I got my second Covid vaccine two days ago and have been through some things. We’ve all been through some things, right?
The morning of Pfizer shot #2, I over-hydrate and spray rose water all over myself, because rose and water is supposed to help. I pack a giant water bottle and a jar of mixed nuts, because you never know. An hour of driving and whatever awaits, I wouldn’t want to tempt dehydration and low blood sugar. My husband, Steven, the driver who is also getting his second shot, is hoping for a Popeye’s chicken sandwich as a post-vax reward. I also bring my anxiety, because it always comes, and wonder if panic is joining. Sneaky devil, panic, I expect it to be just around the corner, but often enough it doesn’t show. Thankfully.
This process is interesting, a psychosocial experiment of sorts. After our difficult year of lockdown and isolation, filled with loss and drained of joy, we are now asked to file into mass centers of masked humanity to receive an injection that we hope will return us to our old lives, but that we know will probably make us sick. And most of us do it! After obeying all the rules and hiding in our holes for more than a year (except for masked and sanitized provision runs), most of us put on our masks, pack our wipes, and travel to large spaces full of other obedient, anxious souls to submit to inoculation.
Yes, Big Pharma, please inject that hastily prepared juice that I do not understand into my body, even though I know it will make me feel bad, possibly very bad! Yay, I’m fully vaxed! Thank you!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in. Covid is terrifying and ruining our normal; public health is vitally important. Witness me with my rose water and my jar of nuts, courting Big Pharma. I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but I try to be a cautious consumer. There’s a risk/reward calculation to be made with each vaccine decision. This Covid year has shaken us and made us so raw and compliant, that we meekly line up with our masks and our comorbidities, arms out. Please save us.
It’s all a little weird, though, isn’t it? We’re congratulating one another for this dubious achievement. We’re posting selfies with needles in our arms and images of medical cards, in a display of self-congratulation and solidarity. I get it, I’m no different. I put a pic of my vax card in the family chat with exclamation points and emojis. Let the suffering/healing/overthinking begin!
It was easy and well-managed. After a lovely hourlong drive, during which I spoke to my anxiety and my patient husband listened, we arrived at a community college where calm and friendly National Guards guided us at every step. The second shot was more efficient than the first, with no intake required. There was no waiting — a few questions and a walk through some hallways into a gymnasium, where we were immediately ushered to a table, questioned more, and poked. Easy peasy. I got a bandaid and a sticker, then sat for the requisite 15 minutes, to make sure I wouldn’t seize and die or something.
This vaccine experience made me feel a little tender toward my fellow humans. There’s a lot of anxiety around the strange process, you can see it in the eyes, the subdued postures of the separated sitters, the hand-wringing and phone fiddling. Everyone files quietly to their places and patiently waits. It’s a smooth, easy experience facilitated by kind, calm, organized people.
The 15 minutes is a bit of a ride. What is that strange taste in my mouth? Why do my arms look like that — is it the lighting in here? Are my ears ringing? Is that normal? What happens if you freak out and throw your hand up in the air? Is there a scene? Will I get sick? Now or later?
Steven leans over our 6 foot chasm and says that someone behind me has an issue. I can’t look. A big, young, strapping lad says something about a ‘head rush.’ “A little anxiety problem of his own maybe,” Steven says. Four more minutes.
Driving home, I have an odd feeling in my neck and my left ear. My eyes feel weird. I think about my body entirely too much. I drink a lot of water. What is going on inside me? Systems must be all WTF?
Steven resists the chicken sandwich and decides it’s a good time to make a detour and go to the floor store for a piece of linoleum. I agree, because what’s the difference? I fall apart at home or in the car, nothing matters. Everything, or nothing, is different now. Then, I’m looking at linoleum and listening to a tiny man explain pricing, while Big Pharma courses through my veins and something (everything?) is changing. I try not to expect the worst.
I remember that it’s important to flap your arms like a chicken, and this is what I do on the way home from the linoleum store. Steven refuses to join me and, while it’s comical, I’m convinced it will help. Flap, flap, flap, all the way home. We’ll see whose arm hurts later.
In the next few hours, I feel first sort of super-charged. Very bright and chatty, ravenous and speedy. It feels almost like a good drug that may spin wrong. Then, I feel drunk for a few hours. I haven’t had a drink in weeks, but I’m suddenly smiley and woozy, slurring and foggy. A friend had said that she felt drunk after the second shot and couldn’t do anything, which sounded crazy to me. But here I am, drunk without the fun. Drunk, with a bunch of worry. Where am I going?
Then, by bedtime, I realize where I’m going. I’m going to be very sick. After a fitful night, I woke and was, indeed, very sick for a whole day. All of it, the aches, the fever, the no-energy, drained-of-life sick that many have reported. And my arm hurt like hell. The chicken flapping was bullshit. I ate almost nothing but ibuprofen and a soft-boiled egg made for me by Steven, who was nearly symptom free. He didn’t even get his chicken sandwich.
Maybe I had a dim hope that the shot would change me, bestow a small gift to thank me for my altruism. Make me unafraid of grocery stores, or stop the random electrical charge in my face. Give me a lighter spirit, maybe, make me less prone to the darker thoughts. It’s a dark world, I could use a gift. Languishing in bed the day after, truck-hit and drained, I yearned for a silver lining.
Then, a rejection popped up in my email to remind me there’s no silver here. Just a sickness I asked for and another editor turning me away. No gifts in that needle, silly girl, it’s the fever talking.
Two days out and I’m a husk. Not sick, but beaten by the sick. Beaten by the world, by the knowledge that we are so vulnerable. Vulnerable to the whims of a virus, but also to the abuse and neglect of the state. It’s all just been so exhausting and now we submit to this thing that is most likely very good, but also complicated. We will, I hope, recover.
I will hug my parents in a few weeks, for the first time in more than a year. I will visit my first born and see his new house. Maybe I will check out the new Trader Joe’s in town. Steven is threatening the hour drive for a chicken sandwich. Every time I see that linoleum in the bottom of the new closet, I’ll remember this bizarre passage. Covid has shaken us, the last administration almost broke us, and we’ve got so much cleaning up to do. Hopefully, whatever they put in my arm in that gymnasium is a step on the road to recovery.