In February, when I penned “Take the Shot – Or Not,” I was indecisive and disinclined to get the COVID vaccination. My understanding of historical experiments and distrust of injections remains. However, like numerous others, I yielded to the pleading and the guidance of the CDC, the president, and medical professionals. My reaction to the first and especially the second vaccine reinforces the thought that lives in the attic of my mind – I am a human guinea pig.
Days before being vaccinated, I mentally prepared myself. I had to. I am trypanophobic. In layperson’s terms, that means scared as hell of needles.
I keep on top of reports about the vaccine, am aware of the possible side effects, and can recite pro-vac rhetoric like verse one of the Negro National Anthem.
“Every individual is different. Some people have no side effects,” the experts say. “Others have some reaction for a few days after receiving the second shot. It is a normal sign that the body is building protection. The reaction should go away after a few days,” they say. Yada, yada, yada. I know at least two people who had side effects not listed on the V-Safe datasheet I received when I got my shot.
Days before vac one, I began having nightmares about a nation of disfigured mutants roaming the streets—shades of the creatures in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
Bad dreams aside, I told myself that I would not have any side effects. It’s a simple issue of mind over matter. Wrong!
I decided to journal my experience, detailing my reaction from the first shot that I received on April 16 until a few days after the second shot on May 14.
First shot – Day 1
I arrive at the health center at my appointed time, 9:45 a.m., and am surprised that everything is well organized. Before administering the shot of Moderna vaccine, the nurse asks me which arm I prefer for the injection. “Left-arm.” I say. Although I am putting on a brave front, I am second-guessing my decision to take the shot. Why am I here? I ask myself. What possessed me to do this?
The nurse picks up a needle from a small table nearby and then turns toward me. As I roll up my short sleeve, I look at her. I look at the needle and little bottle in her hands. I look away. She swabs my arm near the shoulder and then squeezes it before sticking me. “You’re done,” She says. It must be her technique, I think. I hardly felt it. I am in and out of there in about 30 minutes. At home, I feel mild pain at the injection site and shrug it off, but then the ache gets intense and lasts about an hour. I also feel tired and nap on and off throughout the day. Drugged, I think before drifting into one doze.
Day 2 – The left arm is still a little sore, but the sting is bearable.
Day 3 – I am feeling fatigued and napping a lot. Something new has developed. Intermittent pain crops up in various places in my left arm between my shoulder and the wrist. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like the flash of pain you get when someone pinches you hard, and instead of immediately letting go of your skin, the person holds your flesh for several seconds before releasing it. I began calling it pinch-pain.
Day 4 – Still feeling occasional pinch-pain, only now it isn’t just in my left arm. It is ping-ponging throughout my body. It pings in one place, disappears, and then reappears someplace else. Ping! An ache near my elbow. Now gone. Ping! At my wrist. Gone. Ping! Pinch-pain in my left bicep. The pinch-pain is traveling and attacking a moving target – me.
Day 5 – I awaken between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. The fatty area beneath my left arm close to my breast feels hot and achy. It is so painful that I go and get the ice pack from the freezer and apply it to the feverish area. This should not be happening, I tell myself. The underarm ache eases only to be replaced later that day with occasional muscle and joint pain. It is here and there: left knee, right elbow, even the right side of my neck. Overall, I feel blah today, not just physically but mentally, too.
Day 6 – I am not my usual, perky self. I’ve been in a state of high anxiety since I got that shot nearly a week ago. To what do I attribute my now daily, familiar discomfort and the fact that I’ve been napping most days like Rip Van Winkle? I frequently find myself humming the tune of that old song by The Enchantments applying it to my body, “Something strange is happening. You don’t belong to me anymore.”
Day 7 – My body still feels foreign. I have a low tolerance for pain, and I start berating myself, asking why I went against my better judgment and took the shot? So, the current president and vice president got the injection on national TV. I love them and pray for them daily, but how do I know what, if anything, was injected into their arms? Might it have just been a stunt to lure the public to participate in the vaccine drive? I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist Republican, but how do I know that we are all – regardless of race or ethnicity – not unknowingly participating in some secret government study that will come to light years from now?
My antenna rises every time I hear a report that includes “we are studying vaccinated people…to see how long the vaccination last or when it wears off…to learn whether the vaccines work against emerging variants…when or if additional shots might be needed by people who have already had two.” The studies continue. The questions remain unanswered, and my anxiety level continues to rise.
