It was a grey and rainy Friday as I drove down Hillsboro Avenue in Tampa. My GPS led me straight to my destination and I found a parking space. I gathered up all my stuff, put on my mask, jumped out of the car and hurriedly jogged toward the building, while attempting to avoid as many rain drops as I could. Before I entered the building it dawned on me that I hadn’t locked my car. So, I spun around like a point card who was getting ready to launch a buzzer beater from the cheap seats. I pushed the lock button on my key fob, the lights blinked and the car horn sounded. I was ready.
When I entered the lobby I made my way directly to the next available social distancing dot on the floor and waited for someone behind the desk to say “Next”. I didn’t get a “Next”. I got a “Are you here for a vaccination?” To which I replied, with a never before that specific moment realization of a deep seeded guilt in my voice, “Yes”. For, in my mind, I had heard her say in a judgmental tone, “There’s no way that you are hear for the vaccination are you?”. All of a sudden I felt guilty for being able to get a vaccination when I personally knew of so many other people who have been trying and trying without any luck. I was obviously reading way too much of my stuff into her words. For she wasn’t asking for an admission of guilt, she was simply asking for clarity regarding her next instructions. For when I responded in the positive, she simply directed me over to the right. When I turned my gaze away from her I noticed a separate desk for vaccination check-in.
After the typical name, rank and serial number process I was handed a clipboard and a questionnaire that I needed to fill out while I waited. Basically this form was my first official, legal declaration that I was aware that the vaccine that I was about to get injected into my arm was only approved for emergency use. There was a long paragraph about how the vaccine has not been extensively studied. To which I needed to sign declaring that I was aware of the risks and that I was willing to be injected, of my own free will. This would turn out to be the first of four occasions during this whole experience where I had to either verbally or in written form, acknowledge the emergency use of this vaccine and my willingness, with this knowledge, to continue with the vaccination.
Onto the next station, which just so happened to be the lady who had earlier asked me if I was there for the vaccination. I had this overwhelming urge to apologize to her about making a snap judgment regarding her question, based on my own baggage. But I made the choice not to fly my freak flag in that moment. She took my clipboard and I returned the pin to the “Unclean” pin receptacle. At that point she reviewed my paperwork and again asked me if I was consenting to have an emergency use vaccine injected into my arm. I was now starting to feel a little tinge of concern about this emergency use vaccine being injected in my arm. None-the-less I said “Yes”. To which she handed me back my form and directed me to proceed through a door into another waiting room.
Upon entering this second room I was greeted by a man who asked for my paperwork. He was holding some sort of list that obviously had my name on it, for he highlighted something, handed me back my paperwork, a small card and directed me through another door to a nurses station. As I walked through the door I made eye contact with the nurse behind the desk. It was a nurse from the cardiac transplant clinic that I had seen many times before. She immediately yelled “Mr. Miller!” I have to admit, it was nice to see a familiar face.
I handed her my paperwork to which she began to ask me a series of questions pertaining to my written responses. She specifically highlighted the fact that I had answered in the positive concerning the question, “Are you currently taking any immune suppression drugs”. She verified with me that my transplant doctor was aware that I was going to get vaccinated. I laughed and told her that he was the one who had made the appointment, so I hoped he knew I was going to get vaccinated. To which she, for the third time, had me verbally verify that I was giving my consent to have an emergency use vaccine injected into my arm. I felt like replying, “Why do you guys always ask me that?” But, I simply said “Yes”. She kept my paperwork, handed me back my card, which now had my information on it and directed me across the hall into an examination room.
In the room was a nurse who welcomed me, invited me to take a seat and asked for my card. I handed her my card and, for the fourth and final time, she asked me if I would give my verbal consent to have an emergency use vaccine injected into my arm. After I said “Yes” she had me roll up my left sleeve, she stuck me, filled out my card, handed me a “I have been vaccinated!” sticker and a timer set to fifteen minutes. She then directed me down the hall to the final waiting room.
As I entered into this final waiting room I was again greeted by another nurse from the cardiac transplant clinic. Strangely enough, this nurse had been the one who had given me ever other vaccination I had received as a heart transplant patient. She directed me to a chair, had me start my timer and then we caught up on life for the next few minutes.
When the timer went off I handed it back to her and I headed toward the exit. As I walked out of that building I felt totally different. I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. As if I was emerging from a deep, dark cave to feel the sunshine on my face for the very first time. I know that one shot doesn’t make me totally safe. But I do know that this one shot gives me hope that I won’t have to be so afraid all the time. This one shot gives me hope that I will be able to once again go into a store whenever I need to get something. This one shot gives me hope that I will once again be able to be with people, not simply be around people. I walked to my car as if I had a huge “S” on my chest! I go back on March 13 for my second dose.