Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

It happened! It finally happened. I got my very first COVID-19 vaccine. I’m so happy, relieved, and overcome with so many complicated emotions. Mostly, I’m so damn grateful to be able to get my first jab. I want to hug every scientist, researcher, and person that kept them caffeinated. Oh, and their families! You had to sacrifice a lot of hours so they could work in a lab, hunting for the vaccine, and that must’ve been incredibly challenging.

So, thank you! To everyone who made this moment possible, you have my gratitude. Am I going to find each and every one of you so I can give you a hug? Tempting, but no, that would be creepy and possibly illegal. But just know, in my mind, I’m giving you a hug and profusely expressing my appreciation.

If you know someone who worked on the vaccines, can you tell them I said hi, and thank you? And if they’re huggers? Yep, give them a big old embrace from me. Thank you, God, and thank you, science!

Oh, but I’m talking about an incredibly delicate subject. It’s like poking a large, prickly hippopotamus with a very long fork. Sure, that hippo looks cute, lazy, and harmless from a distance. It is, however, temperamental and overly aggressive. Have you seen the mouth on that thing? I looked it up, and the jaw pressure on a hippo is 1800 PSI. That’s a lot! It can cut a full-grown crocodile in half like it’s a crunchy Cheeto.

Talking about vaccines on the internet? I don’t know how to measure PSI’s, but I assume it’ll give the hippos some competition.

So, just to be safe and ward off any nippy business, I feel like I should include some sort of disclaimer. This is my personal story, and it’s not medical advice. I’m going to talk about my experience and why I decided to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This is all about my situation and why I believe it’s necessary to get the shot for my health, family, and community.

If you decide to do something different? That’s your story to tell on your own platform and by all means, use it to say whatever you like. It’s free speech and all that jazz. Go for it. Have your say. I’m not going to come into your world and go all hippo on you so, please offer me the same courtesy.

Life is way too short to waste precious minutes running in circles. I have my opinions and, I’ll admit it, I also have my biases. On this issue, I’ve done my research and talked to as many experts as I can. Based on proven science and the wisdom of those far more educated than I am, I’ve come to one conclusion: Vaccines save lives.

For the most part, and there’s always that one exception. That’s why I’m not going to tell you what to do with your body. I firmly believe in personal and physical autonomy. The phrase, my body/my choice, is one I use a lot and whole-heartedly believe. If I want you to respect that? Yeah, I’ve got to show you the same regard. After all, we’re doing the best we can with what we know or understand.

Can we ask for anything more? Uh, it’s best if I don’t answer that.

While I have my own opinions, I acknowledge and respect the fact that you might disagree with me. This is a subject that carries a lot of passion, and sometimes that turns into furry. But we don’t have to do that, right? We can disagree without becoming hurtful or hateful. We can have differing takes without trying to take each other out.

Right? Are we good? Can we all agree that these words aren’t intended to be a personal attack on your ideology or system of beliefs? I’m telling my story and my reasons for getting the shot. That’s it. Whatever you choose to do? In all sincerity, I wish you nothing but health and happiness.

Seriously, take care of yourself. It’s kind of bonkers out there right now. Whew, those damn hippos. Am I right?

A little over a week ago, I received my CEV (Clinically Extremely Vulnerable) letter from the government. Where I live, the vaccines are being rolled out based on priority groups. At first, it was frontline workers and residents in assisted living facilities. Then, they went by age groups, starting at the oldest generations and working their way down to the general population.

I fell into a grey area because I have a chronic illness, and I take immunosuppressants. I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure when I was three years old. Over the years, I’ve had three kidney transplants and, at the moment, I’m doing really well. Knock on wood, spit into the wind, and all of that.

One can never be too careful.

I take anti-rejection medications to keep my transplanted kidney alive and my body healthy. The downside is, it lowers my immune system and makes me extremely vulnerable to infections. More than that, it means I run a higher risk of experiencing a negative outcome with every infection I get.

A few years ago, I got a cold, and it quickly escalated into a severe lung infection. I ended up in the hospital for a few days, and it took me months to fully recover. I actually had COVID in September, and I still have mild side effects buzzing around. Getting it again? Oh no, no, thank you. I can’t survive another round.

For someone like me, viral and bacterial infections can be deadly. Back in the good old normal days, before our current predicament, I had to be a more careful during cold and flu season. If I got a paper cut, I had to stop what I was doing and disinfect the area. I had to be vigilant but not obsessive.

