.
I have the benefit of a particularly juicy spiritual problem to chew on. I know the person who gave me a potentially fatal disease. I also know that she had symptoms, the exact symptoms that were already in the news about the pandemic, and she went out in public anyway.
I can get over that part. People make mistakes. It wasn’t personal.
It wasn’t like she sat around sharpening a sword, throwing darts at my photo, and plotting her revenge for some imagined slight.
She was just a person with a particular work ethic who talked herself into attending a social event because she didn’t want to miss out. Even though she wasn’t feeling all that hot.
I could forgive that, sure.
The more information I get, though, the tougher it is for me. I wish I had gotten COVID at random and that I had no idea from where. I wish I couldn’t put a face or a name to my... well, quite frankly, not my emotional scars but the scars on my lungs that are visible in a chest x-ray. My real scars.
See, the person who got me sick has been going around saying how glad she is that at least she didn’t get anyone else sick.
Which simply isn’t true.
I’m one of at least ten people who almost certainly got coronavirus from her, and possibly a lot more, since she went to at least two airports around that time.
She never texted, she never called, she never sent an email. Before we all got sick, she and I were on the occasional email basis. We used to meet at dinner sometimes, not just brunch every couple months.
Whatever has happened, I don’t exist to her. She has this rather large significance in my life and in my mind, and to her, I’m just some random lady.
Enough about her, though. I have forgiveness work to do, heavy lifting that may take me years, as I try to understand her perspective.
Who else was at Virus Brunch, and how are they doing?
One other attendee did not get sick that day. Why? I think it might have to do with where she was seated at the table, but who knows really. This person thinks that COVID is a total hoax, and that those of us who are getting vaccinated are guinea pigs. Apparently the vaccines have something to do with... the Kennedys? She basically thinks that those of us who got sick are hysterical, that we bought into a group delusion and it gave us physical symptoms.
Physical symptoms, like peribronchial thickening? All righty then...
The lady at Virus Brunch who was visiting from Chicago, I have no idea about her. I do know that she got sick, and that she had gone through both LAX and O’Hare before she made it home.
There was one other person who also got sick that day. She is very angry at the person who got us sick, and is no longer willing to socialize with her in any way. She texted me last year wanting to hang out, in person, when I was still getting over pneumonia. I politely brushed her off, wondering why anyone in our entire state would want to step outside their front door, much less get within breathing range of someone who wasn’t family.
I don’t have complete information, but in essence, it looks like everyone who got COVID that day, or later, is getting the shot. The person who walked away unscathed thinks it’s both a hoax and a part of a larger conspiracy. There is also another person who was invited, did not attend that day, is strongly anti-vaxx, and thinks everything about the coronavirus is a conspiracy.
Should those two hang out together, or should they totally not hang out together?
That stupid brunch changed my life forever. We’re all lucky we made it through, and that we’re in the kind of condition where we can think about drama and gossip.
On the other hand, it’s also made me question who is in my social bubble, and why, and how we interact with each other. Before all this, I was an “open house” person and a “free hugs” person. Now I have to ask myself, do I trust the way these people make decisions?
I hate to say it, but if I’d known that there were anti-vaxxers among these casual acquaintances, I would have been ever so much more likely to blow off the brunch that day. When my friend turned to me and asked if we should cancel, I would have thought about the direction the conversation might go, and I would have said, Yeah, let’s cancel. I’ll make you breakfast at my place.
Whether anyone can change their mind is something that we’ve been pondering a lot lately. Usually it’s an abstract question.
These days, it’s literally life or death.
Of course it doesn’t pay to approach a conversation with that sort of weight. How unfun. It’s not like anyone is going to be convinced of a single thing with someone looming over them, broadcasting I WILL CONVINCE YOU at them with a steely glare.
We’ve been exploring low-stakes conversations with strangers and near-strangers, just to see how it goes.
The other day, my hubby was in a rideshare. He had just been at work, one of the rare occasions where he has to be there in person. The driver turned out to be... a Fake Moon Landing Conspiracist!
Oh my goodness, I wish I were there. I missed out on the whole thing. I adore conspiracists, especially when they unabashedly hold forth on whatever is their particular brand of lunacy.
Just pause with me for a moment and imagine how funny it is, the juxtaposition of an aerospace engineer riding around in a car with a guy who believes the Moon landing was faked.
It gets better - he also believed that satellites are not real!
“You’re using GPS,” pointed out my hubby.
