The Grossmont Center is busy nowadays. It’s surrounded with shoppers strolling in and out of stores that face the crowds of waiting vaccine patients. We’re kept at a distance, pushed off toward the left so we don’t interfere with customers’ paths as they continue to browse through the stores. The volunteers wearing light blue t-shirts make sure to keep everyone in ordered lines after they check a roll sheet that lists the names of patients assigned a vaccine for the day. Because my parents have already received their first dosage of the Pfizer shot, they were directed to the second line following social distancing markers that led to the vaccination site. This left me to stand alone with the others receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s the loudest it’s been at the outdoor mall since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared our society was experiencing a global pandemic. Conversations take place throughout the line that moves every minute to pack us in a store-turned-vaccination room. There are elderly couples with canes waiting for assistance, teachers explaining to the volunteers what school they educate at and first responders who have been waiting since last year for this day — all wait to be led inside the interior Sharp HealthCare coordinated.
“I have never been so excited to wait in a line before,” a woman exclaimed to a few people behind me as we progressed closer to enter.
“We all look stupid,” said the man behind me who had earlier spoke about how masks spread the virus quicker.
“We all look like ninjas.”
The woman accompanying him began to chuckle at his remark while I tried to avoid rolling my eyes.
Suite 212 has been transformed into a vaccination clinic. On the far sides of the room are check-in desks to clarify registrations for patients. Music is played in the speakers, forcing everyone to listen to popular rock songs and to speak a bit louder. While my name was being searched on the computer screen by the volunteer, I scanned the room, a bit overwhelmed. I don’t remember the last time I had seen that many people inside a room together before the pandemic. My brain has been hardwired to know this amount of people in a room is a hazard during these times. But the ambience of old school songs mixed with excited conversations between patients and volunteers made me feel somewhat secure.
Once confirmed I am to receive a vaccine shot, I made my way into the center of the room. About nine rows of two tables placed side by side took up the middle of the room. Beside every table sat a licensed nurse or a doctor wearing their famous white coats. Another blue shirt volunteer, who stood in the center observing when a table was free, waved me down to a nurse in the back corner of the room. She wore normal everyday clothes instead of the scrubs uniform normally worn at the doctor’s office. She asked for my identification to affirm I am who I say, and once I passed that test with flying colors she slid on her surgeon gloves.
“Are you excited?” She asked while placing a plastic box full of needles on the table.
“I’ve been excited for this since last year.”
A year went by in my mind as I felt the prick of the needle. The countless times fear arose when I saw someone walk past me in the neighborhood without their mask on, quickly washing my hands every time I came back in the house and the dreadful month of January when I caught the virus all flashed in less than three seconds.
I was the first to get confirmed by our family’s doctor that I tested positive for COVID-19. I was in shock. My mother who was standing in my bedroom could tell by the look on my face while holding the phone to my ear that she was going to be next to get the call. The nurse over the phone declared we all needed to quarantine in separate rooms immediately to stop the spread from moving to other family members in our house. She asked if I had any questions before she hung up the phone. The only one that came to mind was: “How many people do you know with asthma survive COVID-19?”
The excitement I feel for every person that steps into the clinic is true and very real. I wouldn’t want anyone to know what two weeks of COVID-19 is like. Constantly checking on my mother’s breathing that could be heard down the hallway when the doors are open. Sleeping every night on my stomach to keep my lungs as spacious as possible. The waves of exhaustion that make the brain feel it is levitating while the body is weighed down on Earth. Trying to keep down food which was delivered to our front door by friends and personal shoppers from the grocery store.
About an hour every day during those two weeks, my father would break the rules and sit in the bedroom he usually shares with my mother. He kept his distance and they both would keep their mask on as they watched a bit of television together. During one of these times, I was passing through to use the bathroom my mother and I were sharing and overheard their conversation.
“You and I have never had to deal with separation like this,” my dad said while looking at my mother, her hair stuck to her sweating face.
“In sickness and in health, right?” She groggily responded.
Three seconds. The Pfizer vaccination shot was inserted into my arm and the first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine was kept safe in my blood system through a Band-Aid. The last steps taken before leaving and feeling like Superman was having to wait in the “monitoring room.” In reality, it was the Grossmont Center’s food court.
Patients chatted with the cafeteria workers and health responders that all crowded into the food court. Tables were pushed aside but chairs are placed at a distance for people to choose to either sit or stand for 15 minutes. They waited for anyone to showcase physical reactions to the vaccine. A strange reaction people need to be cautious about is anaphylactic shock, something I had to be concerned about due to having a history of anaphylaxis.
Anaphylaxis is sometimes fatal and occurs when someone has an allergic reaction. Hence, why it is important that everyone stays the extra 15 minutes. So, us newly vaccinated recipients sat or stood next to food chains, smelling the pretzels baking at Wetzel’s Pretzels and the meat steaming on the stove at Villa’s Mexican Food. It reminded me of how I was ready to get something in my stomach for lunch that day, ready to go home and continue with my Sunday. I also had reading assignments for class and articles to edit for my internship. I paced in my corner of the food court remembering what work needed to be completed, helping distract the impulse to check my phone’s clock every five minutes.
I had heard some symptoms might come up in the days after receiving the vaccination. However, I was used to the symptoms due to how similar they felt to the actual sickness us ninjas were fighting to protect ourselves from.
At least this time I knew it was caused by the vaccine.
By: Kylie Miller