My Shot at Making a Difference
By Daniel Wesemann, DNP, MSW, PMHNP-BC
When COVID-19 struck in the spring 2020 and shut down the world, I struggled to know how to fit in. As an assistant clinical professor at the University of Iowa and practicing Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) at Genesis Psychology Associates, I knew the world as it was would never be the same.
One of the ways I deal with uncertainty in my own life is to find something to focus on. As the spring gave way to summer, then cooled to fall, I was stymied by ideas on how to help. The students I was teaching and the patients I was caring for were growing increasingly distressed by the uncertainty and general fatigue of the pandemic.
Covered in a tsunami of increasing stress and depression, I was seeing students and patients with a myriad of challenges at home with remote learning and other issues.
Then came the best Christmas gift; the first two COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) received emergency use authorization by the FDA in December.
There was anxiety of taking a new vaccine but as Hamilton said ‘I am not going to throw away my shot.’ After being vaccinated, I had what I would best describe as survivors’ guilt. Why was I so lucky to get the vaccine so early?
Volunteering to Help
It seemed the best way to get through my thoughts was to assist my community and be a part of history and help give the vaccines so the illness and dying could cease and we can all hug one another again.
In mid-January I inquired about how I could dedicate my time to the Genesis vaccination clinics. This is what I learned and experienced:
January 31 (Genesis HealthPlex, Moline)
I have been a Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) since 2008 and giving injections is not something I regularly do. So the first vaccine injection I gave was probably more than 10 years in the making. I worked within a team of six healthcare workers and we quickly moved in and out of six exam rooms giving the shot and then observed our patients for 15 minutes. While this was a quick experience, the emotional impact was rejuvenating for me.
Conversing with grandparents and other healthcare workers about the excitement of getting their shots was infectious. I was elated and felt hopeful for the first time since spring 2020. I immediately reached out for another shot at spreading this hope.
February 6 (NorthPark Mall, Scott County Health Department vaccination clinic)
The Scott County Health Department administers vaccinations like a well-oiled machine. My job would be to provide medical observation. This allowed me to check in and speak with people about what the shot meant to them. I got to speak with a number of local teachers from North Scott who were thrilled about getting their shot and having kids back in the classroom.
However, some were still concerned about not getting both their shots before their kids came back in person. Then there were the first responders and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), who were generally matter-of-fact about getting the vaccine. They spoke to me about the hope that this vaccine would lessen the complications in their job.
There was also the 82-year-old grandfather from Davenport who was both excited and near tears about getting his shot and prospect of hugging his six grandkids for the first time since last March. Not surprisingly, I left this six-hour day having my soul fulfilled and wanting another dose of humanity.
February 20 (Genesis HealthPlex, Moline)
This shift was again filled with older people ecstatic about the possibility of getting back to normal. There was a 68-year-old gentleman from Silvis, who was looking forward to having morning coffee with his buddies. A 53-year-old teacher at St. Ambrose hoped the shot could help lift the mask restrictions. Overall, while we never come out of a crisis the same way we go into a crisis, people I was giving the shot to considered the vaccine to be hope.
March 6 (Genesis Northwest Blvd. clinic)
This day brought in several couples smiling and excited. One couple told me that after they get their shot they were going to travel to North Carolina to give all the hugs and kisses they have been unable to give since last spring. The couples expressed excitement when I asked who wanted to go first. They would laugh and point to their partner.
These weekend vaccination clinics reminded me of history I’ve read with Americans getting their polio vaccinations. People would line up at a community building for their dose of polio vaccinations and the excitement of surviving a fast-spreading virus.
It’s Your Turn
The weight of this pandemic has been felt by many. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that people have experienced a 400% increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety with younger adults being hit hardest by the isolation and economic instability. Physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers are reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia in over 20% of patients. The emotional reckoning of this pandemic will be felt for years to come. Yet this shot offers hope.
Participating in the vaccination clinics has given me a sense of being a part of history. What the people who got their shots have told me is that the vaccine holds hope for re-connecting with the ones we love. So please, get your shot and let’s experience a new independence on this Fourth of July.
It’s virtually everyone’s turn now. Get vaccinated.