In these difficult times, weeping may stay the night, but Joy comes in the morning. (Ps 30:5) For me, the Joy was the announcement of two Covid mRNA vaccines now being distributed and given to frontline healthcare workers that include doctors, nurses, technologists, technicians, EMTs, and environmental service workers – the whole shebang – and last but not the least, our elderly, after 10 months of much sadness, loneliness, isolation and darkness.
On Thursday, December 23, with sheer Joy in my heart, I received the first dose of the vaccine to protect me and those I care for from Covid-19. You see, I am a clinical microbiologist. My staff and I work with clinical respiratory samples all day, never knowing who has the virus until the test flags and results are interpreted as positive. Yes, we take all of the precautions – masking, gowning, gloving, washing hands, working in biological safety cabinets, and physical distancing in our own workspace. We no longer dine together for dinner. Most meetings are via Zoom. If our senior team happens to meet in person – no more than 6 people in the room as we literally talk in raised voices spread apart.
Over the past few weeks our institution has prepped us for what might be coming. There were lots of communications, a video of a panel discussion which included our head of infectious diseases, a pharmacist, director of nursing nurse, and even our CEO. I also discussed the vaccine with three of my directors – all gifted women scientists. I didn’t think we’d get the vaccine so quickly being a children’s hospital. A physician from another hospital wrote a recent blog commenting that it felt like he and his colleagues were waiting to get into a Bruce Springsteen concert, all eagerly leaning and straining toward the entrance. Imagine a Bruce Springsteen concert full of glad tidings.
When my turn came, I slowly walked with some sadness and trepidation to the vaccination site with my daddy on my mind. He succumbed to Covid-19 on September 15, death certificate stating cause of death as acute respiratory failure due to bilateral Covid-19 pneumonia. If only he could have held out three more months and one week; he would have received this vaccine. I, too, had Covid-19, a moderate eventful case, leading to the emergency room and overnight hospitalization – I couldn’t breathe. “How can this be?” I wondered. “I’m in the emergency room on oxygen, steroids and pain killer because it hurt to breathe and my 86-year-old dad is upstairs in intensive care struggling to breathe, struggling to live.”
Ready for the vaccine, I walked into the auditorium, smooth jazz music playing overhead while I was escorted to seat number 6. My vaccinator, a hospital pharmacist asked how I felt, and we chit chatted for a few moments. He asked, “which arm?” I said “left.” I’m right-handed, and if anything should go awry, I’d still have my good hand/arm to use. It’s crazy what wafts through your mind.
I received the first dose and almost cried due to my sense of relief, hope, JOY, and gratitude. I thanked my vaccinator and moved to another staged area so I could be observed for 15-20 minutes by other medical professionals for any life-threatening side effects. I sat there and said a prayer of thanks to God. God’s hands and providence touched the minds of countless scientists to find a way, to make a vaccine so that many others will be able to continue to live and to spread Good News of JOY and hope. Yes, your arm will be very sore a day or two later after receiving the vaccine with varying symptoms for many ranging from mild to severe.
As a Dominican Associate, I received the vaccine for me, for my colleagues, for patients, for families, for friends, for our communities, for our nation, for the world. I did this for those hundreds of thousands who have died, many due to lack of access to care or due to the ignorance, or fear and obstinacy of those in power. As an African American woman, I especially encourage my black brothers and sisters to get the vaccine; the virus is killing us! I know the history of what happened to our ancestors and elders, but today is a new day, another journey that brings hope. We are a people of hope! Everyone will eventually have a choice to receive this miracle in 2021. Let’s hope that all will be open to it, for Joy comes in the morning.