For the first time since turning 35, I celebrate the fact that I am over 35!
(Until roughly three days later, of course, when they offer the vaccine to anyone over 32. Hey ho. 3 days, 3 years… who’s counting?!)
Husband has informed me that the vaccine centre is really hard to find and so I turn up half an hour early… because it is, in fact, directly behind the cinema. As advertised.
A steady stream of people, roughly my age, are entering and exiting the side door of the leisure centre via themepark-style pathways. I ask one of them if you have to wait until your appointed time or can you just go in and join the queue?
He informs me that I need to wait for a text from the NHS and then book online.
Ah, he thinks I’m stupid rather than just early.
I make the very British decision to join the queue anyway, but apologise profusely to everyone I encounter from here on in.
It does the trick. I have smiley eyes.
First, the nice chap on the door asks the usual very serious questions about symptoms and enforced-isolation, before giving me an obligatory squirt of his oversized hand gel. After which, in the most gloriously Covid-ironic episode to date, he says, “Sorry love- I’ve overdone it! You’ll drown in that!” Before… wait for it… scraping the excess fluid off my bare hand with his own … bare… hand.
Let’s hope it’s strong stuff!
After registration, my name is checked off a list and I am directed to one of the four quarters of the sports hall. It has to be said, the organisation here is rather brilliant. In one quarter, four long rows of socially-distanced chairs host “second timers” – each lined up before an office sized cubicle. In my quarter, adjacent to it, sit the “first timers.” A man with a spray bottle and blue paper informs each person of their turn, before immediately and vigorously scrubbing their vacant chair. (Something tells me this dude would not be impressed with Squirty McSquirterson on the door there!)
I sit and wait. Watch the nurses, decide which ones look the friendliest and, as time ticks slowly by, internally rank them according to who I most and least want to be jabbed by. I look around. Watch people get up and approach each cubicle; have a brief conversation; bare their arm; walk away.
Two thoughts strike me.
Firstly, I’m scared of needles. I forgot. I was so excited to be here and to get my turn and to play my part in cancelling the reign of this pandemic … that I completely forgot I actually need to get injected and that it isn’t very nice! Make a mental note to buy myself a McFlurry on the way home…
Secondly, this is quite an event. I’ve been immunised at school before, at certain ages and against certain diseases, at the time that you’re supposed to. I’ve been immunised by doctors, nurses and midwives in hospitals, surgeries and travel clinics. It is a normal part of life. But this is different. I’ve never been immunised in a public sports hall, amongst hundreds and thousands of others, all at the same time, all as soon as we possibly can, all within months of the very first dose being introduced, and all within an actual pandemic that has overtaken our lives.
This is a moment in history right here.
This is a privilege.
And so, as the lady on my right gets up to have her turn, I begin to psyche myself up.
I don’t particularly enjoy needles and there is definitely a knot of fear tightening in my stomach. But I am so lucky, so blessed, so fortunate to live in this country and to have access to this vaccine.
This time last year, immunisation was a pipe dream. We had no idea how long this would all go on for, how many more lives it would claim, whether we ourselves would get out alive and whether or not we would be amongst those grieving for loved ones we couldn’t even say goodbye to.
And now- ow!- I’m halfway immunised. Those antibodies are in my arm and flowing through my bloodstream.
I am in awe.
Of God, of science, of medicine, of people. The tired looking nurse in front of me has jabbed thousands. And still manages a cheerful goodbye!
After leaving the cubicle, I am directed to a third quarter of the room where I must sit for fifteen minutes whilst a woman in a yellow jacket makes sure I don’t keel over, or grow three heads, or turn into a clone of Bill Gates. I think.
When my time is up, I show my card to the high vis lady and exit, rather smugly, past the sign that thanks me for “doing my bit” in the fight against Covid-19. Thankfully, I avoid a good squirting at the door this time…
On the way home, as well as the mandatory ice cream reward, I collect a parcel from Argos for my mother… a giant box containing a pretty heavy mattress topper. Huh. I’m not entirely sure, but carrying that bad boy a mile and a half home may well have contributed to the feeling that my arm was going to fall off for the next three days!
Arm or no arm, I feel very, very fortunate indeed and thus decide to mark the occasion by “twinning my vaccine” with a donation to UNICEF – right here. If you are able, I hope you do too!
Let’s get this thing beat. Everywhere.
Much love, thanks for reading.