Waiting our turn

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OK, so I’m feeling a little hostile and mean-spirited right about now. I finally said it! My husband, my older half, just got his COVID vaccine. The Pfizer one. The second shot. Granted, he’s almost 76, but seriously, if I die, who will take care of our 15-year-old? Who will visit the grandkids? He’s the one who asks, in a moment of COVID anxiety, “Can’t we just send her somewhere?” “And where would that be?” I respond, rhetorically. 

Ignore the above. Just a touch of sour grapes. Deep down, way deep down, I really am glad that he got the call. Not only is he older, but he has had some lung problems in the past. And he has followed every Fauci directive, above and beyond the call of duty: double-masking even at home; isolating himself and living outside in a tent for months on end, until hypothermia became the greater menace. Just trying to keep himself safe, patiently waiting his turn for the vaccine. And it has paid off. He knows that he is luckier than most. And he is grateful too.

An 80-year-old I know has not been so lucky. She lives in a small town on Cape Cod, and for whatever reason, there are no vaccine sites anywhere near her. Seriously, where are we anyway? The Sahara? This is the grand state of Massachusetts. The place we retired to just before COVID. Apparently, you can get a vaccine if you are her age in Springfield, the other side of the state, but what difference does it make if you can’t even get there? I know, I know, it’s not Texas …

It’s even tougher to get one in a place like Martha’s Vineyard. Where we live. Many months back, every 60something New Yorker who had a second home here on this Island decided it would be safer to make this their primary home. I completely get that. If I had lived in Manhattan with my family during the worst of COVID, and had an extra house, I would have moved here too. But now the Island population has skyrocketed. As has the waiting line for those of us who are older but not quite old enough.

I’ll get to the point. There must be an efficient and fair vaccine disbursement system that includes me soon so that I won’t be dead. Every time I go get groceries, or do the high school pickup or the Post Office (the COVID high point of my day), I am playing Russian roulette. 

I know, it’s not just about me. I say that like a mantra, over and over. Intellectually, I get why the shots are given in birth order. Older people are much more likely to die than younger people when they catch the virus. And of course there must be a hierarchy established for the many minorities and those with serious health issues who are at greater risk. 

But these days, I am just, plain old, fifth grade jealous when I hear that someone has gotten their shot. Especially when I hear it from a Facebook friend! Really, do you think the unvaccinated want to hear about your first Pfizer or your second Moderna, or how glad you are that your Johnson & Johnson is only one dose? Do you think I am smiling as you recount your symptoms from the vaccine over and over? It’s as if you got into Yale, and the rest of us are at community college. I am really trying to feel your happiness, but some days I am just not up to it. My “good for you” impulse is squelched by the realization that I won’t get lucky until April or May, if I live that long. As my doctor less-than-patiently explained to me the other day, in not so many words, “You’re in decent health and you aren’t fat enough to be bumped out of order. So stop calling me!” 

Seriously? I have high blood pressure (OK, not that high); I snore when I sleep, truly breathing impaired, just ask whoever has slept with me. My feet feel numb sometimes, but no, it’s not diabetes. But thanks for listening. My joints ache, my bones creak. Twenty minutes on the stationary bike is like a marathon to my calcium-depleted bones. My hair is graying, and my eyebrows are disappearing. That wasn’t happening before COVID. At least not as much. I can be irrational, disagreeable, and smiling all at once! Surely there is some misfit, comorbid category that I can be part of to draw the lucky stick! Never have I wished to be 6 months older, 30 pounds heavier, or with higher blood pressure. Until now. I know, stupid. 

So rather than taking a header down the vortex of COVID despair, I take comfort in the knowledge that I am in good company, in a leper colony of sorts with “the others.” The unvaccinated. The young ones. Young but still vulnerable. Part of a club, in our own little herd, awaiting our turn.

Linda Pearce Prestley is a resident of West Tisbury.