Most people, especially screenwriters, would imagine my hubby to be either a cold and arrogant scientist or the other kind, the wild-eyed, disheveled absent-minded professor type. On the contrary, if he didn’t have his badge on, not a soul on Earth would guess his profession. (What else would he be doing? I dunno, but I wonder about it a lot).
The magic gift that he has, and something that I could use more of, is to connect with almost anyone. Babies, dogs, neighbors, doctors, customers, interns, whoever. I’ve seen him break up fights and administer first aid. As he described the conversation, I could easily picture how it went, how he drew out this naturally skeptical man and got him to share his convictions.
His main argument for why satellites are not real? They take so long to make!
Well, sometimes, agreed my hubby. I *make* satellites. Sometimes they do take a long time, but not always.
They talked for twenty minutes, and at the end of the trip, the driver said he’ll believe in satellites, “just because of you.”
I love this. Being in the active process of using GPS on his smartphone could not convince this man that satellites exist. But talking to my husband could.
It wasn’t the “facts” of the matter, and it wasn’t something that the man could easily demonstrate to himself. It was the personal testimony of a credible individual. He didn’t believe “facts,” he believed *stories.*
Facts aren’t interesting enough on their own.
Remember a while back, I was talking about a conversation I had with someone who was alarmed by the prospect of the COVID-19 vaccine? I shared that I was excited about getting my shot, because I’ve already had COVID and I was looking forward to being able to travel again.
[When what I wanted to do was barrage her with “facts” and “information” and links and articles, for that is my nature. I’m helping!]
Well, we talk from time to time and she shared how excited she was that she’d already gotten her shot.
What happened in the couple of months that had elapsed to affect her choice? I have no idea. Was our casual conversation, where we chatted about travel, some kind of subconscious pivot point? No way of knowing. We’re not *that* close.
I suspect that when people truly change their minds, it’s almost always subconscious. More so, I think when it happens they usually convince themselves that they’ve felt this way all along. They no longer identify with the version of themselves that was going to go the other way.
There isn’t really a strong cultural narrative of courage or charisma for people who readily change their minds.
It’s one of the reasons I married my husband... Not long after we met, we got into the practice of verbally sparring over hot political and ethical issues. One of the all-time hottest of hot-button topics came up - pretend it was ‘the gold standard’ - and... after a few days, he actually conceded. He told me I had convinced him. I had no idea this was possible, for an adult to budge on this topic. It hasn’t been the last time, either.
It is vanishingly rare to meet someone who will not only change their mind on a major issue, but remember what it was like to hold both opposite opinions at different times.
This is why it’s better not to go about formally trying to convince anti-vaxx people.
...or is it?
I’m never going to let it go. I’m never going to be able to be close friends with someone and agree to not bring it up.
I’m just learning that it’s better with more finesse, with some approach other than the glowering, pompous I WILL CONVINCE YOU.
There has to be a better way, though. Right now it’s very challenging to live in a parallel reality next to people with the potential to, you know, kill you with their breath.
The best thing I can think to say, to the few people I know who are vaccine-hesitant, is that I got it.
I had COVID-19 myself, personally. Then I got the vaccine myself, personally.
Maybe not make any pronouncements or share any opinions. Just describe my personal experience.
Look at me. Just like over a hundred million people, I got the shot and it was totally fine. Nothing happened. It took half an hour of my time, and then it was done, and for the first time in a year, I finally feel like I can relax.
Probably that’s what it takes, if we’re setting out to convince people of things. Learning to relax.
OMG OMG OMG OMG
We just got our COVID-19 vaccines!!!!!!
We got our first dose, second dose will be in three weeks. We got the Pfizer one. It was free of charge.
Did it hurt? No
Do we feel weird? No
What was it like?
We found out at work that our industry was added to the list of essential workers. Immediately we went to book our appointments. We could have gotten them right up the street, a 20-minute walk, but we would have had to wait a month longer. The soonest we could get appointments was a week out, at the big hospital three towns over.
Some of our coworkers were able to get their shots later that same day. It depends on where you live and how far you’re willing to drive. Those who were enduring a two-hour commute when we were all working on-site have found themselves luckier to live near medical centers with a shorter wait time.
We were pretty wound up. All week we kept looking over at each other and going, “Shots on Friday!”
We woke up like an hour earlier than we needed to. I already had my clothes laid out and my purse ready by the door.
As we were going down the stairs to get our ride share, one of our neighbors suddenly opened a door and I almost crashed into him. No mask, of course. I had this mix of feelings: BOO mixed with ‘where is your mask’ mixed with ‘do not knock over elderly man’ mixed with ‘oh, yeah, this is one of three neighbors I actually like.’
