Please Try Your Call Again Later

“All of our service representatives are busy. Please try your call again later.”

On the first day that our local health system allowed medical staff to call in to schedule vaccine appointments, the demand quickly overwhelmed the phone lines. The plan was to open up scheduling by phone starting at 8:00 a.m., and I called as soon I could, only to be greeted by the message above after a few rings. I continued calling the rest of that morning, and eventually the line didn’t even ring before going straight to the recording. We later learned that

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Vials of Hope

Is it my imagination, or is everyone talking about silver linings these days? By now I’ve heard the phrase spoken so many times in so many different contexts that I’ve begun to expect it as an explanation whenever people mention a COVID-related restriction in their lives. In the midst of despair, misfortune, or even just plain frustration, they find something positive that offers them comfort. I truly admire such vision. Where they see soft, white clouds floating overhead, I see grey ones, spiked with danger—a herd of elephants stampeding across a leaden sky.


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My First Psychiatry Patient

When I met my first psychiatry patient, Samuel, he greeted me with a broad, mischievous grin and an elbow bump (COVID being at large). I started off my patient interview by asking him some general questions about his personal details, his main complaint, and his medical history.

He believed that he was the god of the moon. Besides holding this grandiose delusion, he had hardly slept for several days and felt an irresistible urge to chop as much wood as possible. This so-called manic episode caused his family to admit him to the psychiatric hospital. He

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Hope for Mastery Again

Breaking my vow that I would not check my work email during my desperately needed vacation, I peeked at my phone. Sometimes, anxiety about the unknown is worse than reality. Scanning my messages, one subject line made me pause: “Your COVID Vaccination Date.” I clicked and read further. I was assigned a day, time, and place to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Oddly, I felt nothing. No excitement, trepidation, relief, sense of history-in-the-making. Nothing.

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Waiting for the Answer

It’s tricky—the balance between deserving, needing, and entitled. Who gets the vaccine first? Who gets it last? What part of the decision is privilege. What part experimental.

I am a noncompromised age-qualifying mental health counselor who has worked remotely, from the confines of my home. I am not a high-risk-by-exposure candidate, unless I want to be. I have remained masked and distant throughout the pandemic. What are my response and responsibility to having an invitation to be at the front of the line?

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The Shot

Excitement. A little bit of fear. Some confidence, too. But most of all, fellowship.

Around me, spaced a careful six feet apart, are tables along with other scrub-clad men and women who work in the hospital, each of us perched on the edge of our seats, listening to a masked nurse explaining vaccination procedure. 

There is no doubt this is a momentous occasion, an opportunity for protection against an unruly pandemic. But it is also a reminder how many of us have been facing down this demon, gliding silently past one another, expressions unreadable as we

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The Honorable Choice

I developed my fear of needles as a kindergartener in the early 1950s. With my classmates, I waited in a slow-moving line to receive the Salk polio vaccine. When I later complained to my parents about a sore arm, they commiserated—but also assured me that the soreness would pass, while polio would be forever. I thus learned that vaccines are vital to my well-being.

That being said, the COVID-19 vaccine still causes me some anxiety. The speed with which it was developed—and the lack of knowledge about its long-term effects—worries me. Yet as I sit in

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An Editor’s Invitation: The Vaccine

Dear Pulse readers,
A New Year is upon us. I hope that it finds you well so far.
It’s an old saw in medicine: Never be the first doctor to prescribe a new medication–nor the last.
It’s advice that I take to heart. I generally wait a few years before offering the latest, greatest pill to my patients. On more than one occasion that strategy has saved me the guilt and shame of violating the most sacred medical directive: First, do no harm.

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I Carry Her Memory

Ms. K was one of the oldest patients I’d met. I wanted to sit and hear her stories, to say, “Tell me more,” the way we learned in medical school. But the equipment sustaining her left no room for a chair to sit in. And COVID had stolen her ability to speak in sentences; she puffed out words two or three at a time before inhaling again. Even so, each word was sharp and spirited and made me smile.

Her face was a rich and deeply wrinkled landscape. Ms. K’s gown hung loosely on her, exposing

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