Now? Masks, physical distancing, and hand washing are well and good, but they aren’t good enough. Even after taking all the precautions, I still got sick because I don’t have an immune system that can protect me. Especially when too many people aren’t taking precautions because this doesn’t affect them directly.

Gotta love the human species, eh.

I’ve been all but homebound for over a year because the risks are too high. I’m going a little crazy, and struggling with feelings of hopelessness. But then I checked my mail and I got my CEV letter. It was my ticket to get vaccinated, and I almost cried when I held it in my hands. A year ago, when this all started, I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it through the year. I thought I was done for, and it was such a desperate feeling. 

How do you protect yourself from an invisible enemy? A tiny little assassin is out there, and the protective measures can only do so much for people like me. They work wonders for the average person. If you’re healthy, that mask gives you a great shot at survival. If you’re like me? Sure, it helps, but I still need a hideaway from a world that would let me die for the sake of the economy or convenience.

And I’m not saying the economy is important. I’m just saying that I don’t want to die. That’s it.  

The chance and the choice to get the vaccine is such a welcome relief. For me, and a lot of people who are in a similar position, the vaccine gives us a fighting chance. It means that I’m not at the mercy of this invisible enemy. I’m not sitting here praying that I don’t get sick and, quite possibly, die. I can do something to fight back and fight for my life.

I’m no longer helpless. I’m hopeful.

So, I took my shot, and right now, the vaccine is teaching my immune system to combat this virus. It’s like getting a self-defence lesson from members of the Armed Forces. I am so grateful to have microscopic versions of those elite fighters putting my weak, puny immune system through a rigorous training program. Go on, kick some viral ass!

Did I already thank God and science?

Despite this being an obvious decision for me, I’ll admit that I had some hesitancy. There’s still a lot of research being done and new information coming out. There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered. What’s the long-term efficacy of the vaccine? How well does it really work on immunocompromised people? How well does it work on the variants, and what about future variants? Are there any long term side effects?

If you’re unsure or hesitating, I get it. I felt the same way. I took my time and did my research. I talked to people who are smarter than me. And no, that did not include reading posts on social media or watching TikTok videos. I listened to real-world professionals. These people have spent years studying immunology, virology, and medicine. They know what they’re talking about.

If someone used fear or righteous fury to get their point across, I walked away. I want the facts not fear.

Once I had that, I felt comfortable enough to go and get the shot. For my situation, the risks associated with the virus outweigh the risks associated with the vaccine. It came down to that scale. One side tipped a lot further than the other so, my choice was made.

On Monday afternoon, I went to the Events Centre and got into the physically distant line. We were led into the hockey arena and onto the floor that should be covered in ice. Instead of a chilly playing field, I was met with warm and friendly people ready to help me get it done.

I was handed a plastic clipboard with the required paperwork, and I quickly filled it out. Then I went to a registration station, gave them my information, and I was set. There were about 20-30 vaccine stations set up and ready to go. When one was free, they held up a green card, and the next person was sent for their jab.

My turn came, and I sat down with the nurse. She asked me about my medical history and then told me what to expect. I could have a stiff arm, sore throat, low-grade fever, and flu-like symptoms for 24-48 hours. Or, I could feel nothing and go about my life like nothing ever happened.

After giving my consent, I rolled up my sleeve, she disinfected the area, and I braced for the sting. I was so busy getting ready to wince that I didn’t realize she’d done it until she told me it was over. I didn’t feel a thing! It was absolutely painless. 

After she gave me my immunization card, I went to a waiting area to hang out for fifteen minutes. They had to make sure that I wasn’t going to experience an allergic reaction that required medical attention. If there was a reaction? There was a medical team on standby just in case.

At first, I didn’t feel any of the side effects. It took about 12 hours for them to kick in, and then I felt blah. My arm was really stiff and sore. I felt like I was coming down with a cold. I developed a low-grade fever and felt worn out. The side effects lasted a little over 24 hours, and then it was done. 

That blah feeling has been replaced by overwhelming gratitude and a growing sense of relief. When I tell you that I thought I wouldn’t survive this, I’m not exaggerating. I thought I would not live long enough to get the vaccine or experience this moment of hopefulness.

And that’s what these vaccines mean to me and a lot of others. It’s hope in a vile and the tiniest of needles. It’s an opportunity to not only survive but live a real-life outside of the four walls we call home. It means that, for the first time in a year, we stand a fighting chance.

Thank you, God! Thank you, science!

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