Parasympathetic Sympathy

Today, I got my shot. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I snagged an appointment at a pop-up clinic provided by my employer. I had to drive 40 minutes to a faraway campus, but it was an easy drive and I arrived in plenty of time. As luck would have it, I fell in line behind one of my coworkers from the campus where I work. I was happy to have someone to talk to while I waited.

At the check in desk, I turned in my consent form, handed over my ID and insurance card to be copied, collected them back, sanitized my hands and went to sit at a desk with orange tape.

People were being sent to the next room for their shots in fairly quick succession. My coworker and I chatted for a just a minute or two, and then she was sent over. The coordinator told me I’d be next, but then the gentleman sitting behind me finished his consent form—that we were supposed to bring with us completed—and the coordinator told me she was going to send him in next.

I nodded. He went in.

I waited.

I waited some more.

And then I was told to stand in the hallway by the water fountain. The person behind the desk in the injection room was hurriedly sorting some supplies—needles and bandages and things. She told me I’d have to wait.

I nodded.

I waited.

When she was ready, she called me forward. I was so excited to get my record card from the CDC that I didn’t realize right away what had caused the slowdown. Someone had had a reaction. The college had contracted with an EMT service to provide the shots, and one of the EMTs was talking to the person. The other EMT had just resumed providing injections.

After my turn, I was told to have a seat and to wait until 10:43 to leave. I spent longer than I should have looking for a place with orange tape before realizing that there was no orange tape in this classroom. Odd.

I was trying not to listen to what was happening with the person who had had the reaction. I heard anyway. I understood that a relative had been reached and was on the way to pick the man up and take him to an emergency room to get checked out. I knew that it probably was not too serious, or else the other paramedic wouldn’t have started back with the injections and an ambulance would have been called.

I heard the EMT clearly when she used the radio. She was contacting emergency rooms. This was the part that startled me: The ER departments all said that his symptoms were not severe enough to warrant their attention.

I knew the healthcare system was struggling with the pandemic. Hearing an EMT be told, “No, don’t send him here,” snapped it into much shaper focus.

I am no doctor, but later I wondered if the man might have been having a vasovagal reaction. I only thought of this because I am prone to them. Read what the Mayo Clinic has to say about the condition here.

I can start to black out and I feel like I am going to throw up when I am extremely grossed out by something. It usually has to be medical, and it’s much worse if I have to hear about it than if I only have to read about it. Add pictures to a lecture, and I can be toast. I took human sexuality in college, and I spent most of the class out in the hall with my head between my knees.

Another time in college, I had to have surgery on my gums. They hadn’t healed properly after I had my wisdom teeth out. The doctor hooked up the IV, told me to relax, and then left me alone. I could feel the anesthesia rolling slowly through my veins. It was so gross. My vasovagal nerve reacted and my heart rate plummeted. The oral surgeon and the nurse came running back in. I wanted to tell them that I was just vagaling—but I couldn’t because of the anesthesia.

I had that feeling a little bit when the serum was injected today. Something thick in my veins and a slight tingling in the back of my head. I took a deep breath and it was gone. I am so much better than I used to be.

I hope the man is okay.

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