By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
It wasn’t the needle going into her arm that made her cry. It was the tremendous sense of joy and relief that came with it.
Julie Drake received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to protect against COVID-19, alongside her husband, Steve, at Riley Hospital for Children on Sunday.
“You can take my picture if you don’t mind tears,” she said, as Riley nurse manager Nicole Geist prepared to administer the shot.
The Drakes, both 70, are the parents of Riley nephrologist Dr. Amy Wilson, who brought them to Riley over the weekend to get their shots.
Dr. Wilson has lost plenty of sleep over the past 10 months as she worried about her parents contracting the virus. When vaccinations opened up to Hoosiers 70 and older last week, she was quick to register her parents at Riley.
It was not the closest vaccine site for the couple, who live in Lebanon, Indiana, but Riley had open spots a full two weeks earlier than a site closer to their home. Dr. Wilson wasn’t waiting around.
“Probably most physicians have shared these sentiments of just chronic worry for our parents over the last many months,” an emotional Dr. Wilson said after her parents had received their vaccine. “None of us have to invoke our imaginations to know what COVID can do.”
As a pediatric dialysis doctor, she couldn’t take time off during the early weeks and months of the pandemic, nor could she work from home. Her husband juggled working from home and caring for their two kids, while she worried about how to keep her patients safe and her family safe.
As the months wore on, a routine developed. But it was a “routine without end,” she said.
“We didn’t know how long we would continue doing this, and there were a lot of days where it felt like it would be forever. This winter has been a really up and down time … we’ve had many more kids hospitalized with COVID, many more kids critically ill with COVID.”
So news of the vaccine and its availability to seniors was welcomed by Dr. Wilson and her parents.
The Drakes didn’t have to be coaxed into getting the vaccine. They’ve been eager for the opportunity, even texting their friends about when and where to get theirs.
Dr. Wilson said her mom likened the group texts about the vaccine to the rush by her and her friends – then young moms – to find Cabbage Patch dolls in the 1980s when that popular toy was so scarce.
Julie Drake, who began making masks early on in the pandemic, said her physician daughter was pretty “militant” about their safety, dissuading them from taking any unnecessary chances. Naturally, they appreciate her vigilance and her role as a “healthcare hero” at this time in history.
“It makes you so proud, but you always worry,” Drake said.
The mood was hopeful in the Riley Outpatient Center vaccine clinic over the weekend, where a steady stream of senior citizens came through for a shot in the arm – literally and figuratively. The entire process takes less than 30 minutes – that includes a few minutes for the shot and a 15-minute observation period afterward to ensure that vaccine recipients experience no side effects.
Julie Drake said she knows how worried her daughter has been, and she and her husband long to be able to see their grandchildren more often, particularly in the colder months.
Over the summer, the Drakes were able to get together outdoors on their 16-acre property with their two daughters and their families, who camped in their yard while still social distancing and wearing masks. But the colder weather has intensified the isolation many older people feel.
“It’s hard to be a physician and to know really how horrible COVID can be, particularly in that age group, and know that there’s not a good way to prevent it except to keep your distance,” Dr. Wilson said.
Simple and yet so very hard.
For her part, Dr. Wilson said the overwhelming relief she felt at seeing her parents vaccinated Sunday vastly eclipsed the feeling she had when she completed her own two-shot series, as important as that was.
“I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to get the vaccine early as a healthcare provider, but I have been less worried about myself than I have been about my parents.”
When her 11-year-old son told her that his “mimi” said she was excited to hug him and his 14-year-old sister again, he said, “I thought I better ask you if that’s really OK.”
It will be OK soon, she believes, and she can’t wait.
“They’ve missed each other. To be able to feel like the kids can be with them again safely will be a big relief.”
For those who may still be wary of the vaccine, Dr. Wilson has this message:
“I know that there’s a lot of hesitancy in the community about the vaccine. I don’t know how to take that away, and so I feel like it’s important for me as a physician/pediatrician to say I rolled up my sleeve and I’ve had both of my doses, and I’m bringing my parents in to get their doses. I don’t know of any better or more powerful way to say that I think this is safe and I think it’s our ticket out of this.”