Give Me a Poke

Sign-of-the-times screen on my kitchen Alexa: Alexa, give me mental health tips.  Indeed.

So, it’s the end of January and I am finally getting a haircut, double-masked and trying out a new stylist because my regular haircutter has three children at home, due to the pandemic, and hasn’t worked for six months. You know, just another disrupted-life story, one of millions.

I already know what my regular haircutter thinks about politics, but New Stylist—a talker—is rambling on about Our Governor and how she’s destroying businesses, yada yada. Keeping in mind that the woman is holding scissors, I gently mention the declining rates of infection, hospitalization and, you know, death in Michigan, a direct result of the gov’s policies.

There’s a pause and then she notes that Governor Whitmer was in D.C. for the Inaugural—not surprising, as she is Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Party—after she told ordinary people in the state not to travel over the holidays. Do as I say, not as I do, she says. Which is a fair point.

The Governor is fully vaccinated, I say. And she was masked and distancing. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel we’re all hoping for, right? I am expecting her to shift to complaining about how she won’t be getting her vaccine until summer, probably, but no.

She admits she is an anti-vaxxer. We just don’t know, do we, she says, voice dropping conspiratorially. But we do know, I say. And by the time you’re next in line, you’ll have six months’ worth of visible evidence. Dropping rates. Exceedingly rare negative reactions. A chance to address common problems with the vaccination process. She shakes her head—nope, you’re not going to convince her. None of her kids was ever vaccinated.

In the meantime, every person my age is trying every trick known to mankind to get a shot. It’s the conversation opener du jour: vaccine envy, and the swapping of surefire tips to getting poked.

If you’re like me, a retired teacher whose career was 30+ years based on fairness, turn-taking, order, and compassion for others, this vaccination debacle is driving you crazy.

First—half the country is blaming the wrong person(s) for the terrible rollout. Knowing a vaccine was likely should have had us stocking up on needles, rounding up volunteers and securing 600 doses in advance, last fall. Not scrambling now–or relying on people like Ron DeSantis. But here we are.

Second—all those memes about just who should have been put in charge (the one I get most often is Band Directors) are only funny because they’re sort of true. Putting people who are angling to make money in charge may have been a tactical error, but when your government infrastructure is compromised in so many places (see: Texas), maybe relying on Rite-Aid is a better bet. Who knows?

Third—watching who is getting vaccinations, and who’s still waiting, is an exercise in seeing privilege displayed in technicolor, daily, on a national stage.  Vaccinated Ted Cruz, on a plane to Mexico (where they have electricity), and saying in public that he ‘deserves’ a vacation, is the poster-child example of this, if the rumor is true. (Update: The rumor IS true.)

I certainly think Congress and Governors are entitled to first-line defenses, right now, as they work out a relief package to benefit us all, as are nursing home residents and front-line medical personnel. I have been interested to see which states are prioritizing teachers. I’m proud that two-thirds of MI teachers have had their first or both shots—and horrified at how teachers are being treated across the country.

It’s been said repeatedly, but it’s true: this pandemic has exposed and highlighted every single ugly characteristic of American society—from racism to sexism to just plain stupidity. Why aren’t teachers getting the vaccine in some states? Post that question on your social media feed and the answer will come back: because most of them are (underpaid) women.

I signed up—online, because I have the skills and the bandwidth—in early January, when my local health department started taking names. I went to a 45-minute Zoom presentation where the Director of the HD said folks 65 and older would be eligible—and called to queue up– by the last week of January. She emphatically asked us NOT to sign up in more than one place, and encouraged us to help older citizens get signed up online—but said for those older folks who were struggling, there was a Senior Hot Line phone number.

We waited patiently for about three weeks. Friends started getting shots and appointments. Younger friends. Random people with no obvious need. People who drove to the next county over, a Republican hotbed, where citizens were declining to be vaccinated. Teachers (this is good, remember). We heard that a pharmacy a half-hour from our home was now taking names. Feeling a little guilty, we signed up there, too.

It became the thing everyone asked—did you get an appointment? And it was pretty clear that those who got appointments did one or all of these things: Signed up everywhere, even though they’d been told not to. Did not wait to be called. Called multiple sites daily, and were aggressive. Went in person to the health department or pharmacy and were aggressive—or got end-of-day doses ahead of those on the list. One guy I know brought homemade candy to the health department. 

On Tuesday, a friend called and said she’d heard that Local Pharmacy had extra slots—call now, operators were standing by, etc. We called. The woman answering the phone was borderline hostile. Have you already signed up online, she asked? (Yes.) Then you’ll just have to wait your turn. Don’t call back (click).

Friend calls back—did we get appointments? No. I figured out the key, she said—if a woman answers, hang up. If it’s a man, you’ll get an appointment. (I know—crazy.) But we tried once more, got a man on the line this time, and he gave us appointments. Four hours later, we got a text saying those appointments were cancelled.

I have started to feel superstitious about this whole thing. Superstitious and mad. In what kind of country do the sneaky and devious, the line-jumpers and the entitled win?  

Alexa knows: Give me mental health tips.

3 Comments

  1. My story will not make you feel better. We live in central Florida, five houses from Dad, which is why we chose the location.

    The governor sorta gave the job to the counties. Our county’s phone registration system had abysmal times, so I waited a couple of days for the online replacement that was bound to come. Signed up Dad, stepmom, self quickly (although the requirement to have a different email for each person made it trickier than it needed to be). The online registration asked the kinds of questions that led me to believe they would prioritize the very elderly, people with comorbidities, etc. Crickets.

    A woman in the community knew someone three counties away. Register on Tuesday and get vaccination appointment for that Friday or Saturday. Dad and stepmom registered there and I took them for their shots. Easy, except for three hours of driving on a nice day. I had not been at home when community lady came to register me for the Seminole County site, so she told me about waiting for the extra shots at the end of the day as an alternative.

    I went to a site in town run by the county health department one Monday, was not selected for end-of-day shots that day, but was added to their list. Went back Wednesday at the appointed time and got my first vaccination. I told the folks waiting in line that day my experience to encourage them.

    None of us have heard back from the official county enrollment. Meanwhile, nursing home residents continue to die.

    Our governor, bless his heart, arranged for Lakewood Ranch with the two richest, whitest, Republicanest zip codes in Manatee County (Bradenton) to get priority over the rest of that county, contrary to the wishes of the Republican county commission. His major donor developer friend compounded that by putting the developer’s family at the top of the Lakewood Ranch list. Governor told the Republican county commission that he could send their vaccines to some more appreciative county (they must be floating in vaccine in The Villages) if they didn’t like it.

    So we have corrupt incompetence from a governor who thinks he’s the heir apparent. And I feel lucky and privileged.

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    1. Still shaking my head… Things are not as crazy here (but we have a reasonable governor). Teachers have been prioritized; more than two-thirds of MI teachers have received their first shot, and the superintendent in the local district arranged for all teachers to 1) get their shots 2) have a day off on ‘shot day’ and 3) have shot days be on Fridays, 3 weeks apart, in case they don’t feel well on the day following. He’s new on the job and has just made a thousand new friends.

      Everyone has a story. But I have to say–Florida usually tops ’em all.

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  2. Jacksonville, Florida (the city) received a supply of vaccines–not much–but some. The mayor decided not to go the appointment route. Those who qualified (65+) could show up on a designated day and receive the shot. They controlled the designations by birth month: Jan/Feb, then Mar/Apr, etc. From the difficulty of the appointment system, it seems to be a better approach.

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