As I got the vaccine, I felt the pandemic flash before my eyes | Life and style

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The best bit was the bit just before, when I entered the early dark of a suburban cul-de-sac and saw the floodlights. Raw and white and massive, they illuminated a blank, pebbledashed wall as if it was a drive-in cinema rather than the carpark of a doctor’s surgery. This was the closest I’d come to a festival since my teens, this flappy marquee stapled to the side of the surgery round the back of the station, where the queue to be vaccinated stretched politely all the way to the second tree.

I was the youngest person there by some decades – the man proffering hand sanitiser looked old enough to have, if not fathered my mother, then at least patronised her in her teens. He squirted a generous stream of alcohol into my hands, and then another, “for luck”. But I’d already cashed in my luck, by being the proud holder of a carefully cultivated neurological condition. I got the NHS text message at 4pm, and by 7pm there I was, in my best facemask and mascara, early for an appointment for the first time in 23 years. I was communicating furiously with my eyes, trying to silently convey to the hand sanitiser man how much I respected his stoic dignity and vital service. “Can you move along?” he said. I could.

My boyfriend waited by the kerb, watching my slow progression up the line. He had the look of a man who’s waited a little too long for his bride to join him at the altar, aware perhaps of the families whispering at his back. He shuffled in the cold, seemingly unsure of what to do with his hands. It was the end of Gattaca, it was the end of ET, it was the end of something. I was leaving him behind – entering the tent, I was breaking the fine chain that had held us together this last long year, leaving him to sit there alone in the furred pit of anxieties and dirty plates we had built around ourselves as protection. I waved cheerily, and entered the tent.

It took a minute to acclimatise. It was like being inside a lightbulb – something was buzzing and the room was so bright I was instantly pained, that treasured neurological condition barging its way to the front. They took my name, they touched a screen, they ushered me through. This was the busiest room I’d been in since the spring of 2020 – everybody whose eye I met had the same expression, of bewilderment, hunger, carefully checked hope. Some sat, some wheeled, some stood, nobody leaned, for the walls wobbled gently in the wind. And then, ushered through again to the second room, partitioned primly as if believing itself to be a real building rather than a plastic suggestion. I sat in Bay 4. The man to my right was struggling with his clothes. He had to take off his coat, fine, then his jumper, urgh, then he had to try and manoeuvre his T-shirt up and over, yes, almost – I had to sit on my hands to avoid helping, so maternal did I feel in that second. Did the electric grip of lactation cause my bra to suddenly tighten? Who can say?

It was here in Bay 4 that I experienced, for the first time, “guilty pleasure”. So often flung at the wrong things – fabulous pop songs, gorgeous foods, brilliant TV – I felt the sharp scratch of it as I allowed myself a second to doubt my right to be vaccinated early, the frustration or disgust it might elicit in others, the resentment, the imbalance. Did I… deserve a vaccine? Me, little thriving old me, mule-like in many ways, health being one of them. In normal life I dream of being an object of jealousy; in this one, less. “Hello!” said a coated volunteer. “Haga,” came my strangled reply.

He checked my address, my allergies, then, noting my surname, asked, “So, did you have a good Purim?” OK. He was talking about Jewish halloween, a minor festival where children dress up and adults are meant to drink so much they can’t tell the difference between good and evil. I have never been asked that question in my life and I gasped with fresh joy; even the small talk was thrilling. My sweatshirt was an unacceptable shape for access, so I pulled the neck wide. “Very nice shoulder,” he said, and I thanked him, and then the needle went in, and then, then my whole pandemic flashed before my eyes. The early, idle conversations around the desk about a flu that was coming and whether maybe it was a bad idea to get on trains at rush hour. The surreal first briefings, the uncommon heat, the days that stacked and toppled like Jenga pieces. A timelapse film of our kitchen table, the site of meals and tears and maths lessons, where felt-tipped number lines became appropriately smudged. The slowing weight of abstract grief. Our baby, his entire life in lockdown, my continuing headshake that this is really happening. Waking again and again, and reminding myself, “Oh yes.”

Outside the tent, two 25-year-olds were asking if there were any vaccines going spare. A light rain fell and car headlamps streaked oilishly over the tarmac. As I put my coat back on, a stranger asked with excitement, “Did it hurt?” Did it hurt? Did it hurt. How long have you got?

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: As I got the vaccine, I felt the pandemic flash before my eyes | Life and style

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