Volunteers for the local Red Cross were included in one of the first few waves of healthcare workers to be assigned vaccine appointments here in northern Italy, so here I am, two days after my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine!
For what it’s worth, I went through quite a bit of internal wrestling over this: did I, a healthy 34-year-old who does one to two ambulance shifts per week, really deserve a coveted vaccine slot? If I didn’t take mine, would it truly go to someone more deserving? My mother, my boyfriend, and my closest friends basically unanimously voted yes and probably not to the above questions, respectively, and so when the long-awaited email asking for our name, date of birth, and Italian health code came through, my shaking hands typed in the info and tripled checked it.
(My mother, a retired physician, also wisely made the point that, even if a healthy 34-year-old ambulance volunteer didn’t personally “deserve” a shot*, all of the future patients I transport surely at least deserve whatever decrease in ability to infect them the vaccine might give me. *She also maintained I did deserve one myself, anyway, because I’ve been transporting and sometimes, terrifyingly, resuscitating covid-positive people this whole time, thereby potentially spraying covid all over my face shield while I work.)
There is a middle part to this story in which a technical snafu assigned and then took away my first slot, on January 8th. Much hand-wringing ensued. Then I was going to be within the first few of the second wave of healthcare workers, but they ran out of doses and so were only administering second doses to the first wave, and not starting the second wave. Then my boyfriend, who happened to be in the first wave due to not being subject to a technical snafu (and also actually working full time on the same ambulances where I volunteer), was chatting to a nurse on the vaccinating team about this, and she took down his phone number because she said they were forever scrambling for someone to come and get the last dose or two of the day when people didn’t show up for theirs. I spent half a day camped out in the parking lot, even teaching an online class from there (with the camera off, ha). I was eventually called right when I had gone home for a bathroom break (naturally). I zipped right back and triumphantly got my first dose! Hooray! <– I give you the above paragraph rather than representating in writing the extent of the hand-wringing, which was… considerable. I was very invested in getting that vaccine. I have been dreaming for a long time now of the day when I might be vaccinated and so could help a coughing and spluttering old lady down the stairs without that niggling ‘god, I hope she doesn’t give it to me’ in the back/middle of my mind while I do it. (I mean, okay, obviously it’s not a guarantee and I will still be super careful about PPE and sanitizing the sh*t out of everything I touch, but… I mean… it will still make a difference, mentally and emotionally, I think.)
Okay, first dose reactions, for anyone who’s curious: a sore arm not dissimilar to the one my annual flu shot gives me. Totally tolerable. (For what it’s worth, I ended up getting that first dose on the evening of the day my boyfriend got his second. He had basically no reaction to the second. Fell asleep on the couch that evening, but also he was coming off night shift the night before, so… inconclusive, in my opinion.)
Three weeks passed, my second-dose text message arrived without issue and I proudly received it on my snafu-free phone and proudly showed up at the big, city-wide vaccination site at the appointed time on the appointed date. By the way, speaking of vaccination sites: my fellow Americans, do you, like me, generally consider Italy a place a good-natured disorganization? Well, this vaccination site is a thing to behold. It is set up in one of the pavilion’s of the covered fairgrounds and includes an initial temp measuring and consent signing area, carefully marked pathways into the central area, a long double-sided row of tents with curtains on the open end of each, a doctor + nurse team actually administering the shots in each tent – the tents also back into each other so that said teams can consult with the team in the tent behind it in case of I don’t know what, but seems handy – and then a huge post-shot waiting area at the end of all the tents where people are supervised for 15-30 minutes after their shot by a team of nurses, with an ambulance at the ready in case of shock reactions. The whole thing is run with military precision and everyone is very friendly. Color me impressed.
Anyway. Got my second shot (hilariously, along with the first wave of 85-and-overs getting their first shot), took a tearful (tears of happiness) selfie in the car, and zipped home to teach. Hooray!!! Insert a million celebratory emojis here. Balloons and sparklers! A brass band. Let your imagination run free, basically. It probably reflects how happy I am about this.
Second dose reactions, again for the curious (I don’t know who I think is reading this, but whatever): started to feel crappy by bedtime of the day of the shot. Woke up at 4 a.m. with the beginnings of fever (100.6 F under arm), took 500 mg of Tylenol (yes, I stock up on fast-release Tylenol every time I go home – for headaches). Woke up feeling even worse. Fun fact: was supposed to have an ambulance shift that very day. Boyfriend was able to find cover. Thank you, kind Red Cross friends, who jump to help you out when you need it! I struggled through the loooongest short translation ever. Took a full 1 g Tylenol at 11 and again at 6:30 p.m. Temp went up steadily about an hour or two before it was time for another dose (the extra time in between potential doses happened because I tended to fall into a sort of half-sleep as temp got higher and miss the exact timing). Was basically like having the flu as a kid: high temps (I think I hit a maximum of 102 under arm), chills, feeling achey, horrible fever-y headache sensation, dizziness… yuck. (Probably also like having the flu as an adult, actually, but thanks to luck and a yearly flu shot, I have not had that!) Felt marginally better around evening, especially after a shower. Managed a bowl of soup. Was relieved by this because very concerned about downing paracetamol on a basically empty stomach all day. (Irony: last ambulance shift included a woman with purpoted chest pain that turned out to very likely be gastric damage due to excessive NSAID use. Yikes.) Needed one more dose of Tylenol at 3 am… and felt basically fine by morning. No more Tylenol, no more fever… now on day 3 I still feel a tiny bit brain-foggy and a weird sensation in my eyes when I turn my head too fast (which I also remember from childhood fevers). Hopefully it’ll resolve soon and we’ll be off to the races!
Metaphorically. I don’t know of any actual races. Ha. Anyway. Hopefully my enthusiasm hints at this anyway, but: I am just so freaking grateful to science and the blessed researchers and clinical trial volunteers that made this possible. And so lucky that the Italian government opted to include its ambulance volunteers in the first groups to get assigned doses. I can’t even express how thankful I feel, but I hope they can somehow sense it in the universe. (Probably they cannot. I should research some way to actually thank them.) For now, though, I am putting this huge THANK YOU out into the cosmos mentally.