The scientists. The front-line personnel – medical and civilian. The first responders. Truckers. Grocery stockers. Delivery workers. Military. And our then Commander-in-Chief, President Trump. All had been united in one grand mission: to literally save the country. Save the world. I was feeling so grateful for every one of them. Within one mere year, it all funneled down into one shot. One shot in the arm. My husband Ken and I got ours today. April 9, 2021.
On our own mission for survival (first having to battle the maniacal drivers on the Dan Ryan – seemingly a greater risk of fatality than COVID), we drove just outside of Chicago to the Tinley Park Convention Center to be inoculated. I had to take a picture of Ken, masked, in front of the Convention Center sign. This was as good as any vacation spot that had to be marked with a memory. We were about to enter a real sanctuary – one whose sole purpose was to protect lives.
Police, on foot and in squad cars, were everywhere in the parking lot. As we passed, I did notice them taking note of us. Were we there to cause trouble? Armed perhaps? But seeing me in my ill-fitting skinny jeans and Ken in his “vintage” Generra jacket bought at a Spiegel outlet 30 years ago, I detected relief on the faces of these security men and women. We were ok. We fit the mold of Group 1B. And although spritely in our steps, we weren’t a threat.
Entering the Center, we stood in a long but quick-moving line, everyone masked. Everyone adhering to the six feet apart rule. Right at the door we were greeted by military. A sight that filled my heart with a feeling of pride and my mind, a sense of safety. Young people, men and women, across the diversity spectrum, all sweet as can be, yet damn professional and efficient. They seemed to love what they were doing, politely but firmly guiding everyone, understanding that a calm demeanor must be maintained at all times, just in case any vaccine participants were feeling jittery, envisioning themselves being hustled out on a stretcher as they were read their last rites. These brave souls of the military so willingly step up to defend our freedoms. Our lives. And now, in this case, help us as we fight to defend our own lives and defeat the “invisible enemy.”
Following orders, we wound our way around a maze-like path delineated by the kind of roped-off posts you see at airport security lines. Everything moved fast, despite having to show our I.D. at several Checkpoint Charlies along the way, each time answering pretty much the same questions: Do you now or have you ever had COVID? Any symptoms? Passing those tests, we proceeded into a wide-open, airy room filled with at least 200 tables and even more chairs, everything placed six feet apart.
We were led to a young gentleman who bore the name “Johnson” on his military uniform. We laughed, as I mentioned I thought that it was referring to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But no. “Johnson,” coincidentally, was his name. A good omen! He checked us in, and in making small talk, we learned that he was in the National Guard, and was called to serve for seven months at various COVID outposts. Seven months away from his regular job. I asked if his employer took it well. “Had to!” he said. The government ensures that his job will be waiting for him after he completes his service. If not, the employer will suffer great consequences. “That must be reassuring to know,” I said. He agreed emphatically.
Soon, we were called to the “shots” station. Ken sat at a table directly opposite mine. His nurse told him to look straight ahead. The reason: the 1” javelin designed to plunge deep into the muscle tissue. Some get woozy just looking at it. My nurse kept me distracted with friendly chit-chat. I told her I was actually excited. She got a kick out of that. Being on the front lines, she already was “Pfizered.” I said we didn’t mind waiting for the J&J to become available. We liked the whole “one-and-done” deal. She administered the shot. Ken got his. We then went to the “holding pen” for 15 minutes – in case we had any reactions. We had none. Except for laughing when I texted Ken, “PUT YOUR VAX CARD IN A SAFE PLACE!” He texted back, “What card?”
Not having been wracked with chills, attacked by a rash or drawn into the White Light, we upped and left.
Ken and I. Thirty eight years of marriage. Surviving a lot of things, and knock wood, so far, even the pandemic. Seeing him sitting across from me as we simultaneously received our shots, who would have thought that getting vaccinated together in this historical time, would be one more thing to solidify our bond. It was almost romantic. Like right out of a war novel.
As we walked out of the Convention Center, feeling somewhat giddy at having crossed this hurdle, I unexpectedly caught my reflection in a mirror. I crashed.
I’ve got to get rid of those skinny jeans.
-- Laura Stigler
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