BY KATE WALTER | I was so desperate that I started praying to my dead parents: “Mom and Dad, please help me to get an appointment.”
The next time, after starting the registration process all over again, I picked February 12. I got to the end. “Please, please, please let this work,” I was praying as I hit “submit.” And it went through! Yes! Thank you, thank you Mom and Dad. I knew they’d want me to protect me.
After this horrible year had finally ended, all I wanted was to get the vaccine. I was lucky I had managed to schedule an appointment in February at the Javits Center. As soon as I saw that the vaccine was available for people over 65 (as opposed to over 75), I jumped on this. I thought it was a good sign that the day the state made this announcement also happened to be my birthday, January 12. Getting this appointment on my birthday was a great gift from me to me.
I went on the government Web site, filled out the questions to find out if I was eligible. (I knew I was eligible but that was part of the procedure.) Then I typed in my zip code and went to a list of places offering the vaccine. I decided to skip those that required a phone call because I knew it would be impossible to get through. So I went to the Javits Center Web site, thinking they’d have a lot of slots daily and I don’t live that far away. It’s a short bus ride from my corner, so I’d pick a date and time, answer all the questions. Or was it the other way around?
I’d do all this, get to the end, and then the site kept crashing before I could hit “submit.” Sometimes it crashed before I got to “submit.” This went on for a couple of hours. I was getting frustrated and I was looking at the time. That’s when I started praying.
I had an appointment for a cut and color at 4 in Chelsea. I had to leave my apartment by at least 3:30 to get there on time. But I had to nail this lifesaving appointment before I left. If I didn’t, hundreds of time slots would be gone. During the hours I’d been working the site, I could see appointments disappearing like mad. But I finally got through.
Then I got an e-mail with the registration from the New York State Department of Health. I printed it out. It looked like a ticket I’d get if I was scheduling a show through Eventbrite. I had a coveted ticket for an event at the Javits Center — my vaccination.
Now all I had to do was stay safe for another month. I worried whenever I went to an appointment, and kept them to a minimum. I could walk to the salon in Chelsea, less worrisome than taking a cab or bus.
I was seeing Heather, my longtime hair stylist in Mane Space, where she had set up shop after leaving her job at this big fancy studio in Noho. She didn’t feel safe working there anymore. Mane Space was like WeWork for hairstylists. Each person had her own private cubicle, so it felt very safe. This was the second time I was going there and the first time I was getting color in a year.
It was just me and Heather in her mini-salon nook. She was now a one-woman shop. She washed, cut, colored. She even swept the floor herself. I am very risk adverse. I would never go to a big salon. Nor would I eat inside a restaurant. But I was doing this one thing for me to lift my mood. Plus I was on a zoom panel later in January from the Strand Book Store and I wanted to look good.
Heather was thrilled for me when I told her I gotten an appointment for the vaccine. She had to wait because she was only 50. She was careful. She saw her husband, her pod members and clients. My first time there, she took my picture with the mask, after she finished the cut.
It was a treat to sit in the chair and talk to her for over an hour. The last time I had an in-person conversation of that length was during the summer at the beach. She too despised Trump and we worried about the upcoming inauguration, especially after what had happened on January 6. She said she was sorry she could not get me cake.
When I left Mane Space, I stopped at a health-food store and bought myself some tofu strawberry shortcake. That night I spoke to my sister and brother, who called to wish me happy birthday. Three nieces texted me. Knowing she would not see me in January, my sister got me an early present during the summer: a backpack beach chair, the cool new beach accessory.
By now, almost everyone in my family had celebrated a pandemic birthday.
Her card arrived on time but my brother’s card came a week late because the mail was screwed up due to the pandemic. His card was really sweet. It said, “I am proud of you, of your grace, your wisdom and your accomplishments.”
Hopefully, my sister and I could get together next year for dinner and a show. Broadway was still dark and indoor dining was canceled. New York was cold and dreary. But I was in the homestretch.
