Way back in the distant past, the year 2020 shall we say, around August, certainly by December, the CDC began to announce its suggested protocols for administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
Way back in the distant past, the year 2020 shall we say, around August, certainly by December, the CDC began to announce its suggested protocols for administering the COVID-19 vaccine. Front line healthcare workers and nursing home workers and residents would go first. Next in line would be those folks considered to be at higher risk of infection than ordinary persons, namely people 75 and older. That's where I come in.
I didn't ask to join this cohort, nor did I bribe anyone or pay membership fees. It just happened to me. The randomness of my assignment to this merry group of cut-ups sometimes irks me, but then, again, being irked easily is one of the pleasures that makes up for having your hair thin out and turn gray.
"Portal, schmal-tal, "I used to say. If I wanted to talk to any of my lifelong collection of doctors, I'd call them, or write a letter. But, no: one must use an internet portal. So, I hunted and pecked until I learned to communicate with my primary care doctor, Steven Zinn, M.D. (now practicing in Manayunk) via a computer link. I started seeing him in 1986 and have followed him as his affiliation moved from Hahnemann Hospital to Drexel Medicine to his current connection with Tower Health at Chestnut Hill Hospital. I've also been to several medical practices and have had lab and radiology studies done there. In short: I'm in their database.
On January 20 of this year, I received an email from Tower Health telling me to go to the MyTowerHealth portal. I did, and read: "Tower Health is now offering COVID-19 vaccination appointments to our patients over age 75." Appointments! Not surveys of future interest, but actual appointments. They'd be first-come, first-served. By appointment only. No walk-ins. No exceptions. Do not call your doctor(s). Do not call the hospital. On the portal, find the list of appointments available and choose one. Somewhat surprisingly, the appointments were scheduled at ten-minute intervals, e.g., 4:10; 4:20; 4:30, etc. I chose February 5, Friday, at 4:10 p.m., the first available. There, I said the word "appointment" six times. Seven now.
As I signed off, my satisfaction was tinged with a small measure of regret. How could I be going to get my shot when my wife (Janet) and son (Andrew) were not able to yet? It didn't feel right. I'd rather my wife get vaccinated first, then my son, but the tiered categories for qualifying are set and there's no honest way around them.
I never thought that getting this vaccination would be like "Waiting for Godot," by the way, one where you blink and you've missed your chance. I've had faith all along that when a vaccine was available for me, I'd know. The newspapers, or internet, or the pharmacy, or some medical agency would tell me to come get in line. They'd do that because of good will and/or selfishness (i.e., money to be made). And sure enough, without pushing, shoving, or maneuvering, I now had an appointment. After that, I had other things on my mind. February 5 seemed far away. So does yesterday, for that matter. We're all living like bugs in amber, I think.
But even though we shut out the larger world around us, it intrudes upon our consciousness. Websites and TV newscasts show nightly scenes of disorganized, frustrating, overcrowded vaccination sites. People getting sick in line. Cars running out of gas. Supply constantly being overwhelmed by demand. Was something like that awaiting me when I went to get my shot?
February 5, last Friday: I awoke happy, but didn't want to test the fates by saying so. My first step towards progress after a year of living dangerously. I unwrapped a fresh new KF-94 mask for the occasion. It's hard to wait all day for something good to happen in the late afternoon.
Rain or snow, or both, had been forecast. Instead, the sun came out and it was warm. I went out to do a little more shoveling of last Wednesday's snow to make it easier for the mailman to walk up the driveway ... and I heard the birds singing. Of course! It's February! Mating season for the birds, snow or not – the sun's angle and the day's length have changed, buzzing their pineal glands and they're all singing like mad. Spring is coming faster than we realize. We just don't hear it with the windows closed.
I parked in the hospital's garage. Free parking and a space right on the first level as I drove in. Off to a good start. As I walked to the main entrance, I thought about the momentousness of what I was about to take part in. From a wet market in Wuhan, China last year (one origin story anyway) to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, the virus had traveled with ferocious speed. And now, scientific ingenuity and tenacity were offering me the chance to possibly escape being one of its victims.
