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As expected, the first patient arrived early. This is a generation that likes to be on time.
He stood outside the sports hall, sheltering from the rain under a makeshift gazebo. It was a dismal day weather-wise, but the atmosphere inside was a lot brighter.
His face was etched with anxiety, this would have been one of the few times he had left the house in many months. But his expression transformed when he recognised the familiar staff from our GP surgery and their enthusiastic expressions.
It was the first day of the over-80s Covid-19 vaccination programme, just before Christmas. The call to offer a date for the vaccine was a lovely one to make for staff; the cynicism and scepticism of social media replaced by gratitude from those who know the potential life-saving nature of this injection. They are people who have spent months sheltering, unable to see those they love. They know what illness and disability means, and they don’t want any more of it than they need for their remaining years, thank you very much.
By 9am a steady trickle of people were entering the vaccination hall. The buzz in the hall coming from health workers clad in their blue scrubs was almost too much for people unused to seeing even a single person for months, as if they were emerging from hibernation.
Some were pushed in on wheelchairs by attentive relatives, some bounced in with well-preserved limbs, others were thin and bent over. The lucky ones could pass for working age; the unlucky are immobilised with arthritis and muscle loss.
What became obvious was that lockdown had not been kind to many: I could see old friends who had aged by more than just the nine months, their bodies and their minds not as sharp as they were, but as they progressed through the stages of the process, some of their former energy returned.
The quips start: “Nice to see you doctor, surprised you’re not too busy for this!”; “No thanks, doctor, I think I’ll get the expert to give me the injection …”
Then it was on to the next phase: the observation room, with sports equipment stacked against a wall and replaced by a socially distanced pattern of chairs.
There needed to be a 15-minute observation time in the rare case of a serious allergy . At first this seemed an organisational nuisance, necessitating a large extra room. But then the sound of Christmas carols trickled across the room, some of the patients gaining the confidence to join in – unlike the observation nurse who doesn’t need any encouragement to break into song. For others it was a chance to say hello to an old friend – across a 2-metre gap of course. All of it accompanied by an icy winter breeze to ventilate the room.
As they exited, volunteers in hi-vis vests met the patients with big smiles: “How was that?” To which the answer was universally effusive: “Wonderful, love”; “Very efficient”; “Better than the army!”
At the end of the day, when the last observed person had departed to a “Happy Christmas!”, the team gathered in the sports hall. The room echoed with laughter and we brought out a few slightly warm bottles of prosecco and some plastic cups.
Everyone was happy and relieved. The day had gone efficiently, without many hiccups. One lady had arrived with her son, who was visibly apprehensive: “She had an allergic reaction to penicillin in 1950, details a bit sketchy.” Taking it seriously, we put on our medical detective hats: “Did you need to go to hospital?”; “Did your lips swell up?”
We decided the benefits were a lot greater than the risks, the clincher being her son reminding her that the vaccine could mean she would see her granddaughter again. I kept an extra eye on her through her journey and she was absolutely fine. After her immune system does its wonderful work, she may be within touching distance of seeing her granddaughter in 2021.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘One patient says we’re better than the army’: A GP’s diary on Covid vaccination day | Society