covid times: the wait of expectation

“there are plagues, and there are victims, and it’s the duty of good men not to join forces with the plagues”

albert camus

when the thin man took me to get my first dose vaccine about a month ago, it was like going to a party. volunteers whose role is to chat with the about-to-be-injected and allay our fears and keep us in line were marvellously cheerful and friendly. two buskers performed 1930s and 1940s songs alongside the queue, and this evocative music was a perfect accompaniment to the atmosphere of comradeship and promise.

this cheering ambience did not alter the fact that i was terrified about my vaccine. historically some people with ME have not fared well with inoculations, and some have even had their ME triggered by a vaccination. i did very badly many years ago (pre-ME) following a typhoid injection. therefore i had only truly resigned myself to going ahead with my vaccine a couple of weeks before i got the text offering me my priority group 6 appointment. i didn’t resolve to have it done because anything i’d seen or heard or read had reassured me that i wouldn’t experience ill-effects, but because i had come to believe that it is the right thing to do morally and socially. i had started to see that if i didn’t take the vaccine some friends and family might be very uncomfortable with my decision, and that others might even say they didn’t feel safe about hanging out with me. and it certainly made a positive difference that most of the ME people i know online were planning to have their vaccinations, and indeed that many of them wanted theirs asap. another factor which pushed me towards going ahead was a simple “which would be worse?” question: taking the needle held some unquantifiable risk in terms of potentially making my ME more severe for an unspecified time; but how much iller, or possibly deceased, might i become if i got covid? that reckoning clarified my dilemma.

many things on that afternoon in february felt good, auspicious even: sunshiny blue skies decorated with a variety of interesting clouds, following a week in which temperatures had dropped so low that the dwp saw fit to give me a cold weather payment of, wait for it, £25; all the friends and acquaintances we passed en route to the vaccine centre and back; the unexpected delight of seeing my lovely gp’s face for the first time since december 2019 (well, half or so of her face – enough of it at least to identify her with confidence); and the pleasing coincidence of my gp herself delivering my injection. and once i’d had the needle in my arm and the magical stuff was inside me, i was able to cease arguing with myself about the relative wisdom or foolhardiness of my choice. i handed myself over to fate. which is not to say that i wasn’t overly watchful regarding my condition. (i used to be a fully signed up member of the hypochondria association. but when i got suddenly severely ill with ME i left this behind fairly swiftly. it seems odd, yet at the same time strangely logical, that devastating disease can cure the haunting horror of hypochondria. nonetheless, the day after my vaccine i watched my body’s behaviours far more closely than i usually do). in hindsight i’m now convinced that the feeling a bit more shaky than usual was the result of anxiety over the injection, and not the injection itself. so apart from the arm-ache which still hangs around (in people with ME minor symptoms can take months or even years to pass, and some such symptoms never go) my only reaction of remark was a strong and unfamiliar taste at the back of my throat, accompanied by an identical odour high in my nostrils. this sensation dwelled so deep inside that i needed to focus attentively to pin down its constituent parts. eventually i characterised it as: more alkali than acid; something vaguely medicinal reminiscent of our family gp surgery when we were children; new car interior with sun shining on, and heating up, faux leather upholstery; swimming pool chlorine; an edge of recently sanded off old gloss paint; and a top note of germolene. though not unpleasant in itself, like other odours which take up residence and dominate my awareness for a few days, it is so present that it is distracting. but i am grateful for it, interpreting it as proof that something new and other and hopefully good is integrating itself with the rest of me. the taste-scent also comes to symbolise my relief that this strange and apparently unreported side-effect is the only one i experience.

the thin man had his first dose vaccine a few days ago. to my surprise he wasn’t at all nervous about it, despite his tendency for flights of fancy regarding medical matters, aka mad science. i am indignant that he is given a printed sticker congratulating him on having had his jab that day. why didn’t i get a sticker? it seems possible that the answer is that his was the astrazeneca injection, whereas mine was pfizer biontech. after you get a dose of pfizer you are given a tiny plain sticker with a time handwritten on it. the time is exactly fifteen minutes after your vaccination. then you are asked to sit in a large marquee with lots of other recently injected people on chairs two metres apart for the designated fifteen minutes to make sure you don’t go into anaphylactic shock (or that if you do, a medic is close by and will provide immediate assistance). no similar precautions are indicated if you receive astrazeneca’s creation. maybe you get the printed sticker after your astrazeneca injection to convey a sense of occasion which might be lost given that you are allowed to leave immediately after getting your inoculation. around midnight on the day of his vaccination the thin man suddenly becomes dramatically and disconcertingly ill. at one point my hot flush complicates the question over whose temperature is doing what. but it quickly transpires that while i can feel that his outside is burning hot, he feels as if his insides are freezing cold, and he has all over rattling body shakes. his top teeth are clattering violently against the bottom row. he has seen me in states like this many times, but i’ve never witnessed him laid so physically low. i put the thin man to bed with paracetamol and extra blankets, and by early morning his startling reaction has altogether passed.

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