Last Friday, after receipt of an email from a local school district’s office of human resources, I successfully registered for and secured a slot for my Covid vaccination at another county’s department of public health. I answered every item on the form forthrightly. The vaccine was only for educators over the age of 50, with “educators” defined in broad strokes. Because I am over 50, and because I work at a university where much of my job requires “educating” graduate students, I checked both boxes.
I checked the box as well indicating that I have a health condition, in my case, asthma, which isn’t the end of the world, but given the introduction of the right pathogen, it could be for me. I have been very careful this past year, especially when my condition is at its worst and my breathing is most sodden, which for me feels like I’m sucking on wet pebbles. It saps my energy, leaving me lethargic and, since I’m being honest, pretty anxious. I hate being anxious.
The last question pertained to my county of residence. I typed my county into the text field since the email read, and I quote here, the vaccine “appears to be open to residents of ________ County.” My county!
I hit the “register” button and was notified that I had successfully and legitimately secured my place in line, which is where I wound up the next evening, a cold Saturday, with my toes on tape markers spaced six feet apart. Because I am a rule follower, and because the email said to wear clothing that made access to the injection site easy, I sported a sharp fleece vest and a short-sleeve shirt. I imagined the shot happening quickly, where I just turned up my sleeve, took my medicine, rested for 15 minutes, and got sent on my merry way.
I was thrilled, truly. I woke up that Saturday morning before my vaccination feeling giddy, like a child on Christmas morning. My family, suffering through life with an anxious grump for months, noticed a difference in me. “You seem so happy today,” one daughter said. It was true. I felt like Buddy the Elf: “I’m getting a shot, I’m getting a shot, and I don’t care who knows it!” I still felt that way as Karen and I stood in line waiting my turn. As the folks ahead of us processed, we followed, taking one rung of the blue tape ladder at a time, inching ever closer.
When a woman in blue scrubs emerged from the building, I knew that it was a mistake to get my hopes up. She pulled a sweater over her shoulders–it was in the mid-40s that night–and she went from one waiting pair to another, asking the same question: “Are you a resident of ______ County?” One by one, folks peeled out of line. There was a brief moment when they tried, individually, to make their cases: I got this email from my boss, they said. I was told I could get the vaccine here. One poor couple had driven more than an hour on this misinformation only to get sent packing. When the woman in scrubs reached me, I had my phone ready. I showed her the message I had received, which I thought would legitimize me. Surely, she would let me pass. I had, after all, done everything by the book.
“Nope,” she said. “That email was wrong. It should never have been sent out.”
But, let me explain….
The woman wasn’t mean, but nor was she tolerant. “Sorry,” she said, and moved hastily to the next in line.
Couple by couple, person by person, dozens of us filed out, shot-less.
Remember that episode of Seinfeld, the one where Jerry and George waited in line for soup? They inched closer and closer, taking one careful step at a time so as not to do anything that would upset the man they called “the Soup Nazi.” They tried to be so careful! They shuffled their feet quietly, not even shifting their heads, barely moving their lips, just so they could pass through the line and get their bisque. Where George made his grave mistake was when he asked for bread. “Normally, I get bread,” he said.
“Two dollars!” the man barked.
“But everyone in line before me got free bread,” George said, and we all know what came next.
No soup for you!
Okay, for me, it wasn’t that bad. The woman in scrubs was kind enough, but it was clear that I was a nuisance to be eradicated, the sooner the better. It didn’t matter that folks from my county had successfully navigated that gauntlet earlier in the day. I would hear later that folks from my county would also successfully navigate it the next day. It was just bad timing for me.
So too was it bad timing two days later, when I’d gotten word of another opportunity, one successfully accomplished by a colleague, who also happens to be an educator. “Here’s what you do,” he said, and I got on my phone immediately: “I’d like to schedule an appointment, please,” I said.
The voice on the other end was also kind enough, just like the woman in scrubs; she kindly asked me if I was an “educator actively returning to a classroom to teach.”
“I’m an educator, yes,” I said. “But I am not returning to a classroom.”
