Is this the beginning of the end? Kim Knight on the surprisingly emotional side effects of a shot in the shoulder.
“Hi,” said the vaccinator. “I’m Angel.”
I look at her name tag and think that’s kind of funny. And then I burst into tears.
En route to my first Pfizer jab I’d wondered many things. How long would it take? How much would it hurt? How would my body react? I did not, for a second, imagine myself weeping in a cardboard cubicle while a kind woman called Angel sunk a needle into my shoulder and asked about my plans for the rest of the day.
Catch the bus. Cook a chicken casserole. Consider life after Covid-19.
On the wall next to the photocopier at my end of the New Zealand Herald building is an old memo. It’s March 13,2020, and management is encouraging all meetings and interviews be conducted by phone or video. There is a new permission form for overseas travel. Any staff recently returned from mainland China, Iran, Iraq and South Korea are instructed to prepare to work from home for 14 days.
One week later, New Zealand shuts its borders. Five days after that, we’re in level 4 lockdown. I cancel my wedding. I learn via Zoom that nine jobs will be cut from my department. But I have somewhere to live, someone to love and nobody I know gets sick. A kind of collective amnesia takes over. After lockdown, we talk about what we cooked and what we watched. We never talk about how much we cried. How scared we were.
The signs that direct me to the vaccination centre on the fourth floor of the Atrium on Elliott in downtown Auckland are just regular bits of A4 paper someone has printed out on their work computer; they look like the ones in any office kitchen that say “help yourself to feijoas” or “this fridge will be cleaned on Friday”.
At the top of the escalators is a small army of those people who really run this country, the ones with the time to sit and cross your name off lists or direct traffic at school galas or volunteer at charity shops. They take plain biscuits with their cups of tea and they keep our society civil and on track. A man takes my name and directs me to another man who directs me to a woman in front of a computer who hands me a card with my details on it and sends me to a row of chairs in a hallway. I’m in jeans and a T-shirt, the woman next to me wears a niqab. A small girl asks her mother insistently, “have I been here before?”
The signage is more official now. The yellow diagonal stripes we’ve come to associate with Covid-19 are, at the vaccination centre, a pale lilac. Who engineered this semiotic shift? How much did it cost to buy all the Made in New Zealand white resin chairs? Is this going to hurt?
I have been so angry that this didn’t happen in May like the Government first said it would. When I finally got my text – the one that said I was part of Group 3 and would receive a vaccine invitation in the next two weeks – I thought it was probably a mistake. But the follow-up was on time and registration was a breeze. Click the link, enter your code, and choose your vaccination slot. Remove heavy coats and jackets, do not take photographs or film. Show up.
Angel sinks the needle into my shoulder. It stings. The tears, unexpected and sudden, are born of grief and relief. I can barely process the idea that this might finally be the beginning of the end. That, after 16 months of waiting, I am taking a practical step towards some kind of normal. The jury is out and the variants keep coming, but this vaccine is not nothing. It is the day you get your driver’s license, your passport, and the keys to your first flat, all rolled into one. It is a shot at life beyond limbo.
“Do you have plans for later?” Angel asks.
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