The Emotional Surprise of Getting Vaccinated

Why did getting the COVID vaccine stimulate such strong emotions?

Posted Feb 21, 2021

Hope in Dark Forest.
Source: jplenio/Pixabay

Arriving at the parking lot early was a good plan, for a long line of cars was already weaving through most of the circuitous parking lot route. I drove to my place at the end and prepared to inch along as I waited my turn. The California weather was lovely—in the low 60s, a few clouds breaking up the sunlight—so I kept the windows partially open for fresh air.

To keep my spirits up I decided to listen to a radio station of top hits from the '60s and '70s. The steady rhythms helped sync my heartbeats; singing along kept me from holding my breath. I double-checked that I had my documents: my ID, my COVID vaccination card from the first dose, and the confirmation of my appointment. I was alone, trying to suppress any fear, so I told myself, “You did this just fine for the first dose, so you know you can do it again.”

But something about this time felt different.

As I drove past the helpers, I made sure to engage with them and thank them for being there to help us all. It was a joy to see them smile back. There were very specific steps, like confirming appointments and taking temperatures, before anyone was given the OK to get the vaccination. I noticed how much work was required to set up this one vaccination site: signs and directions of where to drive, the numbers and organization of helpers so multiple cars could be served simultaneously, and the careful questions and instructions. Everyone seemed to be in a positive spirit of service to the people driving through. I began to feel tearful as I thought, “Everyone should have access to this ASAP.”

When the nurse finally came up to my car window with the syringe, I said, “Are you my angel?” Smiling from behind her mask and face shield, she replied, “Yes, I am.” I gave her my limp left arm and by the time I had turned my head the other direction, she was putting on the Band-Aid. I had felt nothing! I thanked her for being so great at her job. As I told her how grateful I was, my own tears began to well up.

Afterwards, I drove to the waiting area to park for 15 minutes to be sure I didn’t have any immediate negative physical reaction. During those 15 minutes, it was like multiple emotions were swirling inside me all at once. I reflected on my tears and the intensity of gratitude I was feeling. Living in the pandemic for almost a year had taken a deeper toll on me than I had realized. During that time, I had limited contacts from my previous social groups. Getting the vaccine felt like a step towards liberation.

Enter grief.

I think my tears of gratitude were mixed with tears of grief for the others still waiting to be vaccinated. I do hope, if they are medically able to have the vaccination, they choose to get it. I hope they get advice from qualified, professional sources if they have doubts. It took some faith for me to make the decision simply because I was afraid, but I finally chose to do so as my best option for myself and for my impact on the safety of others. 

I then felt an abundance of grief for those who have already died from COVID and their loved ones left behind. I felt grief for our country’s way of life being so disrupted, for uncertainty about the future, and for sacrifices that must still be made to improve the situation. I grieved that so many were currently suffering. My grieving was interrupted when my 15 minutes was up and I was told I could leave. 

It is not easy to reflect on the life I was living “BCV” (Before CoVid) and the suddenness with which I was reminded that life actually had always been and will be vulnerable to major changes. There is no going back to my former way of life, but there is a vast opening now possible for each individual and our nation. It is an opening that can be based on facing truth with courage. This new chapter has only begun and we are participants in how it will be written. The chapter won’t have my specific name listed as one who waited in a line of cars to receive the vaccine against COVID. It’s not about recognizing me individually that is important, but recognizing what a group of united people can accomplish for the betterment of everyone. I have no doubt I am among others who have felt emotional in the process. May we soon write our new chapter together ... with hope.

© B. Luceigh, 2/20/2021.