22 Apr The COVID-19 Vaccine: What’s The Worst That Can Happen?
I used to always joke to my doctors that I am the “1%.”
When a medication or a procedure says there’s a small chance of having a symptom or a reaction, that has always been me. I am that person who gets the “small chance of” something.
When I woke up early from my ostomy surgery (like, they were literally wheeling me out of the OR before they had given me pain meds), that was a 5% chance.
When I had an anaphylactic reaction to Remicade, that was a 1%-3% chance.
When I fainted after getting the Gardisil shot in grade 7, that was a 0.02% chance.
So when I reacted to the Pfizer shot within the first 3 minutes of getting it, I was more so annoyed than surprised. Honestly, I had planned for it.
BEFORE YOU READ ON
The purpose of this blog is not to scare you away from getting your COVID-19 vaccine. In fact, it’s the opposite. Just… keep that in mind as you read the saga of what was my first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine…
Let’s start at the beginning – how did I even get a shot? Most people are still trying to find out if they qualify, and then, if they do, where they can even go to get jabbed.
So I got vaccinated today!— Jessica Grossman (@JessGrossman) April 8, 2021
I may *look* young and healthy, but I’m not. That’s why I was eligible in Phase 2, but also why my vaccine story did not go as planned... but went as expected.
A very real thread on what can happen, but also why it’s completely and 100% worth it. pic.twitter.com/ivf1afimNv
For those of you in Ontario/Canada, you know how disastrous the vaccine rollout has been.
For everyone else: myself and all other chronic illness residents of Ontario are categorized under “Phase 2,” which, apparently, is the phase we’re now in. Except, the government-run website where you’re supposed to book an appointment doesn’t recognize this phase yet, and won’t let us book through their system. Instead, we have to scour around local health units and hospitals to find a place that will take us.
Anyway, I got an appointment by sheer chance. One of my brother’s childhood friends happens to be a patient at the same hospital as I am, but he goes to see his GP, while I go to see my GI specialist. Somehow, his GP’s office was given a pre-registration form that they sent out to all their chronically ill patients (this friend also has IBD). The friend then sent this form to me. By filling in this form, we were to be contacted when vaccine appointments became available.
I filled it in, of course, but part of me was nervous. Why did he get this form from his GP, when my GI hadn’t sent it out yet? Did this mean I wasn’t allowed to sign up yet? The form did say it was for Phase 2 patients of the hospital, so I submitted it anyway, hoping it was all kosher.
The thing is – I actually had an appointment once before. That appointment was booked online through a support agent, weeks earlier. However, the day before my scheduled appointment, I was called and told that I wasn’t yet eligible, and wouldn’t be for a few weeks. Instead of rescheduling me, they full on cancelled my appointment.
So when, a couple of weeks later, I finally got the email to book an appointment, I jumped on it. I picked a date and time, and hoped it would stick. The day I booked was the same day my GI’s office sent out the pre-registration link. None of it made sense.
Feeling hopeful, but cautious, I read up on everything I needed to do before the shot. One of the specific call-outs that this clinic had was that, if you had reacted to an injectable before, that you should get a Dr.’s note so that you would be kept at the clinic for extended observation. Ding, ding, ding – that’s me! I emailed my GI and he gave me a note saying I required 60 minutes of observation in the waiting area.
On the morning of my appointment, my employees eagerly asked me if I was excited to get the shot. “Honestly,” I said, “until the needle is in my arm, it’s not real.” I hoped that if I didn’t think about it, no one could call me and cancel this appointment, too.
At 6pm, that evening, my husband and I gathered our things. I had packed for the 60 minute observation period – my iPad, my Nintendo Switch, phone charger: all the essentials. I also wore a sleeveless turtleneck and loose fitting linen pants. I had planned for this. We then left the apartment for what would be my first time leaving since October 2020 (and only then it was because I had to go to the ER.)
We made our way downtown and arrived at the clinic. We weren’t allowed to wear our own masks, so we were (safely) handed new ones. I was offered 2, which I accepted, and wore them both. We made our way to the registration desk, and from an awkward 6-feet away, they asked me for my name and other details. They plugged everything into the system while I stood there, still worrying whether or not they’d tell me I didn’t qualify. Then, the lady at the desk asked “why are you getting the vaccine today?”
