By the time I finish writing this, I’ll be at 72 hours post-shot number two of the Pfizer vaccine, and I wanted to share my experience for anyone who might be having the same anxieties that I had about getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
A brief medical history: I have a history of bronchial issues including chronic bronchitis and asthma, and I have experienced anaphylaxis. I also once broke out into full-body hives in response to a medication I had taken. I have a variety of other allergies too. Everything makes me sneeze: dust, fresh-cut grass, flowers. You name it. It doesn’t matter the season. I take Claritin D every day, 365 days a year. 366 on leap years. (That was for you, fbil.) Any bug that bites will find me and bite me if I let it, and the bite can last for a week. For instance, a single mosquito bite for me can continue to swell for a couple of days until it is a giant painful welt that takes a week to return to the size of a normal mosquito bite. Can, mind you. This doesn’t always happen which makes the wait-and-see game super fun. Bee stings do the same thing. The last time I was stung, I was in college. The sting was near my Achilles and my calf swelled up so much, I had to cut my soccer sock to fit it over my leg. I was stung in the face the day before Kindergarten started and so I began my public education looking like Sloth from The Goonies.
To top all of this off, I have developed anxiety issues in the last few years for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here, but the anxiety has sometimes manifested physically by way of sudden-onset anxiety attacks. For me, this involves an extremely and sudden rapid heartbeat, sudden and strong feelings of impending doom, and plunging blood pressure that can result in brief blackouts if I don’t get a handle on it quickly.
So, in review: My history of bronchial issues made me fearful of Covid-19 for myself. My history of anxiety made me fearful of possibly exposing my parents or anyone else at high risk to the virus, and my history of anaphylaxis and other allergies made me fearful of getting the vaccine that would help alleviate the other fears.
2020 was…interesting. I’ll just leave it at that and leave 2020 behind where it belongs with as few thoughts about it as possible, but I wanted to mention all this to let you know where I was at mentally when I made the decision to get the vaccine.
I was scared, period. I didn’t sleep the night before my first shot. That morning, I left my house and told my cat Molly goodbye as I usually do but a big part of me wondered if it could be goodbye for good. This isn’t hyperbolic. This is anxiety. Every time I step on an airplane, part of me knows for sure it will be going down in flames with me in it. That morning, part of me knew for sure I would be the one person who suddenly collapsed and died as soon as the needle was withdrawn from my arm.
Not shockingly, I spent a lot of time deciding which vaccine I wanted to get. I had the luxury of deciding which one I wanted and ultimately went with Pfizer because it seemed the side effects if I had any, would perhaps be less with this one compared to Moderna and J&J.
My appointment for my first shot was at ECC South, and I have nothing but good things to say about how this state-run clinic was handled. Everyone working there was smiley (with their eyes, which is a delightful thing to come from this masked pandemic) and kind and helpful. I maintained a public air of eye smiles and confidence while waiting my turn and inside I was hoping my family would take care of Molly upon my certain demise.
Much to my confusion, I did not collapse as soon as the needle was withdrawn from my arm. The lady administering the shot did throw me a curveball however when she jumped back slightly while withdrawing the needle and said “whoop!”
Whoop? Whoop?? Why are we whooping? Is this a “Whoop, I just remembered I left my curling iron on?” or “Whoop, I just injected this woman with the wrong thing?”
Turns out, I’m a bleeder. That’s all. When she pulled the needle out some blood splooped out. I bet people with needle anxieties (something I actually do NOT have, yay!) are really enjoying this part…
She slapped a bandaid on me, and off I went to the special seating area to wait out the next gauntlet, the 15 Minutes of Certain Doom. I took a seat near the huge flat screen where a video of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was playing. He was thanking us for getting the vaccine. I started to relax and really hoped that next would come a video of him playing a song on his guitar (since live concerts still aren’t a thing and very few select politicians continue to be my pandemic rock stars, I guess 🤷♀️) but unfortunately what came next was a video of Erie County Commissioner of Health Gale Burstein telling us about the possible side effects of the shots, including the signs of sudden allergic reactions that ARE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY complete with subtitles. 😐
I spent the last five minutes of doom-waiting very busy on my phone and didn’t look back at the television.
One of my coworkers suggested I take Transit Road all the way back to work afterward because Transit Road is peppered with Immediate and Urgent Cares to help ease my anxiety. (I really have the best and most understanding coworkers.) Good plan! However, the traffic at Walden and Transit was backed up and I got impatient, and, after all, I made it the 15 minutes and was now at nearly 45 minutes, and surely any immediate allergic reaction would have happened already?
So I turned down Walden to take the back roads back to work and not 45 seconds down Walden, it hit. My pulse started pounding very suddenly in my neck. A crushing sense of very impending doom that made it hard to breathe. Vision peppered with black spots and hands shaking so badly I could barely grasp the steering wheel.
