We all have vaccine stories. Here is how it came to pass that I drove two and a half hours to Colorado for mine and the surprise that awaited me on my return.
Roberto had received his first vaccine from the VA in February, and I was waiting for mine. It turned out not to be a very happy wait. I fell into the desperation, near panic, that seemed to be gripping the country. I saw on the nightly news coverage of people lining up, on their feet or in their cars, at 4:00 in the morning and waiting hours and hours to get a vaccine and maybe going home empty handed, or shot-in-the-arm-less, I should say.
Here in New Mexico there were no mass vaccination sites where if you could get up early enough you could get vaccinated. The rollout was funneled through the state department of health and once you registered on the site with your birthday, occupation and underlying conditions you waited to get lucky. Every week winners were selected randomly and offered a time and place to get the shot. Well, I thought, I am in the 1b group, currently eligible, so my turn will come soon. That Buddhist moment didn’t last. My email, voice mail, and texts were full of the latest rumors and tips about how to get it without waiting. My friends were succeeding. Some drove to Amarillo, Texas, only four and a half hours away (!) and came back proudly sporting the band aid. Others found a pharmacy giving vaccines every Saturday, but when I tried to sign up they were full, then they were closed. I followed every lead straight to a dead end. I was almost the only person I knew in my age group without at least a first shot.
I hit rock bottom when I went to the high school to get what they called “leftovers.” A friend had assured me “Get there an hour before they close and even if you don’t have an appointment you can get whatever they have leftover.” Okay! I’m on it! I appeared as instructed and found a line of cars snaking through the parking lot. The National Guard was running the site and a 12 year old in camouflage was directing traffic, talking to each driver and directing them left or right. When I reached him he asked if I had an appointment. “No,” I said assertively, “I’m a leftover – I mean I’m here for a leftover.”
“No leftovers,” and he waved me to the left, toward a large sign that read Exit. I went home muttering to myself, “I am not a leftover, I am not a leftover.”
I became obsessed and demoralized. Not a good combination. My self esteem was plummeting. Every day that went by without that joyful text from the state telling me it was my turn sent me deeper into a really ugly state. I was full of self pity, resentment toward those who had been favored over me, judgmental of those who were gaming the system. More than one person suggested “Tell them you’re a health care worker,” and offered their experience of how fast that appointment invitation came from the state. That disgusted me.
Although I refused to drive to Texas, I finally relented and called Colorado. Right over the border, the town of Alamosa was welcoming anyone in group 1b from anywhere. I actually talked to a human being, a nice one, who gave me an appointment for the next Tuesday. The moment I had put it in my calendar the weight was lifted. Even if New Mexico didn’t love me, Colorado did. I wasn’t a leftover after all!
On the magical day Roberto and I packed a bag of snacks, got in the car and drove north two plus hours to Alamosa. The drive was spectacular. We wound through red sandstone cliffs, climbed to the high plateau that stretches into Colorado, and gazed out at wide expanses of valleys and forests, fresh snow on the mountain peaks. We saw antelope as we crossed the border, and Roberto saw a bald eagle sitting on a roof top just outside Alamosa. “A good omen!” I shouted. I was high, I was going to get a vaccine, I was going to belong to the club I had been desperate to join. We pulled into the clinic and received a warm welcome from the receptionist. She checked me in and we were in and out in less than 30 minutes. It didn’t even hurt and I had my band aid. No five year old was ever prouder.
We drove home, all the beauty of the drive up in reverse, and pulled into our driveway about 2:00 pm. As I gathered my things and got out of the car, my cell phone pinged. A text. I’ll deal with it when I get inside, I thought, and I just took a quick look to see who it was from. New Mexico State Department of Health. I read the first line “You have an appointment for your first vaccinaton this Friday….” I stopped reading and started laughing. I laughed so hard I dropped my bag of snacks.
Life is a trickster.