I look back at my husband, who’s standing another 6-feet away.
“Uh, I mean, to not get COVID?” I say as a question.
“No, I mean, why are you here today – what makes you eligible?”
“I have Crohn’s Disease and an ileostomy and I’m categorized as Phase 2…” I respond as I start to panic, afraid I was caught.
“Ok perfect. Head right this way.”
And I am given the go-ahead to continue on.
I go inside this large conference-like room and am immediately ushered to a chair in a booth with a number and a nurse. She, too, asks me my information and plugs it into an iPad. I realized that I hadn’t yet given my “extended observation” note to anyone, so I showed it to her. She looks at it and says “sure, you can sit as long as you need, dear,” as if I was the first person to show this sort of note (maybe I was!) At least, I think that’s what she said. It was hard to hear through her double mask and visor.
Not one to miss an opportunity, I asked the nurse if there was any chance my husband, who was standing by my side (from 6 feet away again), could also get a shot – you know, since we were there and he does take care of me. The nurse tells him to go to the back and ask if he could get squeezed in. No dice, he confirms. It was worth a shot, right? (badum-ching)
Once she finished plugging in all my information, the nurse grabbed a needle that had already been laid out in front of her, ready for its next patient. She takes my arm, rubs some alcohol on it, and in 1, 2, 3, she jabs. A little pinch – nothing major, considering how many needles I’ve had before. In 15 seconds, it’s over.
My husband and I head to the waiting area, about 5 steps away, and sit side-by-side, expecting a 60-minute stay.
Not 3 minutes later (maybe even less), I start to feel something.
There’s a weird tickle… a nodule, a lump, forming in the back of my throat.
I grab my husband’s knee and say, “I feel something.”
“Are you sure?” he asks, and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m just getting in my own head. Was I?
“Yeah, let’s get a nurse, just in case.”
We wave the closest nurse over. I tell him that I’m starting to feel something in my throat. His eyes widen. He says he’ll be back and goes to grab someone else, who seems to be the nurse supervisor of the clinic.
She comes over and asks what’s going on, and I tell her that I feel something in my throat. I tell her that I’ve reacted to injectables before, so I can tell when something is happening. The supervisor tells another nurse to go get me some water, while the first nurse is told to start writing stuff down. I am told to take off my masks (!!) and they start taking my blood pressure and watching my oxygen levels.
I begin to realize that this has become a thing and it’s making me more nervous than I was. I start to tell them that this isn’t as bad as the reaction I had last time. It seems to be slow and steady, where the last time, when I reacted to Remicade, it came on pretty fast. I told them that the last time this happened, they gave me some Benadryl and I was good to go. So, why not just get me some Benadryl?
“Ma’am, we don’t have Benadryl. All we have is an Epipen.”
I tell them that an Epipen is a little bit extreme – I’m really only feeling something in my throat – I can still talk and breathe.
“Ma’am you’re turning red. Sir, is she normally this red?” The supervisor asks my husband
“No…” he says, in his laughing-through-nervousness sort of way.
I look down and my legs and arms are turning red. I touch my leg and get a white imprint of my finger, before the redness rushes back.
“I can just go buy some Benadryl?” my husband offers.
“No, we don’t have enough time.”
“Really, I’m fine, I don’t need an Epipen. I don’t want an Epipen. I’ve never had one and they are very extreme. Won’t I have to go to the hospital after?”
They start noticing my blood pressure dropping, so they tell me to get up off my chair and take me to an area beside a draped off corner. “Shouldn’t I be going into that draped off area?” I think to myself.
Turns out, someone else had a reaction at the same time as me and already took up the space.
Before I know it, the nurse supervisor says it’s time for the Epipen and that waiting any longer would be dangerous.
I am starting to really freak out now, because all I know is that Epipens are huge needles that go into your thigh. I am pleading with them – I really don’t need it!
Before I know it, the nurse tells me to pull down my pants (I roll them up since I somehow wore the right pants for this???) and she shoots me with the Epipen.