None of this was visible on my face, fortunately.
“We’re getting our shots today!” I exclaimed, to explain why we were running down the stairs. “We’re excited!”
“Oh GOOD,” he called.
We told our ride share driver, We’re getting our shots today!
“Oh, that’s good,” he said.
It’s about 25 minutes away. We chattered away, remembering how funny our April Fool’s Day event was yesterday.
We got to the big hospital complex and had no idea where to go. Most of this type of COVID activity has been outdoors. It took us about five minutes of wandering around to finally find where to go, a covered driveway area with roped-off lines and folding tables.
They looked us up by medical number and handed us each a clipboard, where we filled in our names, birthdates, and medical numbers again. There was a handout explaining about the vaccine.
After we got the clipboards, we were directed to stand in the holding area, which was really the paved part of the driveway. There were at least a dozen other people there. We were maybe 15 minutes early.
They saw us early!
We went together, since we’re married and we had the same time slot. I took his picture while he got his injection, and he returned the favor.
I chatted with the nurses. I told them that it was the anniversary of when I got COVID. They commiserated with me about what it was like to get sick in March 2020, when there weren’t really any treatments and they weren’t really admitting anyone to the hospital. “They weren’t even doing steroids then, were they?” I thanked them for being there and helping us get these vaccines.
“This is going to change our lives so much, thank you!”
I have to admit that I had poor expectations of what the shot itself would be like. I’ve had problems with needle phobia and needle reaction since I was a little kid. Forty years of wigging out whenever I had to get a shot or have blood drawn. Even three years ago, when I went to get the flu shot, I had to put my head between my knees afterward.
I also had strong expectations of how my immune system would react, since I’m a COVID survivor. One of our good friends had both his shots, and he felt cruddy for two days afterward. Never mind that he’s pushing 70 and carrying a lot of extra weight... I felt like, that will definitely be me. If there are side effects, of course I will get them all.
It’s weird to know something intellectually, and yet also have an emotional setting about a physical sensation. Like, my brain knows that this is the best thing I could ask for, a millionaire privilege, and that this is a very exciting milestone. Yet the reptilian part of my brain is jibbering and crouching in some unlighted cave.
I feel totally fine. Like, not even sore.
The injection itself was a peculiar sensation. I’ve had tons of vaccines, including hepatitis A and B through an old job. I swear I could feel it “squirting” in. Clearly that vial was not empty.
Something happened after I started training in martial arts a few years ago. I lost my needle reaction. I’ve had a few injections, including at least three flu shots, and I’ve had at least a dozen vials of my blood drawn. Nothing. I don’t get dizzy or shaky any more, I don’t have to put my head down, I can just get up from the chair and walk off like it was nothing.
I’m guessing that maybe there is something about martial arts training that affects heart rate variability or the vagus nerve in some way. Something about my baseline anxiety level has permanently changed.
After we got our shots, we were sent to a waiting room where we were supposed to sit for 15 minutes before leaving. A nurse sat at a desk keeping an eye on everyone. The chairs were all spaced in a diagonal grid, six feet apart. We had our time stamps written on our forms, so we could count the 15 minutes.
We sat there reading a couple of news articles, and then we left. It was fine.
We crossed the street to a little pond where we ate our anti-Dementor chocolate bar and did some bird watching. WE SAW A GRACKLE! [haha, Cornell Ornithology Lab, there are too grackles in California!] And I got video to prove it.
Now we’re chillaxing on the couch. No strenuous workouts today, just in case. Later we’re going to get takeout and celebrate Shot Day with some cake.
How about you? All fifty states have plans to open immunization for everyone 16 and up. Do you need help setting up your appointment or did you get yours already? Are you going to help someone else figure out next steps?
Let’s do this. Let’s fight coronavirus together and put an end to the pandemic.
Shot Day for all!
We have matching appointments to get our shots next Friday. Hallelujah!
The gossip started spreading around work very quickly. Everyone in our industry in California is eligible for a vaccine appointment. We’re critical infrastructure, so it was surprising that we all had to wait as long as we have, considering how much mandatory work-from-home has been interfering with our duties.
I heard about it from my boss’s assistant, who got it out of his email, where it was forwarded to him from another manager, who got it from a friend of ours who has moved on to another company.
All of this before it hit the local news, any of the newsletters I get from various regional governmental entities, or any kind of notification from Kaiser.
It’s been hard to wait.
