A Tale of Two Shitties

It is the best of selfies. It is the worst of selfies. This Walgreen’s band-aid, covering the injection site for my first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, is a sign of hope, relief and progress.

But who among you can unimagine what is cropped out? How can such a wondrous symbol so seamlessly conjure disgust?

My wife and I received our first doses last night, after being put on an “excess dose” list at one of four Walgreen’s we visited, as we tried to ensure we could get our vaccination as soon as possible.  Our eligibility arrives March 29th, along with virtually everyone else in WI. We are both too young for the current state qualifications, though I have an auto-immune condition that I believe makes me eligible. 

We had heard some stores were keeping an “Excess Dose” list, to avoid wasting any doses at the end of a day. We took the chance of attempting to get on such a list, to get vaccinated early and prevent the waste of vaccine doses. We told no lies at any of the stores, but each had a different response when we asked, “Is it possible to be put on a waiting list for excess doses, you know, so none goes to waste at the end of a day?”  Only one store agreed I could be put on their list. As a precaution the technician checked with the pharmacist, who agreed to add my wife Mary to the list as well.

We did not protest this unrequested generosity. Nor did we receive a tenth of it again, at any of the remaining stores. “Oh well,” I thought, we tried, and the 29th isn’t so far off. If a person could guarantee they would show up on short notice, they could be added to the list. One presumes it is a one-time offer: miss the call, or skip the chance, and you’re off the list. When the call came two days later, I felt a euphoric rush, a burden lifted, unlike anything I have felt since… well… January 21,2021, to be honest. You know: the day the entire approach to vaccine distribution changed, procurement was federalized, and getting over the pandemic became a national priority with consistent messaging and an action plan?

We could get our vaccinations if we could get to the store in 20 minutes. We jumped in my car and hurried to the location that is 15 minutes away when everything is perfect. I’d have to drive faster, not get trapped at lights or rail crossings.

I don’t know if the “system” should work like this.  Then again, I don’t know that we should be counting 536,000 dead Americans (and counting) as a necessary result of the previous administration’s negligence.

We made it. Did we take someone else’s vaccine? I don’t know.  When I drive five miles an hour faster on the freeway and, as a result, get through the railroad crossing 2 seconds before a long train comes, did I deserve to survive a collision that didn’t happen, and get home earlier? I chose to drive a little faster at no one’s expense. I have no doubt someone reading this is swearing a blue streak, excoriating my selfishness.  Here endeth the first shitty.

After our shots, the pharmacist said, “We can’t enforce this, but we recommend you stay 10-15 minutes in the event of an adverse or allergic reaction. It is a new vaccine, you know.”

Mary wondered, as we wandered the aisles to kill time, if Walgreen’s was making more money as a result of the non-stop flow of vaccinations. “I don’t know,” I said as we picked up a $12.99 jug of lotion, a bag of Haribo gummi bears and some Chap-Stik.

“If we’re any indication, then yes.”  The vaccines are “free,” but in our privatized distribution system I get to wear their advertisement band-aid, and will spend money I hadn’t intended to. C’est la Vie.

We headed to the checkout after 10 minutes, with no signs of adverse reactions – until we discovered a long line of customers. Had we gotten in line sooner, we could have spent our fifteen minutes inching toward the cash register, one large… blue… circular… floor mounted… “Social Distancing” sticker at a time. We took our self-inflicted position at the end of the line.

I heard a man pounce on the blue floor circle one station behind us.

“This is ridiculous,” he said, inviting conversation.

I shimmied to make sure my feet were completely inside my circle before joking to him, “Yep… make sure you’re completely within the circle.”

“Nah, this is really ridiculous what they’re making us do!  And for what? For nothing!” He was wearing his mask properly, so I had not pegged him for trouble.

“I don’t think working together to stop a disease that has killed over half a million Americans is ‘nothing,’ really.” I tried keeping my tone light, and was thankful that I was wearing a mask that obscured my undoubtedly disgusted sneer.

“Yeah,” he continued, “Well I just hope this things over soon, and they stop spreading all the rumors.”

“Rumors,” I asked, “what rumors?”

“Ah, you know… what Biden’s been sayin’ about how bad it is. That it’s a pandemic. I mean, I’m surprised they have stopped pushing it so hard. I thought they’d try to keep the fear alive to get another one o’them loans, or whatever.  But I don’t know, I’m hoping for one of them one-shot J&J vaccines.”

People say that real life is different from Twitter, and I could feel it in this face to face discussion.  Twitter me was ready to eviscerate this man. Real life me was seeking ways to plant seeds of sanity, or have a discussion that might lead to change.

“Huh… I’m looking forward to getting the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine with demonstrated 93% efficacy, vs. the J&J reported 70%. I mean, sure they’re advertising that J&J works great at preventing major disease complications, but I’d rather take a chance on the extra 23% of not catching the stuff at all.” The glaze in his eyes said this was too much. I’d lost him.

“Uh… yeah, whatever. What’s Biden saying? That we can all go back to normal by July 4th? Well, I’ll tell you what! I’m not waiting. Me and my buddies are going to get together for a big Memorial Day celebration no matter what!  I don’t care what Biden says, but man, I can’t wait for this all to be over. Last week I sent a 79 year old lady to Jail over a mask!”

“What?”  He had lost me with his unironic ignorance that his desire to end the pandemic is at odds with his plans to hold maskless mass gatherings, but this jail twist was intriguing.

 “Yeah, she came up at me… I mean, I had forgotten my mask, and I had to go into the store… but she came up to me just going crazy, yelling at me for not wearing a mask, and then she hit me in the face.  Cop said, “C’mon man, you don’t want to press charges. She’s 79 years old,” and I said bullshit, she hit me in the face. I sent her to jail.  Man, I can’t wait for this to be over. It’s driving everyone crazy. I hope I can get my vaccine before July 4th. I’m not eligible yet.”

I didn’t tell the man we had just received our first dose. I didn’t tell him we were giddy. I did promise myself that when I got home I would stitch his name in needlepoint into my flag, to never forget the type of people who are so desperate to end the pandemic that they’ll send a 79 year old to jail, but won’t go out of their way to get the vaccine or wear a mask, or avoid super-spreader events.

Here endeth the second shitty.

I don’t know what’s “right.” I walked out of that Walgreen’s knowing that my extra efforts in the last year to avoid contracting the virus OR spreading it, had made the world a slightly better place — one year and one day since we self-isolated before the pandemic was officially declared; one year and one day in which we have gone nowhere indoors other than to grocery-shop; one year and one day in which we have worn masks everywhere there was even a smidgeon of a chance we would encounter people.

I know that as I left that Walgreen’s vaccinated,  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” I sleep with newfound hope, a clear conscience, and a fervent wish that all of “this” will be over soon.