Op-Ed | by San San Lee, Contributor
The nurse who administered my shot was a young man in his early 30’s. Though there was a long line, he asked if it was OK to jab my left arm and explained possible side effects. Knowing that I didn’t really speak Spanish, he paused to make sure that I understood, as I nodded. He appeared tired and a little overwhelmed, but was kind and patiently spoke in a gentle tone – as if there was no one else waiting.
It hit me that he had administered hundreds of shots and gave the same explanation over and over in the past several months and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
I wondered what his Sunday mornings had been like before the pandemic.
I received my vaccine in Barcelona, Spain. Prior to the shot, I had “vaccine envy” – my friends and family in the US were vaccinated months earlier, relishing their renewed social life by early spring. I was happy and relieved for them but felt left out, particularly when they shared exciting stories about their reintegration into normalcy.
In the US, the persistent and resourceful were able to get vaccinated more quickly. That was not the case in Spain. Eligibility was based strictly on age, physical condition, and profession, without exception. In fact, we received our shots before the President and the King of Spain as they are both younger. There was no discrimination based on legal status, and as foreigners in Spain, we became eligible with our age group. Spain treated “vaccination for all” as the panacea to extinguish the virus. Yet, vaccinations lagged due to supply issues in Europe.
I knew it was just a matter of time, but, still, it was difficult.
At last, our turn came around in May. I received my first shot on a Sunday morning at a mass vaccination site, capable of administering 6000 shots a day. Thereafter, I counted the days until my second dose. I dreamt of all the ways my life would change. Seeing my friends in person, being able to take yoga classes, having a meal with others, traveling, living without fear – things that I had missed for over a year. Most of all, though I knew better, I wanted COVID-19 to be a thing of the past.
We returned to LA in June, just before the California state-wide opening. Freshly vaccinated, I was full of anticipation. The case load was down. People were a little fearful, but also excited with the upcoming opening. Most looked forward to a more relaxing and social summer, away from the virus.
For several weeks, I was able to enjoy myself. After the initial anxiety of “losing the mask,” I mostly lived as though the pandemic was over. In my South Pasadena bubble, where the vaccination rate was among the highest in the world, I relaxed and tuned out the Covid-19 noise. On the few occasions that I paid attention, I felt relieved and happy that we were no longer in Barcelona, where the cases were surging due to the activities of the yet-to-be-vaccinated younger population and summer tourism. And, as I heard about stalled vaccinations in other parts of the US, I gained even more appreciation for my bubble.
For a while, I got a break from the pandemic.
As the weeks passed and the summer progressed, my time in the bubble came to an end. To deal with an ongoing renovation that needed supervision, we had to get back to Barcelona for the remainder of the summer, just as the Delta variant and breakthrough transmissions were becoming a “thing.”
Now in Barcelona, my day-to-day routine is similar to the one I had before returning to LA – almost as if the vaccination had not occurred. After dispensing with outdoor masking for several weeks, I’m now masking and social distancing again. Frequent hand-washing and sanitizing have stuck and will stay. We avoid crowds and indoor activities, and a late-night curfew has been imposed. Restrictions are creeping back as the debate between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated rage on.
Still, vaccination has made a world of difference – travel, a summer break, return to a modified social life, and a peace of mind that COVID-19 will not be life threatening.
Yet, I’m angry, frustrated, and saddened by the predicament that we remain in – vaccine hesitancy and confusing governmental responses – no wonder we are where we are.
At these trying moments, I let my thoughts go back to the Sunday morning in May, to the interaction with my vaccination nurse. I wonder what his summer has been like. When I do, I am grateful. As short as it was, I got my break.