Inoculations and Contemplations

Vaccinating fellow Canadians with the Covid – 19 shot since early March is an honour and privilege.

Jabbing is a job choice, and rather delightful.  For countless RN’s, doctors, and paramedics, inoculating others is an extra or sole source of income during what is an economic slump for others.

Front line health care workers have been called heroic; and their work and contribution during Covid compared to the “war effort”.   They are heroic and should be applauded.    Working in an immunization clinic is not the same as being redeployed as a nurse in an overrun ICU department watching folks die alone gasping for each breath.   

Vaccine clinics, in contrast are hopeful places, with happy people.    Each shift, location, team, and lineup of “clients” brings joy, gratitude, laughter, a few tears, and memories to sustain one for a lifetime.

The process

With Ottawa Public Health, people get an appointment online or by phone and then appear at their location.  Current venues are large curling rinks, closed gymnasiums, empty conference centers, unused city hall lobbies, sports complexes, and abandoned recreation centers of all kinds.  The process is streamlined and well organized, most sites have a wait of less than 10 minutes from arrival to jab.

Abandoned Curling Arena

The parking lots employ orange striped megaphone toting guys and gals yelling out orders. 

 “APPOINTMENTS FOR 3:10 – 3:15 PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT DOOR.” “APPOINTMENTS FOR 3:10 – 3:15 PLEASE MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT DOOR.”

People check in at reception with confirmation of identifying details, postal codes, health card numbers and the usual questions about COVID symptoms. 

Once a client successfully passes reception, they are directed to a massive hall. The gargantuan room is divided into a waiting area on entry, with chairs placed 6 meters apart and a checkout section at the opposite end of the room with a post vaccine seating area.  In the middle sit a dozen or more masked, shielded and sworded immunizers, each at our very own table. 

We are the jabbers, sporting scrubs or street clothes.  We are equipped with our IPADS, a database, cotton balls, alcohol swabs, Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, gloves, a garbage bag, a small leaflet entitled “After your Vaccine”, a sharps container, and of course the precious preloaded syringes.

The People

The client comes tentatively to our table, they want eye contact with the jabber and are sizing us up. They wonder if table 11 is the nice nurse, they mentally rehearse what they are going to say.  Some stride in confidently, others walk with heads down, each absorbed in thought.  Most feel like they have won a lottery and yet, are usually somewhat anxious.  The unease is heightened for this vaccine, more so than perhaps getting a flu shot or the Hep B vaccine.  The apprehension is more palpable, the massiveness of the clinic is intimidating, the media fear porn surrounding us all for one year plus, makes for a strange angst. There is an ambiance of fear and excitement in the clinic, and it is constant.   We all can feel it.  One would have to be unconscious not to.

Once landing at the practitioner’s table, the client fumbles, has questions, wants to know what arm is being jabbed, offers us their appointment confirmation or health card.  There is an initial awkwardness.  Some pace, some smile, and all are invited to take a seat. 

Once in the chair, their defenses are down.

Our aim is to calm and soothe, to gain their trust before we inflict the pain.  My approach is to move, talk, and breathe slowly and radiate a calm, Zen, and warm, no hurry, no worry affect.  Rather like talking someone off a ledge. Each person seated before me is a precious earthling, with a year of pandemic woes swirling within them.  Rushing through one person to jab the next, serves no one.  Like a spider slowly spinning a web, I like to entangle them into a moment in time they will appreciate and recall with humour.  I want them to have an experience where they have been heard, and briefly cared for and with a one-inch needle, their lives protected, to live to see another day.  

I imagine each one peeking out through curtains, looking into onto a dull, blurred, and nondescript future.  It is dark out there and no longer predictable.   They want to see a future ahead of them that holds some promise. They want to make plans.  This day, this shot, is step one towards recovering what they remember to be their previous lives.  Such hope is loaded in this injection.  Some are crying when they sit.

Loaded Hope

A large questionnaire is fashioned by the province, to capture important key points.  We want to know if they are going to have an anaphylactic allergic response, if they are going to bleed, if they have an autoimmune condition that may lessen the impact of the vaccine and if they are pregnant.   I can see each person’s eyes widen when asked “Have you ever had an allergic reaction to a vaccine before?”    I switched the question to “Do you have any allergies?”  It is less intimidating, yet still captures the same information.  We often talk about pets here if one is allergic to cats, I find out if they have a dog.  We chat, they relax.

