One year ago in February I was so sick that for two weeks I could do little more than sleep. For most of that time I lay on the couch with a fever that consistently topped 103 degrees, coughing so violently that I lost my ability to talk. Anything I managed to eat tasted like sulfur. My oxygen level was low, and at one time I was wracked by chills so severe I nearly lit my clothes on fire, trying to warm myself by the wood stove.
The first trip to the doctor, I was told I had the flu. The second trip, I was told it was pneumonia. Half a year later, when I was still struggling to make it through a day without crawling into bed, my nurse practitioner suggested it might have been COVID-19.
So early in the pandemic? Was it possible? An antibody test last summer came out negative. Perhaps too much time had lapsed for the telltale proteins to remain in my bloodstream. One thing was certain. I never wanted to be that sick again. I never wanted to make anyone else that sick either. So, this month when Maine authorized teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I gratefully scheduled my shot.
Despite being a White evangelical Christian. Despite being wary of vaccines. Despite friends’ social media posts warning that the shot would do me harm, I felt an unexpected rush of relief when I wrote my vaccination date on my calendar: Wednesday, March 17, 4:00 p.m. Could my personal pandemic soon be over?
Having closely followed CDC guidelines for social distancing for more than a year, I wanted to go back to church. I wanted to enjoy dinner with friends. I wanted to be one step closer to letting my children see their own friends. Then, on the eve before my scheduled appointment, I came home to a message on my answering machine. My vaccination had been cancelled.
First thing the next morning, I called my provider. Turned out they’d looked at my birth date – not yet fifty – and overlooked that I was also a teacher. My vaccine was soon rescheduled for the next day.
Relieved, I hung up the phone and sat at my kitchen table. Then I wept. I wept for all of the lives lost and all of the frontline workers who’ve put their lives on the line to keep mine safe. I wept for the researchers working late at night in their labs and for all of the volunteers who stood first in line to roll up their sleeves. I wept for the relationships ruined by rumors and fears in a nation so divided it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth.
Will the vaccines stop the spread of the virus? Will they cause unwanted side-effects? I don’t know. But I believe that the benefits of getting the vaccine are greater than the risks of not getting it. As a person of faith, I also believe that I have a moral responsibility to protect those around me.
So I now have a sore arm and a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, along with the hope that all of this will soon be over.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Backward Easter Egg Hunt and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith.