The message arrived last Tuesday evening. I was to get myself and my arm to the Drogheda Institute of Further Education (DIFE) beside Moneymore for 3.50pm the following Friday – vaccination time!
While the idea of having to travel to the Enemy to source a Covid-19 vaccine smarted a little, I was filled with an enormous sense of relief at finally getting the opportunity to get pricked.
I’m safely within the 35 to 39 year-old cohort, so I felt it wouldn’t take too long after registering to get the call up; and in all it took about seven days from registration to receiving an appointment – not too bad, all things considered.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a needle before – countless times, for many different types of inoculations – mostly when I was younger though. But there’s something about heading en masse as a nation to a vaccination centre in the middle of a pandemic that will always set this one aside in the memory.
I felt a great sense of civic responsibility and pride at doing what I was doing; but also at seeing the many other people that day doing it also.
Many families have lost loved ones and suffered dreadfully over the past 18 months, and Friday was a chance to show some solidarity in some small way – we are all in this together.
Yes, there is plenty of noise and dissent about whether, given differing restrictions, we are actually ‘all in this together’, but from the feeling of expectation and actual excitement in Drogheda last Friday, it couldn’t help but swell the collective heart with satisfaction and a little bit of emotion too.
Friday truly felt like the beginning of the end personally. That I was beginning a short journey to protect myself and others from Covid-19. I was doing my little bit for all of us.
The car park at DIFE was packed when I arrived at 3.45pm (not earlier than five minutes before my appointment, as the confirmation text message read). Having exited the car, I made my way towards two official-looking gentlemen in hi-viz jackets holding the all-important clipboard and highlighter marker.
Having given them my name they struck me off the list and I proceeded inside the institute towards a door on the left-hand side.
There was a gentleman in front of me – roughly the same age as myself, I guessed, waiting outside. The queuing had begun.
Once across the threshold of the door, the about-to-be-inoculated line of people snaked up and down a section of what would, in its normal life, have been an indoor gym.
The queue eventually ended at three desks, protected by perspex, behind which three people sat at computer screens, taking the important personal details.
To my right, as I waited in line, was a fenced-off section in which people sat, in rows, waiting – most of them on their phones.
It reminded me of the scene during a Leaving Cert exam. Everybody quietly in rows facing towards a big clock at the top of the class. An official stood at a desk towards the top directing those entering towards a seat and ushering them onwards quickly.
My attention was diverted back towards the masked-faces of those in the queue with me. I begin recognising old (older) faces
I would have known from my childhood school days. Folks I would not have seen in probably close to two decades.
I started to interrogate the part of their face I could see over the mask; checking to see if the years had been good or bad, and also, rather vainly, comparing how the aging process had impacted us.
The result? Some looked the same, others, not so much. But we were all here today to do some good.
Having given my details to the official at the desk; PPS number seemed to be the most important piece of information, for which I could not remember. But, after some kind help from the lady at the desk, I was able to eventually remember it.
Then it was on towards the vaccination pods, which were lined up along wall opposite the entrance. I sat down briefly and struck up a conversation with an old friend – John – who was one of those that the years had been relatively kind to, in fairness.
We joked a bit about the whole thing, assuaging any slight nerves ahead of the prick-ing, with silly humour. I said that if he had a bad reaction to the vaccine and collapsed, I’d heroically point at him on the ground until an orderly arrived. He snorted and then it was my turn to take my place behind the curtain.
There a nurse, slightly older than myself and male, welcomed me in as if I were coming in for a spa or a massage treatment.
He gestured me towards the seat and asked me the basic medical history questions. Then, sensing that I seemed very calm, he asked me if I was a teacher. ‘Nope’, I said. ‘You seem very relaxed, if you don’t mind me saying, like a man on holidays,’ he proffered by way of an explanation for his initial query.
‘Well, I’m off to Killarney in a couple of days for nearly two weeks, so you’re not far off, sort of.’
He laughed and then drew the vaccine from a vial, asked me to prop my hand on my hip – like a little teapot – and then jabbed me in the upper arm.
As I rolled back down my sleeve, he, noticing my name, started a conversation about the Hollywood director David Lynch. He was a fan. As am I. We riffed about a couple of our favourite movies of his.
I could have sat and chatted for another hour. When I told him I had worked for the Democrat, his eyes lit up. ‘My father always bought the Demo – great paper,’ he said with a joyful hint of genuine nostalgia.
His father had passed about seven years ago he offered. But he said he knew Arthur Kinahan. ‘A great man,’ he added. ‘Couldn’t agree more,’ I retorted.
We bid our goodbyes shortly afterwards – another arm was waiting for a precious vaccine and this most important work would continue. I never got that nurse’s name, unfortunately.
I was out from behind the curtain and waiting with the other old ‘Leaving Cert’ students before I knew it.
I waited my regulation fifteen minutes – no reaction and then headed for the exit. I spotted John on the way out the door.
‘Looks like we made it,’ he said as we passed each other.
Well, we’re nearly there, I thought to myself.
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