Contrary to the previous claim, this is yet another and final installment of Dr. Asha Shajahan’s essay series on being a healthcare worker during a pandemic. Read the first, second, third, and fourth installments.
My phone pinged. I looked over to see what the alert was about. Reading the message, my heart skipped a beat, “your invitation to schedule the COVID-19 vaccine.” It’s really happening, I thought, as the COVID-19 vaccine suddenly became a reality. I felt a bit of excitement but also anxiety about the unknown. Quickly, I opened the email and scheduled my appointment for the next day with ease.
I couldn’t stop smiling all day. My Christmas wish had come true, which was to get vaccinated before Christmas. Mariah Carey’s song “All I want for Christmas is You,” was playing on repeat in my head.
The next morning, I drove to the vaccination site humming along to the Christmas carols that were blasting in my car. It felt so different than March 2020, when I would drive to the hospital for my COVID-19 shifts. During that time, I drove to and from work in silence processing all the emotions I was feeling. Those dark days are behind us, I hope.
At the vaccination center, there was a line of about 20 people socially distanced waiting. It was oddly quiet. There was a sense of tension and stillness in the air. People weren’t talking or even looking at each other. Masked, some were quietly looking down while others were on their phones. I wondered what was going through their minds.
I started seeing the faces of all the patients I had lost this last year to COVID-19. I remembered holding a patient’s hand and reassuring her she would be ok. Hours later, she coded and passed away. I thought of the gentleman who was struggling to breathe who made me promise he would get a ventilator if he needed one. I remembered going to my friend’s father’s funeral. I thought of all the flowers I had sent for funerals I couldn’t attend. I remembered my teacher in residency, Dr. Angelo Patsalis, a physician who taught me about advocacy and leadership who tragically lost his life to COVID-19 while helping vulnerable populations. I distinctly recall him saying, “Asha you won’t be just a regular physician, you are destined for great things.” I had no idea what he meant at the time. But I hope he can look down on me from heaven proudly.
I saw the saddened faces of my patients who had lost their spouses. We had cried together as I listened to heart breaking stories of their loved ones’ last days. I wondered how this holiday would be for them with the heavy grief they were carrying. I recalled the increase in the number of homeless standing outside of the Pope Francis Center, hungry and worried about their health. The amount of loss this virus has caused is unmeasurable. A single tear flowed down my right eye. I quickly wiped it away, and noticed that I was next in line.
Greeted by a friendly volunteer, who’s eyes showed she was smiling underneath her mask, I registered for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) vaccination web alerts. The mood was quite different after this point. People in line started chatting with each other with a sense of excitement. Perhaps the somber mood prior was due to those who were recalling the past like I was.
I bumped into a friend who was helping with the vaccinations. We were laughing and catching up as we hadn’t seen each other in months. She was vaccinated the other day. “Other than a sore arm, I didn’t really have any side effects,” she said.
I asked my friend if she could snap my picture, as this was a historic moment that I definitely wanted to remember. The nurse told me to relax my arm. I didn’t even feel the needle go in. That was smoother than the flu shot, I thought.
I couldn’t stop smiling. Getting this vaccine will make my mother and father safer. I reminisced about how long it had been since traveling or visiting my friends. An overwhelming sigh of relief swept over me. We are one step closer to beating this virus. This was our shot.
I was led to a room to be monitored for 15 minutes for any immediate side effects. An appointment was scheduled for 21 days from my vaccination date. I felt like breaking into song and dance but refrained myself. Every person walking out seemed to have a skip in his or her step. I definitely had a hop in mine. Exiting the building, I fist pumped the air and yelled “YAY!!!!!” It felt so good.
I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and although it’s not over yet, I felt hopeful for the first time. So much gratitude flowed from my heart to the scientists and researchers who worked diligently to make this safe vaccine. Salute to all my fellow healthcare workers who were the first to take this new vaccine and can now reassure it’s safety to the public.
Three hours later, I received a text from the CDC’s After Vaccination Health Checker that asked the following questions:
How are you feeling today? Good ,fair, or poor. I clicked good.
Have you felt feverish today? Yes or no, I chose no.
Have you had any of these symptoms: pain, redness, swelling, itching at the injection site. I looked at my arm and didn’t see or feel anything unusual.
Have you experienced any of these symptoms today: chills, headache, joint pains, muscle or body aches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. I was grateful that I didn’t have any of these.
Lastly, it asked if I was unable to work or do my normal activities. I again clicked no.
Thank you! We will check on you tomorrow.
I felt reassured that if I did have any of these symptoms, I would receive a call from the CDC to guide me. After vaccination, we aren’t left to fend for ourselves. I hoped that my immune system was mounting an appropriate response as I was basically symptom free.
I went to work for the rest of the day and then ran some errands. I didn’t feel fatigued or feverish. As the day came to a close, my left arm was starting to feel a bit sore. With five pound dumbbells and I did three sets of ten bicep curls. I took a warm shower and massaged my arm. The soreness diminished significantly. I also started to feel a bit tired but I had been running around all day and it was past midnight at this point.
The next morning, I had slept in until 10 a.m. I felt well rested. I was excited to get the holiday started with my family. Although it’s not the usual festivities which includes going to a largely attended church service and then gathering with our extended family for dinner, I still am joyful. We were going to have a quiet Christmas. I plan to attend a service online and visit a local outdoor grotto to say my spiritual prayers.
I am so thankful that I received my first vaccine and am looking forward to my second. Everyone feels different after vaccinations, but having all the safety protocols in place was reassuring. I am so grateful that my family is safe and I’m blessed to be able to spend Christmas with my mother and father.
Santa made my wish come true, which was getting a vaccine before the end of the year. Cheers to 2021 and all the hope, healing and blessings it will bring. And for all those we lost this year, especially my teacher Dr. Patsalis, I will try my best to honor their legacies by advocating for safe and effective healthcare. Taking this vaccine is the best shot we have.
For more information on an upcoming COVID-19 vaccine town-hall, visit www.keralaclub.org.