“Then I’m sorry,” the kind enough voice said. “But it isn’t your turn.”
No shot for you.
This happened the next day, too, when I registered on my county’s web engine for the third time. I went through all the steps, and got to the final button feeling legitimate and qualified. Educator, over 50, pre-existing condition. Sorry, it read. It’s not your turn. The web site told me to check back later for updates.
And it happened again the next day, in my office on campus, after being told a local national pharmacy chain had vaccinations. My boss called my desk phone. Go to the website, create an account, check all the boxes, and schedule. Two other people in my office had just done it minutes earlier. I heard them cheering and high-fiving one anther through the air conditioning vent.
But no high-fives for me. Here’s the message I got: Service unavailable. Try again later. I refreshed. I refreshed again. And again, and again, and again, for eight hours, on multiple computers, even on my phone, like some groupie trying to get tickets to see Post Malone. I even drove over, in person, to the national pharmacy chain and spoke to an actual pharmacist, who was also kind enough: “Sorry,” she said. “That service is only available on-line.”
Finally, at 7:30 last night, this: There are no appointments in your county.
Again, no shot for you.
I was texting a friend about my difficulties and frustrations with my inability to schedule the vaccination. In that text, I tried to write that I was “shot-less,” but my autocorrect changed it first to “shirtless,” and when I tried again, it autocorrected to “shitless.”
Even my phone seemed to be conspiring against me.
One of my colleagues told me I was just talking to the wrong people. Judging by what I see on social media, it would appear that in addition to talking to the wrong ones, I don’t know the right ones.
Before I go on, let me first establish that I am thrilled to see so many of you getting the vaccine. It’s really exciting. And for every new person vaccinated, we’re one tiny step closer to this seemingly elusive herd immunity.
I am HAPPY for all of you; I just want it to be my turn already. Mine, mine, mine, mine. I get petulant like that when I see my Facebook feed fill with victory laps from 35-year-old contractors and real estate agents and clothiers and florists and racecar drivers and alligator wrestlers, all flashing that little muscle-flex emoji under the words “I got mine!”
How? people ask. This is true. I have seen it. “How did YOU get the vaccine before me!”
And it isn’t all from social media, either. My eighteen-year-old daughters tell me every other day about one of their same-age friends who got the shot too.
“How?” I ask. How, how, how, how, how, how how?
To a person, it’s their connections to someone they know, usually someone part of the essential workforce, which may be a front-line ER doctor or a back-office medical records clerk. It might be a cousin who drives an ambulance or an aunt working in dental reception. All of these people have spouses, have families, and they all seem to have the golden ticket for their network, a net of salvation that appears to stretch pretty wide.
They, too, could have a very serious preexisting condition, something much more serious than my breathing problem. Or, it just might be that they got lucky. They talked to the right person on the phone one day, or refreshed their screen at just the right millisecond, or they missed out entirely on the lady in the blue scrubs.
I try to be grown-up about it. When my kids say, “What about you?” I tell them I’ll get there. I tell them we don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives.
Regrettably, I’m an apolitical person, so this is not a political rant. This is nothing more than me, a 52-year-old man, acting like a child. Since I already know this, there’s no need for you to reply in my feed that I’m a big baby. You don’t need to get up in my virtual face with the data and agendas and insults that so often propagate this medium.
I’m a baby, I know it, let’s move on.
My teacher wife Karen, who actually has returned to the classroom, is as of this moment still shot-less (not shitless and not shirtless, the latter of which would be truly awkward and, well, criminal). But she was in a meeting yesterday and was told that her school district has something called an allotment, which I have come to learn means there’s a limited supply that will soon run out. She has been told that, maybe, she can get her first vaccine Saturday. Her district officials must determine how the allotment will be meted out. All she knows at the moment is that her “name is on the list.”
“I’m not holding my breath until I have the shot in my arm,” she says.
And while rumor has it that my turn–mine, mine, mine–might come sometime in early March, maybe as soon as next week, I’m not holding my breath either.
I’m really not. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not.