One week to the day since my vaccination. I take no comfort in hearing news reports like the one this morning about a woman who died two weeks after taking the shot. Granted, she took the J&J vaccine, but there have also been reports of some deaths following the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
Throughout this process, I’ve been participating in the V-Safe (smartphone-based) after vaccination health checker. Via text, participants provide a daily update on how we are feeling. From a checklist of questions, we are to indicate if symptoms we feel are “mild, moderate, or severe.” I think they should include a “downright lousy” category because that’s how I’ve felt most of the time since being vaccinated. I pride myself on not being a pill popper, but my resistance is wearing down.
Day 9 – Last night, I had aches and pains all over my body. Again. WTF? I did not sign-up for this.
Day 10 – This afternoon, I ate two clementines, and both arms started itching mercilessly. I thought I was about to break out in hives. I often eat citrus fruit and have never been allergic to it, so what’s up with this strange development?
Day 11 – This morning I work up feeling like a Wakandan warrior. No pinch-pains. No blues. I feel like myself again. Wakanda forever! Then, darn! Here it is, afternoon, and the ache is back again in my upper left arm.
Day 12 – It is a dozen days since my first shot. The pain has subsided. Shhh, I must not think that out loud, but low energy and sleepiness hang on. A few more weeks to go before shot two. I think I’ll stop journaling about these episodes until then.
Friday, May 14, 2021 – My anxiety level is off the charts. I almost change my mind about going back for the second vac, but I do it. As I take a seat beside the table, the administering nurse greets me and asks me how I am doing. “Nervous,” I say truthfully. “You will be okay,” she says. Easy for you to say. I think.
I remove my jacket, revealing my sleeveless arm. She tries to calm and humor me by engaging in pleasant conversation while preparing the needle. Before swabbing my arm, she asks, “Do you want someone to hold your hand?”
I say no thanks, but I’m thinking, is she for real?
“I’m serious.” She says as if reading my mind. “I can get someone if it will make you feel more relaxed.”
“No,” I say, “I’m good.” In addition to the nursing staff, at least 25 other masked people are seated at two additional vaccine stations and in chairs that are socially distanced around the waiting room and in the 15-minute recovery area. Periodically someone walks around the room and disinfects the empty chairs. There is no way that I, a grown-ass woman, will act like a big baby and have someone hold my hand in front of all of these people.
I know the process only takes a nanosecond, but as she prepares the needle, I am thinking about making a run for it until the mind reader says, “Sit still, please. Don’t move your arm.” I look away. Then she says, “Ready?” Before I can answer, she sticks me. I am not exaggerating when I say that the second injection hurt five times more than the first. She bandages the spot where she jabbed me. As she is capping the needle, she whispers, “There now. Do you want a lollipop?” I crack up laughing, and she laughs, too. Some folks seated nearby look at us to see what’s so funny.
Seven hours later, my arm is hurting like the dickens, and there is a slight metallic taste in my mouth. But I smile when I think about the lollipop question. I flex my arm periodically throughout the evening, hoping that bending and extending it at the elbow and doing wrist rotations will ease the pain. It only helps a little.
Day 2 – I had a terrible, sleepless night of tossing and turning. Trying to rest on my left side was impossible because it hurt whenever I rolled over on that arm. After dozing intermittently, I awake in the morning with every muscle, nook, and cranny in my body feeling like I have been run over by a bus. I take the V-Safe datasheet from the nightstand and read it to see if there are any instructions on what to do when you feel like you have one foot in the grave. Exercise is one of the things listed. It takes every ounce of energy I can muster to pull myself out of bed and then to work out for an hour. I do cardio, stationary biking, and stretching. After I finish exercising, I say to heck with my anti-pill attitude, and surrendering to my pain, I take an Advil. Soon, on a scale of one to ten, with one being the worse pain and ten being total relief, I’ve ascended to eight. Advil is doing its job.
Day 3 – I wake up feeling good. I work out again. This time I skip the painkiller.
Day 4 – Hmm, no, ill effects this morning either.
Today is a week and a day since shot two. Right now, I’m feeling back to normal. I hope that what my daughter refers to as my vaccine hangover has finally ended and I am back on the wagon. I am not ashamed to admit that for a while, it had me down for the count. This warrior may whine, but she doesn’t go easily.