A COVID-19 Adventure

We’ve all experienced our share of impatience, disappointment, and heartbreak this past year suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic. Days drifted into weeks and then months of social stultification during the outbreak with no end in sight. The development of vaccines toward the end of last year offered a chance the nightmare would end but was replaced by foul-ups, mismanagement, and outright neglect in allocation.

Vaccine distribution picked up with a new administration and a new attitude. But given the lack of preparation and safety restrictions involved in administering drugs, it was hard to believe the virus would be defeated any time soon. Why would anyone expect treatment to run smoothly when the analysis and development of a counter-agent had not?

And it didn’t. Some people here in New York and elsewhere used their prestige and influence to step to the head of the line and get their shots first. One couple even flew to Alberta under assumed identities to receive their first round of shots.

Eventually, I received mine. But rather than wait out the string until my county, Dutchess, received its assigned allotment of vaccine, I secured access to the Pfizer version of the vaccine at a Duane Reade pharmacy on Broadway Ave. in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Despite the reservation, the 75-mile trip by train and bus and subway proved long and arduous for us to make our late afternoon connections. Our recoveries from the first shot had their own shares of pain and discomfort.

So, it was with some misgiving that I anticipated the follow-up at the same location. As luck would have it, I contracted shingles 24 hours before my scheduled appointment and had to cancel it. While I endured some of the most excruciating pain I ever experienced during the next two weeks, waiting for the malady to run its course, I took some consolation that my name was in the system, the pharmacy had my phone number and address, and I had documentation showing that I was a legitimate candidate to receive that second shot.

Which assumed the Pharmacy would contact me, of course. And they did–by robocall. But we kept missing each other. By the time I called them back, the appointments had been given to others, and I had to wait yet another week. And another. By my third go-round with DR’s robot caller, I was desperate. My sons, who had waited their turns, were scheduled to receive their first shots. My wife and other friends our age had received theirs. I fantasized even our grandchildren would receive theirs before Bampa managed to receive his.

When I called the pharmacy last Saturday, April 10, I received the same automated runaround. Walgreen’s website indicated other outlets offered the Pfizer vaccine, but were located in upstate New York or some town west of Binghamton. A day trip across the state seemed in the offing.

Then my wife suggested I try again on Sunday. It seemed a forlorn chance, but I tried anyway. This time I made sure I talked to a person rather than a machine by stating I needed information on something non-Covid-related. When a sales clerk answered the phone, I explained my situation, and she instructed me to hold the line while she connected me to the Pharmacy section. I waited while a taped recording interrupted a rather pleasant musak soundtrack every fifteen seconds and apologized for putting me on hold. It explained the pharmacists were extremely busy and would get to me as the next caller as soon as they were able. After twenty minutes I was about to hang up when the recorded voice informed me I was now third in line. Fifteen minutes later I’d moved up to second in the queue; twenty minutes more and I was told I was next in line. A few minutes more and a human voice inquired “Hello?”

And my phone dropped the connection.

Dismayed, but not disheartened, I redialed and restarted the procedure. At least I’d spoken to humans. They knew I was out there, ready to take my position in line no matter how long it might take. Fifty minutes later, I reached the same plateau I had before. Only one caller was in front of me. But before I heard that perfunctory telephone greeting again, my phone ran out of power.

Being late in the evening and frustrated by the day’s events, I vowed to try again the following day. And the following morning I followed the same routine. And behold, a male voice answered. After explaining my situation and the background circumstances that caused by predicament, he responded with four words, “Be here at seven.”

“What?” I had him repeat what he’d said. “This evening?” When he affirmed the date was correct, we picked up my documentation, filled a thermos with water, and jumped into my wife’s car (a more parkable vehicle), unsure whether a second shot could be secured so easily, yet determined not to miss my chance.

We steamed down the Taconic Parkway, dodging more cars, trucks, and buses than we’d seen in the past ten months. Clearly, the City was coming back to life if traffic volume was any indication. Finding a parking spot corroborated this theory; we finally found one toward the East River some blocks away from our eldest son and daughter’s apartment toward the East River. We played with our grandsons for a while, the four-year-old wondering out loud “Why are you here? We saw you yesterday (via Facetime),” and enjoyed a satisfied if hurried Mexican dinner on Third Ave., before sauntering off through a steady rain to catch the Crosstown bus to Broadway Ave. The temperature was dropping, and my glasses fogged up every other block between 86th and 94th Street to our destination, hoping all the while we’d arrive early enough not to have to wait in line too long to learn the success or disappointment of our venture.

We arrived ten minutes before seven. The store and the pharmacy were virtually empty. Two people stood in line before me waiting for their prescriptions. When one of the pharmacists asked why I was there, I told her I was there for my second Covid shot. She ushered me toward the swinging gate that accessed the drugs and paraphernalia behind the counter, processed my documentation, and told me to wait. Five minutes later a beleaguered pharmacist directed my to a private consultation room at the other end of the counter. Five minutes more, I was sitting in the waiting area, having received my shot and waiting to determine if there any adverse side-effects (there were none).

We re-traversed the way we had come–the rainy walk to the bus stop, the trip to the other end of 86th street, the search for our parked car, and the storm-filled ride in the dark on Interstates 87 and 84 until we reached Poughkeepsie. Safe in our beds, we felt secure we were finally free from the ravages of a virus that ignores gender, age, and income in selecting its victims. It might not have been an adventure marked by feats of heroism or bravery or endurance, just one of determination and persistence to outlast an intractable, if unwitting foe.

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