A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE by Ellen Donker
I’m partially vaccinated
It’s official. I am now a member of the club, having finally gotten my first COVID-19 vaccine on April 14.
For months I’ve felt like an outsider, with my nose pressed up against the window that separated me from the land of the vaccinated. I bore no ill will towards those on the other side who rolled up their sleeves ahead of me. I was happy for them and knew my turn would eventually come...that before I knew it I would find myself in the former Sears at the Livingston Mall or seated in a folding chair behind the curtain at CVS. Still, the wait felt a bit like being picked last for kick ball.
Somehow, even my kids beat me to it.
Considering that almost every conversation since January has started with a comment or question about the vaccine, I had many discussions about how to bump myself up in the queue. Friends suggested that I cite a health problem – hypertension would be believable – or declare myself a smoker, but that didn’t seem right. Not that I’m judging anyone who stretched the truth.
But there was something so old-fashioned about the honor system our state put in place – where you were believed for representing yourself honestly (or not) with no need to produce the paperwork to validate your claim. I appreciate that gentler, civilized way. Because let’s be honest: New Jersey is not where you expect the honor system to be used. As a lifelong resident, I can say that. We are a scrappy lot; a me-first kind of place.
Eventually, my turn came when I received an email from Essex County, asking me to report to the former Sears on April 14. When the day of my appointment dawned, I knew exactly what to expect, having been buoyed by advice from the many who had gone before me. I planned on offering my right arm so I could sleep on my left side (thank you, Tina Kelley), because for a right-hander, the modus operandi is to plunge the syringe into the left arm. And I was looking forward to a party-like atmosphere, where everyone would be unusually kind and acting happy that I was getting vaccinated (thank you, Kristen Di Gennaro). And it was true. I was even greeted by local friend, Inken Finnamore, who checked me in. I’m surprised she recognized me behind the mask.
Still, until it happens you can’t imagine how relieved you will feel or how hard it will be not to skip back to your car. I am not a dramatic person, but I had to take some deep breaths so I wouldn’t cry as I took that long walk, leapfrogging from one socially distanced lily pad to the next, through the maze of stanchions leading to the aisle of cubicles where I got my shot. Crazy. But once I thought hard about why I was getting worked up, I realized that this was not just a shot in the arm; it was a gateway to a future – one that I was wholeheartedly ready to embrace.
Of course, it’s baby steps as we crawl back to a life similar to the one we once knew. I hope our collective legs get strong in a hurry. The night before I got my vaccine, I booked a flight to see my mother in Florida before she and other snowbirds fly back north. I didn’t think that would be a possibility until I realized my new status as an insider.
I know that many people have yet to be vaccinated and I hope their turn comes soon. Better times are ahead and perhaps we’ll know we’ve arrived when the first question we ask one another is not about their vaccine experience. We may be tongue-tied at first but I’m looking forward to a new conversation.