A month passed. It was February 12, my V-Day. I got up early and checked the weather.
It was 21 degrees, cold, but no wind, so I’d be O.K. waiting for the bus. I was leaving with time to spare. I was always early and organized. That was my personality.
The night before, I laid out everything I needed: my driver’s license, insurance cards and the important registration form confirming my appointment. I’d printed it out but it was also in my phone. I also packed two good luck charms — vintage jewelry that belonged to my parents: my father’s tie clip and my mother’s four-leaf clover pin. The last time I had taken them with me was when I did a reading at the Westbeth Community Room on March 4, right before the lockdown. I couldn’t believe how much time had passed since then. A year of anxiety.
I caught the M11 bus on the corner, took it up Tenth Avenue and got out at 34th St.
Now I had to walk to the Javits Center, past many construction sites where the icy sidewalks had not been shoveled. I was really careful, at one point going into the street. The last thing I needed was to slip and fall while the vaccination center was literally within sight.
The entire procedure at the Javits Center was smooth and efficient, run like a precise military operation. Polite young men and women from the New York State National Guard directed us, “Turn left at that soldier,” “Turn right at that soldier.” It is the largest vaccination center in the county.
When I arrived, I waited five minutes until I was waved to a check-in station, where I handed in my forms, showed ID and answered questions. When I got up from my seat, a soldier directed me where to go next. I walked the length of two blocks to the vaccination area. To my right, I saw a guardsman wheeling a woman in a wheelchair.
The Javits Center is huge. I flashed back to the last time I was here — for Book Expo America.
At the vaccination area, I waited until a soldier waved me to an empty station. I sat down. This was it!
“Hi I’m Jessica,” said a pregnant African American woman in medical blue scrubs who asked for ID and my consent before she jabbed me in my non-dominant arm.
“Hi Jessica,” I said.
I was almost crying now, I was so relieved. After I got the vaccination, another woman at this same station gave me a card with a date for my second shot. Then a soldier directed me to the rest area to sit on a folding chair for 15 minutes. I took a selfie of me wearing my sticker, “I Got My Covid-19 Vaccine at at the Javits Center,” and posted it to Facebook.
As I got up to leave, I realized I was in an out in less than an hour. I did not miss the irony that it took far more time to set up this appointment. This was incredibly smooth and efficient.
“Have a good one,” said a cute female soldier as I headed toward the exit.
“You too,” I said. “Thank you.”
I must have said thank you 10 times during my visit.
For the past month I’d read articles about how hard it was to make an appointment, how people were using various strategies. Luckily, I was a fairly tech-savvy senior with a great Internet connection. When I got home, I texted my siblings the good news.
Meanwhile, out in New Jersey, my niece Monica was on a mission, hellbent on getting appointments for her parents (both over 75). When she heard that CVS had the vaccine, she was up at 5 a.m., working on multiple computers, ready to pounce as soon as the drugstore portals opened. She was proud that she snared appointments for her parents, although my brother-in-law was going on Friday and my sister was going on Monday. My sister said that all 20,000 appointments disappeared within 10 minutes. This is a race and computer savvy plays a big part in who wins. My niece thought this system was unfair to seniors.
I felt a little tired on Friday when I got back from the Javits Center but I figured it was the anxiety of getting there and back. The next day, Saturday, I felt completely exhausted, fatigued. I could barely make it to the grocery store. I spent the rest of the day on the couch reading the new Tana French novel “The Searcher.”
According to what I read, 62 percent of people who receive the Pfizer vaccine experience fatigue as a side effect. But that was it. My arm felt fine. I got a good night’s sleep and woke up on Sunday feeling fine. I had my energy back
My next appointment is March 5. Then it takes 10 days to be fully effective, which puts me in the clear on March 15, my father’s birthday. My parents are still looking out for me.
Walter is a freelance writer and the author of the memoir “Looking for a Kiss: A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing.” She is working on a memoir in essays about her life during the pandemic in New York City.