I had my Covid vaccine first injection on Thursday. I was asked to sit for fifteen minutes after the needle to ensure no big reaction. I was also asked to come for the vaccine holding nothing but my health card, so I didn’t have my phone with me. I have to say I loved that fifteen minutes and was sad when it was over. I loved being with other people in a setting where nothing was needed of me and my thoughts could wander freely, but, I wasn’t alone. Maybe it was in those quiet moments that something hatched that I haven’t been able to shake.
Going from the metaphor of hatching to that of seeding…. earlier in the day seeds of doubt had been planted in my mind about this vaccine, because of things I read on facebook. They were seeds only but they joined seeds planted by various conversations over the last while. I am a people pleaser which creates a lot of stress at times. So it was that I found myself pondering….. if I was to have resisted this vaccine that would put me on board with some people in my world, but what would it cost me? Its funny, my thoughts didn’t go to the future, my thoughts went to the past. This startled me in a way, it was unexpected, but it was serious, my guts were hot inside of me, so I knew I had stumbled on something. You see, I am a privileged person, I have never been let down by the medical system, I know that mistakes get made and people walk away dissapointed from the way their health needs are met, at times, but that has not been my experience in our Canadian setting where health care is a universal right, funded by taxation. For most of the last day I have used almost every free moment my brain had to think over all that I have seen, that my family has seen and the ways that our moments of deepest vulnerability have been responded to by the health care system in Canada.
I thought about 1983 for sure. That’s when I was 15 years old and I needed my jaw operated on to correct my bite, I was slowly grinding down my teeth. I remember the moment before the anaesthetic put me out, a gas had been administered and it made me loopy, it caused me to think that my doctor had green hair, I remember thinking to myself “oh no, my doctor has green hair, I hope he can do this.” In fact Dr. Lanigan became a legend in my early story, he walked with me through a process where I started to claim my inner strength. (Five weeks with your jaw wired shut is no cake walk.) In that pre-surgery moment though I had to let go. I had to trust him, no matter what color his hair was. I’d like to think that I based that trust on everything that grounds the medical system, like the Hippocratic oath which is a pledge to do no harm. But lets face it, at age 15 I trusted Dr. Lanigan because my Mom and Dad seemed to. This was a time when they were called to do a lot of trusting. Within a matter of months three big things had our family making heavy use of Canadian healthcare. My older brother was diagnosed with brain cancer for the first time, I had this situation with my jaw to fix and my younger sister was diagnosed with Scoliosis and fitted with a brace. I don’t remember much about life at home in that time, but I can only imagine the stress my parents were under and how important it was to them to feel comfortable with the care their children were being given. How did they decide that they could let my brother be submitted to the harsh reality of radiation therapy, how did they just know that they could trust the working of that burdensome brace my sister endured, how did they come to peace with the pain and struggle they witnessed me live with, for the sake of some promised end goal? I think the truth is, they just had to. They did.
1990 rolled around and a second bout of brain cancer took my brother’s life. While he was battling through some treatment options people in the health community in Saskatoon were thinking through how to better serve people who are dying. A Palliative Care Unit was opened and Bob spent his last week there, among the first patients to ever use it. We had cared for him at home as long as we could. When we couldn’t we opened our hands, it was with profound thanks that we could entrust these people to take everything they knew about end of life care and love my brother into his death.
Only a couple years later my Dad started the very early stages of a journey with dementia. I find myself thinking about a time in that where Dad still lived at home, I did too, I was studying theology and Mom and I were primary caregivers. Every weekday morning a taxi would come pick him up and take him to an adult day centre for people with dementia. How did we do that? How did we come to know that he would be okay there, that people would understand his limits, that he would be kept safe, that he would be treated with the dignity he deserved? We didn’t know for sure. But we had to trust. Our trust was well placed. He always came home content, with an aura of pride, he too had been away for the day and had a life beyond his family. The principles of practice that informed how that place ran meant contentment for Dad and peace for us. We were so profoundly needful of them. In the later stages when Dad was in long term care things were much more complicated in terms of what he needed. He lived in a place that was not always perfect. The sheer amount of human contact and care combined with what we all know, that no human is perfect, meant that it wasn’t always ideal. However, the standards of care were high and always seeking to do and be better and these standards were like a magnet that drew everything towards a more human, more dignified, and dynamic living environment. How many times did I give my Dad a kiss on the cheek and walk away with so much hope and need within me? Hope that he be seen for who he really was and treated with kindness. You don’t live those experiences as family members without being changed. Maybe a spiritual muscle is getting conditioned, a muscle that is about hoping and letting go, loving and letting go, trusting and letting go.
All this would come into play over and over again. When we checked ourselves into hospital to deliver a baby two weeks overdue, I was a 34 year old first time Mom, hopeful and trusting in the skill of my doctor. When I watched the orderly wheel my 7 year old son to surgery for a complicated wrist fracture. When we participated in many different stages of the health care needs of my mother in law and father in law. When I watched ambulance attendants inch/shift/lift my 12 year old son onto a stretcher when he was in excruciating pain from a broken leg. When I checked my husband into day surgery for knee repair years ago, and then recently dropped him off under the cloud of Covid life for lots and lots of tests and doctor visits for recent injury. When I myself had surgery last March that resulted in a probable cancer diagnosis, a diagnosis reversed after closer examination of the tissues. When I left my Mom at the Cancer Clinic for her first and only dose of chemotherapy. When my sister and I checked her into the Palliative Care Unit, into the room right beside what had been my brothers. All of that. How many diagnositic machines, interventions, lab and xray technicians, doctors, EMTs, anaesthesiologists, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and specialists of one kind or another have I put my trust in?
Why would I become suspicious and act from a place of distrust now? What has changed?
I can’t think of a single thing.
Well actually I can. I know that money has corrupted medical research in some cases. I am not naive. How that has played out in this case only time will tell, however the scientific evidence is in telling me that once again medical research has given me an option for addressing my area of vulnerability.
The scientific method that informed the process of developing tools, interventions, programs and education processes that I have relied on is the same method that informed the vaccine development. That method has made a huge difference in my life. Maybe that’s why when I think about all this together, it feels like my guts are heating up. I have felt so vulnerable, I have been so cared for, I must not forget that, in fact I feel I must honor that.
As I sat putting in my 15 minutes at the vaccine clinic, things were hatching, things that were long and took a lot of words, if you got this far, thanks for sticking it out with me.
(To illumine that I am not going on guts alone I can tell you that I have done some research, not very much, the fact is I am not very interested in science, I do understand the principles of the scientific method. I have been listening to ZDogg MD, I find him on Youtube, as best as I can tell he can be trusted. He explains things and hosts guests that can explain their info in a way that I can mostly understand. He has made clear just how extraordinarily safe and effective the vaccines are and he has a rebuttal for every critique levelled at them.)
Here is a link to a really interesting and read-able article introducing us to the long term research and the woman herself who laid the groundwork for the Covid 19 vaccine.