I looked for the long, slow line when I approached the lobby desk, but there wasn't one. The receptionist pointed to a sign and lobby ropes indicating where to go. At a long desk in the hall a friendly Clinical Informationist, KC Morrione, asked my name and birthdate, and whether I had known allergies of various kinds. I said, "Not that I know of." KC then gave me a Covid record card. I would get the Moderna vaccine today and then schedule my second shot. Okay. I continued down the empty hall and stopped at the next registration table where another very pleasant nurse, Colleen Hee, also a Clinical Informationist, gave me the same quiz and then nodded toward a large room and sent me in.
I looked to my left and saw what could have been a convention meeting room or small-school prom room and I was struck by its spaciousness and comparative emptiness. Across the far wall were four cloth-screened temporary medical stations. A greeter in the middle of the room, all smiles beneath the mask, assigned me to station 3 – "Where Marie is sharpening a needle just for you."
You read and hear a lot about dispirited, burnt-out medical staff and long, 5-hour waits in stadiums for vaccines, but here an entirely cheerful and welcoming staff were running a smooth operation, well-oiled operation. I felt as though I'd entered a banquet hall, or charity tag sale or a "Welcome Seniors – We Love You!" fete. There was nothing droopy or mechanical about this place. And no crowd. Aside from staff, I saw about six civilians.
I decided to out myself and say I was going to write about my personal experience for the Local and could I take pictures? Sure, go ahead, I was told. I had pictured a possible scenario like cattle at the stockyards in Chicago, but everything was leisurely and professional. Calming. I took a few photos for this article, but they're not very good. (I didn't want to hold anybody up, though no one was prodding me from behind.) I went over to the station. My nurse, Marie Minnick, closed the curtain of the privacy cubicle. I asked if I could take a picture for my story.
Sure. You want one getting your shot? Yes, could I? Sure, I'll get someone.
On the table I saw an array of Band-Aids and supplies lined up. I bet she could handle a person every 30 seconds if she had to. Amazing. I sat on a stool next to her computer station. She asked "Which arm?" I said the left. I always abuse my left arm.
While the second nurse readied to take my picture, Marie approached my arm several times as though sizing me up for a difficult billiards shot. I had just started joking with the camera nurse, when she handed back my camera and said, "I think I got a good one."
I said, Did I get my shot already? Yes. "Oh...I thought it was a big deep needle, from what I saw on TV." No, she said. She directed me to go over to the scheduler for the second shot. I was given March 5, 4:30. Then I was guided to the section of folding chairs to sit for 15 minutes in case I had an adverse reaction.
While waiting, I saw Dr. John Scanlon, the hospital's vice-president and chief medical officer, a tall, friendly, well-dressed man, greeting people as they came in. He seemed to already know many of them. Just before I went over to say hello, he came over to me, remembering me from various times I'd been a patient there. We talked for a bit and suddenly my waiting time was up.
The entire operation was so well-organized, so like clockwork, so pleasant, I felt like I'd just stopped in at a new ale-house and met my future-favorite friends. On my way out I paused to talk with Scott Friend, Vice President and Chief Quality Officer of the hospital.
Mr Friend told me their goal was to get people in and out within 20-25 minutes, with 15 of those minutes spent waiting to see if there were after-effects. They had started that morning at 7 a.m. and would go till 8 pm. They'd give 250 doses by day's end, and would do it again on February12 (sorry...all the appointments are filled). They'd willingly offer many more than that, but they're limited by supply. Patients were selected from Tower Health's data base of persons 75 and older. There are no restrictions by residence, age, creed, gender ID, ethnicity, etc. It’s not a country club with a special handshake, no waggle of the necktie like Jackie Gleason and Art Carney (my words, not Mr. Friend's).
My left arm is sore at the injection site as I write this, but I am told that is a good sign. It means my immune system is working. Dr Scanlon told me that if I had an unpleasant reaction it might be after the second shot. I'll know on March 6, I guess, the day after my next dose
Knock on wood. I want to see my friends in 3-D. I want to go back to my favorite restaurants. Janet wants to go to a real movie theater and eat a big bag of popcorn. Andrew wants to stop teaching his film class by Zoom and have them all sit in our living room. Amen. Good luck to one and all.
For information on Chestnut Hill Hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine program, visit towerhealth.org/covid-19-information-center/covid-19-vaccine
Author's note: Nothing printed here should be construed as advice. This article describes one man's experience.