I hate shots. I can’t watch other people get them. I turn my head all the time in the hospital when a needle shows up anywhere close to an arm. And choosing to receive flu shots has been a challenge, though I’ve done it.
So when I cried about scheduling a shot the other day, you might think that I was going back to my childhood fears.
I had just spent some time in our hallways where the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of COVID-19 are being experienced by people infected, by their families, and by my co-workers. I’d sat with a spouse for a long time who was trying to figure out personal responsibility for this impersonal virus. While I was talking with that spouse, my colleague and friend attended the death of a person I’d responded to earlier in the day. I’d walked by the room where my first COVID-19 death was, where I had watched a nurse using her own phone to Facetime with the family before we’d started to figure out how to do it with hospital tablets.
And now I walked into the office with my friend and we each had an email with a link that would allow us to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
I was a bit overwhelmed.
Nancy and I had talked earlier about what I would do if it were offered, whether or not I should accept. If she had questions, I wanted to take that into account. She didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” she said.
And so, when I got the email, I scheduled the shot. And teared up.
I let Nancy know. She said “Thank you.” I texted our kids. They celebrated. And I understood that every time I walk into work, aware of the risks and the realities, they walk in, too.
Unlike them, I am always aware of those whose work is more hands-on. The respiratory therapists, the patient care techs, the nurses. They put on the hair coverings and the masks and the goggles and the gloves and the gowns, and walk in the rooms. They provide the actual touch, the unmediated voice, the eye contact.
I forget, in the comparisons, that we as chaplains are not in THOSE rooms, but we are in the space, too. And the families of all of us are there. So I’m getting the vaccination.
I almost didn’t say anything in public about being on the list.
Among the people I know, and love, are people for whom this action is political. For whom it is spiritual weakness. Fortunately, a friend reminded me that my action, and words, may be helpful to someone else.
I understand that on Wednesday, after the shot, I may be in the tiny tiny percentage of bad side effects. Chaplains think about those things because we spend time with the 1% of bad outcomes and the 100% death rate among humans. But I’m not so much afraid of the virus or the shot as I am acutely aware of the implications of both in lives and given the choice, I’m getting the shot.
I’m grateful for the privilege for protection. And the opportunity to go to work. And the blessing to be part of the lives, and yes, the deaths, of people.