While COVID-19 has been devastating for close-knit families who’ve lost loved ones and/or simply been forced to stay apart, getting parents and grandparents vaccinated has had its challenges as well, especially in highly-populated Los Angeles. Many seniors have been distrusting of getting the Moderna, Pfizer and now Johnson & Johnson vaccines, while others simply had problems due to lack of computer skills and difficulty getting an appt on Myturn.ca.gov/. But the past few weeks have been much better, bringing relief and hope to families as vulnerable 65+ Angelenos continue to get the shots, leading to virus infections and death numbers going down. Here, our culture editor’s father -and occasional LA Weekly contributor- shares his experiences as a senior getting tested and vaccinated.
There is a belief held by scientists that about every one hundred years or so, the world is faced with a major pandemic. The Spanish Flu of 1918 was the deadliest so far, killing an estimated 675,000 people in the U.S. COVID-19, which just passed 500,000 is likely to surpass it.
Personally I never thought that I would have to deal with the anxiety and stress of a pandemic like the one we are facing now. When the news of the virus first came from China, I remember wondering why it was called “coronavirus.” For those who do not speak Spanish as I do, the word “corona” means crown, and upon looking at magnified pictures of the virus, with spikes on prongs on its outer edge, I figured that the shape was the reason why.
When it was reported in the news that the virus had reached the U.S, like most people I assumed that somehow we’d be able to control it, never thinking that it would reach the proportions it now has. Since the pandemic started, only my son, daughter, and granddaughter have come into my house and when they do we all wear masks and stand six feet apart.
As a seventy year old senior, who pretends to be fifty and in good health, I figured that I would not be directly affected by the virus, but I was wrong. I have a brother in law with health problems and I sometimes help take care of him. He has struggled with diabetes for over thirty years. He needs dialysis three times a week, is on a waiting list for a kidney transplant, and has now developed COPD, a lung condition which at times interferes with his breathing. I often think of him when I catch myself complaining about the symptoms of getting older, and I immediately stop.
I recently got a call from him asking for a ride to his dialysis because he was feeling too weak to drive himself, probably due to having missed a previous appointment. I was double masked with an n95 on top, as I am every time I leave my house. When I picked him up a few hours later to take him back home, I noticed he had trouble breathing, but I figured it was due to his COPD, for which he has oxygen and an inhaler.
We had not driven more than a block when he asked me to take him to the ER. After I helped him check in, I drove away thinking he would be back home in a day or two. He was there ten days after which a nurse called me and told me he tested positive for COVID 19. This is when the doubt and stress began, and I knew what the next step had to be. I had to get tested.
I was advised to wait about five days to make sure that the test would be more accurate. I should mention that I am like most people my age, that is, technologically challenged. I don’t have a smart phone, and I am embarrassed to admit that I have not made much progress with the laptop computer that my daughter gave me more than a year ago. So I asked her to help me with a COVID test appointment.
A few days later I found myself along with my wife in a long line of cars at Dodgers Stadium for the test. My wife was nervous, but then she is always nervous, which does not help me in these type of situations. I tried to hide my uneasiness with a sense of confidence. After all, I had been very careful when I took my brother-in-law to the emergency room and I had also made sure that I did not touch anything that he touched.
Two days later my daughter went online again to find out the test results and I was relieved to hear that both my wife and I were negative. I’m also glad to mention that my brother-ln-law is now back home and recovering.
The close call made me decide to go one step further. Not that I wasn’t going to take the vaccine when it became available. I planned to, but now there was no doubt that I would. The next thing to do was to convince my wife. After making her realize that any possible side effects were better than getting the virus, I once again needed my daughter’s help to get the appointment. All this lack of control made an already stressful situation even worse.
We live in Glendale and our appointment was at a recreation center in El Sereno, which is about 20 miles away or half an hour ride. The appointment was for 10:30 a.m., so we decided to leave our house at 8:30 a.m. which was a good idea for as we arrived at the location we saw a line of people at least two blocks long. After getting in line at about 9:30 a.m., we reached the tents where the shots were given at exactly 10:30 and I must say, it was an interesting experience.
At the tent we were given a card with the date for our second appointment. After the shot, you’re asked to sit in a special section for 15 minutes to see if you have any side effects. When the 15 minutes were up, we had no reactions other than a slight headache and were able to leave. As we drove away, I looked at the line of people waiting for their shot, all of whom were 65 and older (or caretakers) and wondered how this pandemic has affected their lives.
About four weeks later, while driving to the same facility for the second vaccine, I was feeling some mixed emotions. Though I was glad to be completing the process and getting the peace of mind that would come with it, I was also not looking forward to the side effects that I experienced after the first shot. For the first two days you feel pain at the spot of the shot. You also feel weakness, fever, headaches and chills.
As it turned out, the side effects were much stronger after the second shot but with the help of over the counter medicine like Tylenol and Ibuprofen, I was back to normal in three days and glad to have gone through the whole experience.
All in all, I must say that so far my family and I have been fortunate, but that doesn’t take away the sadness that we all feel when we consider the number of people that are no longer with us and the pain their relatives are going through. It is also sad and ironic that it sometimes it takes a painful reality like a pandemic to make you realize that life is fragile, and that we don’t always appreciate it when things are what we would consider normal.
Obviously normal means different things to different people. To some like my wife, that will be when we and the rest of our family can spend time together without wearing a mask and give each other that hug that we used to take for granted. And though I share that sentiment, I know for me and others like me, normalcy may not be reached for a long time, because there’s going to be psychological and emotional residue that will have lingering effects on the way that we live our lives.
But I do believe that the day will come when man will conquer most diseases and the majority of people will die of old age or natural causes. Until that happens, we must accept that life is about joy and pain, and realize that how we deal with both will increase or decrease our happiness and our health moving forward.