My partner, Naomi, and I got our vaccines the other day. We drove to the Calgary Convention Centre, where an attendant waved us into an underground garage humming with activity. I was surprised by how easily I found a parking spot for the old Corolla, then masked attendants directed us up a flight of stairs onto the carpeted main floor of the building by the box office. After the mass vaccination campaign, they’ll be selling tickets to the International Pipeline Exposition and Canada’s Great Kitchen Party.
We followed what seemed an infinite number of social distancing floor stickers, passing a lines of people on the other side of guide ropes, and after several twists and turns, we finally joined the end of the queue. I briefly despaired at the length of the line, but it marched dutifully on, not even giving us time to dawdle on our phones. Within twenty minutes we were already at the front, being offered spurts of hand sanitizer and new masks. The attendants obviously put in extra effort to be friendly, each one offering a touch of small talk and even a “have a great day!”
We entered the main convention room, which was vast and airy, and soon Naomi and I were sitting together at the same vaccination station, as the nurse, Kate, unsheathed the needles.
I looked away and breathed, feeling myself meld into the murmur of the hundreds of others in the great hall, as the needle slid in.
We waited another twenty minutes in the post-vaccination rest area, chatting and trying not to think too much about blood clots and other possible side effects. I suddenly remembered the large, circular scar on my mother’s upper arm from a long-ago vaccination. What was that, anyway? We looked it up. The old smallpox vaccine would blister and leave a sizable mark at the injection site. I felt then, vaguely, part of a heroic lineage of vaccine takers. On the way home, we stopped for ice cream.
What has really stuck with me about the experience (ha) was all the people, together, claiming a public good: an elderly man with a walker, a woman in high heels and business attire, a middle-aged artsy guy with a big beard in cowboy boots, a father with his five-year old daughter skipping along beside him. Everyone was respectful and even kind, and I felt like I was part of a society, which I haven’t felt for a long time.
Surely one of the things a good society would do is provide everyone with life saving injections, and do it better than we are. Never mind the public health measures and income supports, which continue to be a frightening disaster for us in the middle of the third wave. If receiving the vaccine felt to me like a stitch in the social fabric repaired, the vast majority of Canadians remaining unvaccinated (around 70 percent!) tugs at that fabric again, to tearing. If you haven’t had a vaccination yet, I hope you can get one soon.
Maybe it’s just a sign of how desperate and lonely things feel that I wanted to share my vaccination story with you. Or maybe it’s the AstraZeneca microchip making me write this (ha). But if being part of a crowd getting needles is my only glimpse of a better world, I’ll just have to take it for now.