The older folks in my book group were all making fun of me the other night. They’re making plans to go to Sizzler together because they’ve all already had both their vaccines. “Jessica probably doesn’t have hers yet,” ha ha ha hahaha.
Outside of work, almost everyone I know has gotten at least their first shot already.
It’s been hard to wait because I feel like I’m in the worst group. That is, middle-aged long-haul COVID survivors with no other pre-existing medical conditions.
I got COVID before the shutdown.
I couldn’t get authorized for a test. My doctor refused to believe I was sick until I emailed him a list of my symptoms a week later.
At the time I got sick, there were zero approved treatments. We weren’t even supposed to take ibuprofen. (Not sure if that’s still true). I was recommended: Tylenol.
Finally I got a chest x-ray, which showed peribronchial thickening. Basically worse than smoker’s lungs even though I’ve never smoked. I got antibiotics for a secondary infection.
It was a little easier when I got bacterial pneumonia two months later. I was able to get a COVID test that time, and antibiotics again, and an inhaler, because they know how to treat pneumonia at least.
It has taken a full year for me to feel basically recovered.
The way it feels is like, you were dumb enough to get COVID, so you’re expendable at this point. Not sick enough to die or be on a ventilator, so quit complaining.
Meanwhile, here is a long list of millions of people who are eligible for a vaccine before you, including [my coworker’s young friend] who has no pre-existing conditions and signed up to do a single delivery for Uber Eats just to get the shot.
All this time I’ve been petrified to get exposed again, particularly from the hundred people in my apartment complex who refuse to wear a mask.
Other people who have gotten COVID twice have died or wound up in the hospital on second exposure.
I’m 45 and I have scarring in my lungs from COVID. Too old to tolerate the virus well, too young to qualify for the vaccine.
Nobody cares. It’s not sexy or romantic to be chewed up and spit out by coronavirus. Millions of people have died, millions more have lost parents or spouses or siblings. Quit complaining.
Now will follow, for us, one of the longest weeks of the pandemic. The last week in which we are both completely vulnerable, the last week in which one of our thoughtless neighbors might cough near us in the lobby, or the laundry room, or the elevator.
We know what to do by now, which is to stay inside, avoid opening the door or being near anyone, and just keep our heads down. The boredom and the restlessness are a different flavor when they have a quantifiable deadline.
We celebrated, of course. We crossed the room to each other and held hands and did a little dance.
Then I texted my family and my bestie.
Helped a coworker find a location where she could schedule hers.
Talked another friend through why it’s necessary to get booster shots, that the content of both shots is the same, and basically how the immune system responds to different vaccines for different viruses.
You know, how people usually only get chicken pox once but you can get the common cold several times a year? And you had to get booster shots for measles/mumps/rubella when you were a kid? It’s because they test and find out that antibody protection only lasts a certain amount of time for certain shots, and the immune system responds better when you get another dose at a later point.
I’m going to be super stoked after I get my shot, for so many reasons, but partly because it will give me more credibility when I talk about vaccines.
65% of American adults age 65 and over have already had theirs. It’s safe!
A couple of our older friends have complained a bit about how they felt cruddy when they got their shot. But that’s okay. None of them have said they wished they could take it back.
That cruddy feeling is the feeling of your immune system responding, which is how the darn thing is supposed to work.
I’m not looking forward to that part at all. I know what my body did when COVID finally started dragging me down. It’s like bracing yourself to get punched in the mouth. Which I have done. The scientific part of my mind is very much looking forward to the onset of that woozy feeling, the stronger the better, because it will mean IT IS WORKING.
We’re making plans.
We have our “essential workforce authorization letter.”
I’ve already planned out most of what I’m going to do next week. We’ll go together. We’ll get our shots together in the same 10-minute time slot, possibly in adjacent chairs. The location passes by one of our favorite restaurants, so we can grab an early lunch together on the way home. Then I’m going to change into my favorite fleece pajamas and take a nice, long nap.
I’ve got a book picked out, and a TV series, and some nature webcams just in case the mood strikes.
I haven’t chosen my actual Shot Day outfit yet, something in layers that allows easy access to my bicep and also looks like party clothes.
Nor have I chosen what flavor of cake we’ll get to celebrate.
We’re still working out plans for what we’ll do the first time we hang out with my bestie, and whether my family will all be vaccinated in advance of Memorial Day.
(Memorial Day, guys!!!)
All of that is coming.
So many things to look forward to!
It’s almost over. Just to get through this next few weeks, staying safe, clean and careful, isolating and marking the time, making plans for a better and brighter day when we can forget all of this ever happened.
When are you getting your shot?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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