I arrive at sunrise to find the asphalt stretching out, dotted with steel beasts. There are no open spaces here. This the parking lot of the ER, where some of our staff are finishing their shifts, and others are about to begin.
There is no difference between day and night here. The staff works round the clock to stem the never-ending barrage of suffering and pain that comes through our doors.
The sign on the door of the hospital gift shop boldly dictates who will be admitted: “No Shoes, No Service,” it says.
“But I’m wearing shoes.” The man’s voice screeches obstinately, the soles of his cutaway tennis shoes flap, and his bare feet slap hard on the linoleum floor as he fumbles the get-well card he’s holding and it goes flying.
I, an underpaid clerk, sigh in disgust. I haven’t encountered a customer like this in some time. His hair is slicked back, his shirt is untucked, his face is partly hidden
I confess that I am guilty of the sin of silence. I watched my neighbors spend every Sunday holding Black Lives Matter signs to remind drivers of the racism that pervades the country, but I never joined in. The largest mass killing of Jewish Americans occurred in my city’s synagogue, yet the night after the shooting, when residents of all faiths gathered to remember the fallen and protest anti-Semitism, I remained in my apartment.
I recall once being asked, as part of a physical exam, “Have you been immunized?” The question wasn’t specific with regard to which immunizations, so my response was that I wasn’t positive. I had done much international travel while growing up, and had received multiple vaccinations at various times, but I wasn’t sure all the recommended vaccinations were up to date at that time.
I am generally a pretty “chill” person who respects personal choice and freedom. As an intensive care physician during a global pandemic, I have witnessed suffering and death on a level that I could not have imagined. When the COVID vaccine was approved (albeit Emergency Use Authorization), in late 2020, we rushed in droves to get the “the jab.” I was flabbergasted and appalled by the politicization of vaccines.
I will recount an encounter with a patient and his spouse that hurt me more than I care to admit.
I had the privilege of working as a scribe in oncology last year. For several months, we had to severely cut back who was able to come into our clinic. Our patients receiving chemotherapy still came in person, but family members were no longer able to accompany them, robbing them of that crucial emotional support. Many of our other follow-up visits were switched to telehealth: a safer, but not ideal alternative.
Then, we began to have hope again. The vaccines received FDA Emergency Use Authorization.
I retired after forty-three years as an Intensive Care Nurse. I worked at the onset of the AIDS epidemic until AIDS became a treatable, chronic disease. I cared for early cases of MRSA and drug-resistant TB. Working in Dallas, I prepared for a possible Ebola crisis. Imagine my reaction, when my thirty-nine year old son revealed he was an anti-vaxxer.