Are you taking an anticoagulant?  is switched to Are you taking medication?   It captures the blood thinners but also the antidepressants.  They share, I listen.

A question that is not on the massive questionnaire is one I always ask.  “How are you coping with the pandemic?”   Without this question, I would not enjoy the job.  Plain and simple.  This is the question that makes my job feel like real nursing, and most people are aching to answer the question and appreciate it being asked.   I am grateful that we jabbers do not have a quota.

An elderly woman using an electric wheelchair told me she had not spoken with anyone but me in 2 months.  She was extremely uptight, as there was daily blasting outside of her apartment, and she had nowhere to go to escape it.  She took half an hour at my table and it felt like an outing for her.  We arranged para transpo for her so she could have daily outings to get away from the construction.

A woman with Down Syndrome hugged me so tightly after the jab, I thought I would choke.  

A guy covered with tattoos, yet deathly afraid of needles – go figure, explained the meaning behind each tattoo, and we imagined the vaccine was simply adding a spittle coming out of the mouth of the turtle on his left deltoid.  He thought the needle felt like a mosquito bite!

The young newlyweds who giggled at the question, which arm do you sleep on? as they tried to decide which arms should be jabbed to be least compromising to their “sleeping” arrangements for the next few nights.

An old farmer, said “No, not in the left arm.” He then explained he had just tried to give his horse a tetanus shot, and it bit him!  He was ashamed to show me the arm that had not been attended to.  Such a bruise, so very bullshot and rainbow colours, pinched and frightening looking.  We talked about the importance of regular checkups and not just for his horses.

A single mom and teacher at home with sole custody of 3 kids under the age of 14 who recently was placed on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.  Fighting for Wi-Fi with her kids when all at home, in and out of the classrooms, two different schoolboards, like pawns in some sick chess match, having to juggle schedules at home and work with an ex-husband who is a deadbeat dad and an antivaxxer… She was almost mad with anxiety. So relieved to get her shot.

A man who was worried about his liver as he admitted to drinking a minimum of half a bottle of Whiskey nightly, and whose wife was just diagnosed with ALS.  He built her a wheelchair ramp using the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERP) dollars.  

The Muslim women who wished to bare their arms behind a private shield with me in the back of the clinic.

The huge athletic African man who jogged to the clinic and promptly had a vasovagal response (fainted) in the chair.

The asthmatic who had a full-blown panic attack at my station as she had not been out of the house in a year, let alone in a room full of people and to top it off was sporting an Alberta health card and could not be found in our system.

The young triathlete off to university in the USA, wanting to know if her second shot could be bumped up.  She had just cycled 98 Km and was sunburned; she got some extra alcohol swipes.

A lesbian couple in their 30’s, so happy to be getting the Moderna vaccine as Dolly Parton’s research donation of 1 million dollars helped fund this one.  

The Dolly Vax

So many faces, sweet Canadians of every stripe, colour and faith. Young, old, brilliant, disabled, funny, grumpy, business like, stoic, anxious, and each one worthy of kindness, and respect.

The Jokes

Laughter and vaccines go together like surgery and dancing.   Not sure why this job brings out the comic in us. Here are my favorites.

Client “How do you know where to stick the needle”?

Nurse  “I googled it this morning.”

Client “So which vaccine am I getting today. “

Nurse  “The rabies vaccine”

Client “Why do I have to wait 15 minutes before I leave?”

Nurse  “In order for the Bill Gates microchip to fully embed into your system.”

Team Leader “Ok vaccinators, it’s time for our Huddle.”

Nurse “Our Cuddle?”

Client “So you were retired, why are you doing this?

Nurse “I’m working on a Doctor Suess book called “Out of the house, away from the spouse.”

Client fumbles with health card and a lot of cash is witnessed in a wallet.

Nurse  “Is that my tip?”.

Nurse singing at a table in-between clients “Bin jabbin, bin jabbin, bin jabbin, bin jabbin,  I hope you bin jabbin too.”

The Conclusion

This is the perfect pandemic post retirement position.  People are my passion and I get to love and care for about 40 folks per shift.  I would love to do Wakefielders however, my license to practice is only in Ontario.  On a happy note, there are no cars on the road during my commute.

I know I speak for all immunizers when I thank Ottawans for trusting us with their deltoids and sharing their stories.

During the second and third waves, we have been surfing!  We are enjoying ourselves, and I hope being of some small service in the middle of a very odd and yet special place and time in our history.      

A time and place I hope we do not have to witness again.  

Jennifer Currie RN