I cut some poor guy in a pick-up off to get into the right lane and pulled into the first driveway available. One of those industrial complexes on Walden. If you are reading this and you were cut off by a tiny black SUV with a Bernie 2016 sticker on the back window on Walden around 1 PM on March 18, that was me and I’m very sorry. 😬
I quickly parked and hopped out into the cold air and took several deep breaths. I had enough wits about me to recognize that this was an anxiety attack and not an allergic reaction to the shot and telling myself that helped, and quickly. My vision returned to normal. I stopped shaking. My heartbeat calmed down. A kindly woman who looked to be on a lunchtime stroll through the desolate parking lot saw me and asked if I needed help.
“Nope! I’m good!” I told her cheerily, holding up my phone like I had just pulled off to answer a call. As if I hadn’t just used it to message my mommy in a panic. “Thanks!”
And that is as exciting as my vaccine experience gets. I was fine. The extent of the side effects from the first shot was a sore arm from my shoulder to my elbow, starting about eight hours after the shot and lasting about 24 hours afterward. It was difficult to lift my arm over my head for the last four hours or so, and then it was better. I might have also gotten slight chills and been a bit more tired than usual that night, but I also might have just been cold and tired.
My mom came with me on the drive for my second shot on Thursday. My parents are both fully inoculated so we were able to ride in the car together for the first time in over a year! That was nice on its own, but having her along with me for the second shot helped the lingering anxiety I had about an allergic response to this one. If possible, the clinic at ECC South was running even more efficiently than it was the first time I was there, and I was in and out in 20 minutes including the 15 minute wait after the shot. This time, I bravely watched the entirety of Dr. Bernstein’s video about possible side effects to the shot including possible signs of allergic reaction. Silently smug in my lack-of-anxiety-attack-havingness.
On my way into the building, a woman who had just gotten her shot was setting up her lounge chair she had brought with her out in the sun on the lawn at ECC.
“You’ve got the right idea!” I called out to her.
She sent me back a thumbs up. “I mean, if I have to wait 15 minutes…” she answered, gesturing to the chair as she settled into it with her face upturned to the bright, warm sun.
Mind you, it was 10 AM and barely 60 degrees but for Buffalo in early April? That is freaking tropical. That’s tank tops and flip-flops weather. On mornings like this, you can almost physically see the seasonal depression melting away from people and feel the hope and joy, and relief in the air again. I felt all this especially so that morning because my parents were fully inoculated, I was getting my second shot (and hadn’t died from the first), and there were so many people there to get vaccinated. The sun was out. The birds were singing. It really felt like we are finally, finally almost out of this.
The second shot did hit me harder than the first. I went back to work and planned to work the rest of the day, but my arm started hurting this time within an hour of the shot, and the back of my neck started feeling stiff about two hours in. By 3 PM I was feeling pretty exhausted, so I left work early and went home and planned to just chill for the night and come to work on Friday. But I slept poorly and my arm got progressively more sore and achy. The achiness drifted down into my elbow and wrist and even into my fingers on the arm that received the shot. It wasn’t bad, just annoying. I was very aware that my body was working overtime and very annoyed that I couldn’t fall asleep.
I got up about 6 AM and planned to go to work but decided to just take the day off and rest. I’m glad I did. At about 24 hours exactly after the shot, I was hit with a wave of exhaustion, and the achiness started drifting across my upper back and into my other arm. My shoulders and elbows and wrists and fingers on both arms were now aching. The injection site was still hurting. I decided to take two Advil and a Benadryl and just go to bed. I slept for a solid six hours and woke up feeling much better. Still achy but not as bad. I took more Advil and had some dinner and my parents stopped by to show me their new car!
I noticed after that, that the lymph nodes under my injection arm were a bit swollen and was reassured that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing. Still feeling overly tired, I took another Benadryl and another dose of Advil at about 830 PM and went back to bed feeling comfortably numb. I slept soundly all night but had some incredibly strange dreams. I wish I had been lucid enough to wake up and document them because I’m sure I could have made some money off of exploiting my mRNA/Benadryl dreams.
I woke up yesterday morning about 7 AM feeling like I had sweat all night but…I felt back to normal. Completely. No achiness. No sore arm. No exhaustion. I soaked in a hot Epsom salt bath to chase any possible lingering achiness away for good, and that was that.
By far, the worst part of my vaccine experience was my own anxiety about it. By far. The worst the vaccine itself did was make me tired and give me very slight flu-like symptoms. No headache, no fever. Just annoying achiness, and I really only felt those symptoms for about 12 hours, starting at almost exactly the 24-hour mark. But I was exhausted for a full 48 hours. I feasibly could have gone into work on Friday. I would have been miserable and made my coworkers miserable in the process. I could have done it but I’m glad I stayed home.
I will always respect a person’s right to choose when it comes to anything having to do with their own bodies. I haven’t gotten a flu shot in at least 15 years because I’m very hesitant about putting anything… different into my body because of the reactions my body has had to certain things in the past. I totally get it. I don’t even like trying new foods because of this. But I hope reading this write-up will help encourage anyone with the same anxieties as me about the vaccine to take the leap and go for it.
And, Mark Poloncarz, if you’re reading this, I’ll take my thank you for getting the vaccine by way of a Fleetwood Mac song. Thanks!