I grip the chair I’m sitting on in anticipation of the incoming pain.
“That’s it?” I say.
“Yes, we’re done,” the supervisors says as she pulls out the needle and puts a bandaid on my leg.
I barely felt a thing. The Epipen hurt less than the actual COVID needle.
As soon as the Epipen is injected, a bunch of paramedics arrive, apparently confused at who they were there for (remember, there’s another person in the draped room!)
My throat starts to feel a little bit better, and I still think that the whole situation got a little bit out of control. Did I really need an Epipen?
The paramedics ask me my name as they encourage me to get on the stretcher they have for me. They confirm that they will have to take me to the emergency room, where I’ll be observed for a few hours. And no, my husband can’t come with.
Then one of the paramedics asks “Hey, do you want some Benadryl?”
Are you shitting me?
“Yes,” I say, laughing at how ridiculous the whole situation has become.
As I am getting wheeled out of the conference area, away from my husband and to the ambulance (which is, apparently, the only way for me to be transported to the hospital that is next door to the clinic), I ask one last time – “Can you give my husband a shot?” They didn’t have any left.
I am lifted into the ambulance, where they prepare to give me the Benadryl shot. While they’re preparing, I FaceTime my mom, who I had just texted “surprise, I had a reaction!” As I speak to her on the phone, I get jabbed with the third needle of the evening and I almost scream. What the hell? That was the most painful needle of the day!
Within minutes, I am wheeled into the ER triage, where my stretcher is placed parallel to the other woman who had a reaction. Apparently, her tongue swelled up, which I could kind of tell as I heard her speak on her phone. Her reaction was definitely worse than mine, but she was laughing while she told her story to the listener on the other end. We were both going to be fine.
I’ll admit, though – I did have a bit of a second mini-freak out after the nurses sent me into the waiting room instead of strait to a bed. I sat there, watching other people get admitted, and my throat started to itch again. I worried that the Epipen and the Benadryl were wearing off, and urged them to properly admit me. Hey, I had never had an Epipen before, I didn’t know what to expect!
They admit me, and I get seated on a bed in the hallway. Eventually, a doctor came over and told me that sometimes, with allergic reactions, the symptoms can ebb and flow a bit, but that I shouldn’t be worried. He left me there to play on my phone for about 4 hours. (Thank you to everyone who DM’d me after seeing my IG stories!) Yeah, I guess I never did use my iPad or Switch. Though the phone charger was key.
At about 12am, I am told that I could go home. My husband drives back downtown to pick me up (he’s a gem), and takes me back uptown to get into bed.
I get undressed and take a moment to see that I am covered in bandaids.
One on my arm where the COVID shot was injected.
One on my thigh where the Epipen was shot.
Another next to my COVID shot where the Bendaryl was given.
After a quick shower, I finally get into bed, feeling relieved that I had finally gotten my first dose.
If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering what is supposed to happen now.
Honestly, I don’t even know.
I was told both by the nurses at the vaccine clinic and the doctor in the ER that, in order to get the second shot, it would need to be signed-off on by an allergist. I have a referral pending, so nothing’s happened yet. Could I be told I shouldn’t get the second shot? For sure. Does that scare me? Abso-fucking-lutely. Could I still get it and have another reaction? Well, that’s the scenario I’m willing to deal with. All they need to do is have the Epipen ready!
I was actually told today, by my local health unit, that I should not get a second dose. Apparently, this is the recommendation they’re making to anyone who’s had a reaction. I’m still waiting to speak to an allergist, but knowing that this is the recommendation doesn’t feel great. I guess… update to come.
Anyway, before I wrote this blog, I thought about sharing my story and contemplated what could happen if I did. I know people are already vaccine hesitant, and sharing my story could encourage more hesitancy. But then I realized, if I can go through all of that and come out the other end just fine (minus some arm pain the next day), this may actually show people that what they might be scared of, isn’t really that scary at all.
At the end of the day, there are medications that can stop an allergic reaction. There is nothing, other than this vaccine, to stop COVID.
The worst part of this whole adventure? The giant bruise the Benadryl shot left behind.