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Humans of Penn Nursing: Anessa Foxwell, MSN, CRNP, ACHPN, GNu’12

“On December 28th, , I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and it was…anticlimactic. There were no fireworks. No tears of joy. The biggest thrill was seeing a few co-workers that I had not seen in a while.

But I couldn’t catch up with them. I stayed six feet away and shared pleasantries. We didn’t go out for drinks and burn our masks to celebrate. I got a sticker that said, “I got my COVID-19 vaccine today.”

Don’t get me wrong, while it felt ordinary, I certainly appreciate the gravity of the event. I recognize the privilege to have received an emergency use vaccine amidst a worldwide pandemic where the toll has been unimaginable. At the same time, getting vaccinated does not mark the end the pandemic. There was not a magic switch to turn off and return to “normalcy” as immunity takes time. Miniscule mRNA may be circulating in my bloodstream to prevent me from future exposure to coronavirus, but in actuality I went through the assembly line with little pomp and circumstance.

First, I stood in line to check-in. Some people were casually chatting. Some were dressed in scrubs. Some wore white coats. Others were in lay clothes, who (like me) came in on their day off. Administrators were mixed with nurses, physicians, and support staff. I overhead people talking with anticipation and disbelief that this day was actually here. I heard a resident answer a call and clarify instructions for a scan he had ordered before (likely) rushing over to get vaccinated.

Then, I was called to check-in. I confirmed my name and birthday. I was handed a consent form to review. Next, I went to the consent station. I sat across from a nurse, plastic screen between us. We shared pleasantries of how we had met before. Then, she went over the consent form in full. Emergency use…Pfizer…two injections…symptom tracking. She handed me a small index card with my name, date of birth, and medical record number. I was the patient, no longer the nurse. Next stop, the immunization administration booth. I met the next nurse. She said, “This’ll be 98% talking and 2% shot.” She reviewed allergies, contraindications, and follow-up plan. She asked me which arm I preferred and prepared the injection. I removed my sweatshirt and pulled up my tee-shirt sleeve. I watched the administration: squeeze, aim, puncture, push the plunger, activate the needle safety device, pull out and discard in the sharps container. Maybe three seconds in all. She opened the band-aid, we joked that these bland bandages wouldn’t be tolerated in our homes with small children. I redressed and placed my sticker on my chest.

From there, I walked to the observation room. There I sat for 15 minutes, mostly playing a crossword on my phone, intermittently surveying the room. Most people stared at their phones. I waved to some familiar faces. I saw someone take a selfie, being sure to get their sticker in the photo. My timer beeped and I returned to the observation nurse. I confirmed that I was not experiencing any abnormal symptoms and received by post-visit instructions. I was directed to the last stop on the assembly line to make my second dose appointment in 19 to 23 days. At each station, I was met with a professional co-worker. Some I knew; some I was meeting for the first time. Yes, there was comradery. We’ve all been facing this pandemic together for almost a year. We all want it to be over. And yet, we all recognize that this is only

one piece of the proverbial puzzle —it’s not over. People are still dying. We see patients leave the hospital in worse states than they came. We see fear in our patients’ eyes. We are tired. We want one day where we don’t have to talk about PPE, COVID, antibodies, loss of taste and smell. And although I wish today was that day, unfortunately, it’s not.

Weeks later, I returned to receive for my second injection. My appointment was on January 20th, 2021 at noon; the same time that President Biden was delivering his inauguration speech. Could this be the symbolic “end” to that I was wishing for? I rushed to the clinic after finishing my first virtual course of the spring semester. The line was a little shorter this time and I moved through the checkpoints with ease. Again, there was excitement – though more subdued – and there was a renewed sense of comradery. I waved to a different set of colleagues and we speculated on possible symptoms the next day. As I sat for my 15 minutes this time, I browsed news apps. During his address, President Biden said, “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day, a day of history and hope…” History was happening right in front of me in so many ways. I was overwhelmed and even shed a tear. This day was more climatic, though not solely because of the vaccine. I was among my people, on the campus where I became a nurse, then a nurse practitioner and now am learning how to be a nurse scientist. I had so much hope that day for the future. A future on the other side, I hope, of the worst pandemic of my life. I wish that day marked the end, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

To submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.