CAMBRIDGE — As the date for my second Moderna vaccine drew closer, I became increasingly uneasy. My first shot had gone perfectly. It didn’t hurt, the process, run by the Dorchester Health Department and the Maryland National Guard, went smoothly, and the only after-effects I experienced were some body aches and a sore arm.
But I’d heard the second dose could cause worse side-effects: Fever, chills, extreme fatigue and possibly other symptoms one would rather not have.
Every one of my friends who’d had the second shot I interrogated at length. “Did you have any side-effects? How did you feel afterwards?” Amazingly, none of my friends reported any side-effects. “Well, maybe I’ll be different,” I worried.
I planned to make a batch of chicken soup in case I felt too sick to cook for a few days after the shot. I had the carcass in the refrigerator but didn’t get around to making the soup before the date for my shot.
“Too bad, I’ll just have to live on tea and yogurt for a few days,” I thought. In the mind of a worrywart, “may” easily turns into “will,” despite all the evidence pointing to “may not.”
It’s strange how, if you catch the flu or a bad cold, you accept the nasty results as a matter of course. If you feel lousy for three weeks, well, it’s just life and you know you’ll feel fine eventually. But if you willingly sign up to get a shot that could make you feel bad for a few days, it’s a different kettle of fish.
For five nights beforehand, I slept poorly. The worrying reminded me of being a kid following other kids, jumping from one side of a stream to the other. Everyone in front of you does it fine, but when it’s your turn, will you fall in?
On the date of my second shot, I arrived early for my 9:54 a.m. appointment at the Hyatt’s Blue Point restaurant, converted into a vaccination center. I had my “Covid-19 Vaccine Record Card,” which I’d received after the first shot. Everyone who gets a Covid vaccine — no matter which one — gets a card.
Like the first time, a cheerful National Guardsman, masked and wearing a camouflage pattern uniform, checked my name off a list at the entrance to the parking lot and told me to park wherever I liked. “Go into the building when it’s the exact time of your appointment,” he said.
At 9:50 a.m., I jumped out of the car and joined a few other seniors waiting, each spaced six feet apart, outside the doors. Fortunately, the sun was shining and a gentle, warm breeze was blowing. It could have been raining or even snowing, as it had briefly a few days earlier.
The spectacular view of the Choptank under a blue sky distracted me from apprehensive thoughts. Like the last time, I reflected how lucky I was to be getting a shot in such a beautiful setting, rather than in the concrete landscape of a city or inside a Cambridge pharmacy, a doctor’s office or the hospital.
Just as before, a Guardsman seated inside the entrance checked my name off his list, took my temperature and asked me: Had I had Covid? Had I experienced symptoms of Covid?
Next, a Guardswoman photocopied my Medicare card and gave me a form to fill out. After that, I was sent to a Guardsman who explained the symptoms I might have after the shot and advised me to take over-the-counter painkillers, like Tylenol, if I did. He told me to drink plenty of water after the vaccination.
Then, a familiar face from the first time, nurse practitioner Kristie Gauck, came over to take me to the nurse who would administer the shot, Carla Bromwell.
I found her explanation clear and very comforting. The image of my immune system as a quick response force, ready to jump into action like a personal National Guard, dispelled my fears.
She led me over to Nurse Carla, who gave me the shot so quickly that I barely registered the fact I felt it more than I had a month ago. She entered the date of the second shot on my vaccination card and sent me over to join about 15 other seniors sitting in the dining room, each waiting for 30 minutes to make sure they didn’t have an allergic reaction to the injection.
After that, a Health Department staffer checked my name off her list and I exited the restaurant.
Back in the car, I felt a huge sense of relief. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to fully kick in, but from the moment I left, I felt exhilarated, as though I were now wearing a coat of armor against the virus.
Five minutes into my drive home, my left arm — where I’d had the shot — began to ache a little, along with the thumb.
Back home, I decided to have a snack of cheese and crackers. “That’s funny, I can’t taste the cheddar or the saltines, except for the salt,” I thought. I took another bite. Still no taste. I waited, then tried again. This time, I could taste. To think that some Covid victims lose their sense of taste for long periods, in addition to a host of even more serious problems, brought home how lucky I was to have secured vaccinations against this modern plague.
When evening came, I began to feel achy all over. I took a low-dose aspirin and slept soundly for a few hours, then took another and slept until daybreak.
In the morning, I took a third aspirin. By the afternoon, the achiness had gone, but I suddenly felt very tired. This disappeared after an hour, then I suddenly felt very cold. By early evening, I was back to normal and ready to mow the lawn.
Recently, I heard medical researchers have found that about a third of Covid survivors continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms, like brain fog, loss of memory and extreme fatigue, even after supposedly recovering. These are the “long-haulers.”
When I consider that, had I caught the virus, I could have died or experienced long-term, debilitating after-effects, I feel incredibly grateful to modern medicine, the county Health Department and the National Guard for having enabled me to get a vaccination. And the Moderna vaccine is only one of several vaccines available now.
One can still catch Covid after being vaccinated, but a much milder case, unlikely to lead to hospitalization. Now, there’s a comforting thought.