White Mountains Pemi Loop hiking trail

COVID Vaccine Update!

I got the microchip implanted vaccine! For those watching the situation more closely, more correctly, I got round one of two. For those keeping score, it was the Moderna version, but I had zero say. I’m also not a vaccine scientist of any kind, so honestly, it doesn’t matter to me. I’d have gladly taken either. They’re within feet and inches of being as effective as each other, which to me, is all that counts. No need to split hairs on this one.

Just to get the unpleasantness out of the way, for those with a contrary opinion to getting vaccinated, no untoward comments to this post will be entertained, nor will they be approved. If that’s your kink, kindly don’t waste my time or yours. There are other forums for that sewage. This will not be one of them. In the meantime, I welcome you to read any of my other posts on hikes I’ve done, or my essays on hiking, or my gear reviews. Insightful comments that are germane to those posts are certainly welcome. Fill the world with knowledge, not conspiracy theories or other detritus.

That out of the way, I’m glad to have finally gotten the jab. Obviously, I got vaccinated in the very first round, and if you didn’t know me already, you’ve just figured out that must mean I work in healthcare. Yes, yes indeed I do. And there’s a nasty reality to that.

I’ve had far too many COVID positive patients, and seeing people engaging every single last molecule of their existence, just trying to take a breath, does indeed stick with you. Something we’ve all done from the time we were born, generally without thinking about it, and now, sitting in front of me, someone is waging a desperate fight for his or her very life. There’s a vacant stare of sheer terror in those moments, where they’re so preoccupied with simply surviving. If I’m lucky, in between gasps, they’re not whispering something truly memorable like “don’t let me die.” Frankly, I’m done with that. I usually do a good job of leaving work at the time clock, but stuff like that does tend to rattle around my head for longer than I’d prefer. I love my job. I can’t imagine jockeying a desk or something like that. But it’s not without its costs. PPE doesn’t protect against all assaults.

Part of why I hike is to kill off the demons in my head after I have a bad call. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen to that degree all that often in regular circumstances. Over the summer, actually, not that much at all. But the curve is going in the wrong direction again. Too many people in my care, beyond the ordinary, have been dying or ending up with life-altering outcomes. To be clear, there are fates far worse than death. I much prefer to hike because the smell of balsam, the sounds of birdsong, the rush of the wind through the trees, those are all a potent, intoxicating tonic that should be savored in its own right.

Therefore, put in the simplest terms: I wholeheartedly encourage all those who are medically able to roll up your sleeves and get the jab at your earliest opportunity. For everyone, follow guidelines. Wear a mask. Limit your travel, and your contacts with other people. Maintain good hygiene. And if you feel a bit off this morning, call in sick. Don’t be Typhoid Mary. Or COVID Ralph.

Now, in fairness, some clarity.

It’s not all been sweetness and light. The process of signing up was extremely easy, and done on a very simple to navigate website. Then on my appointed day and time, I drove to the site, which was a school parking lot. It was all done with medics from the National Guard who brought their A-game. I never left my car even for a moment. Checked in, was told to park “over there” and a medic asked me a few questions to double-check things. A couple minutes wait, and then another medic came over and I opened my car door so she could reach in and give me the jab. Then I waited 15 minutes in case of an adverse reaction. (I streamed “Stop Making Sense” by the Talking Heads. Tina Weymouth rocks my world. Such infectious grooves!) And once that time had passed, I got the go-ahead to continue with my day. From start to finish, the whole process took perhaps 20-25 minutes, including the 15 minute wait. I gotta hand it to whomever sorted the whole thing out, it was about as frictionless as anyone could want.

And the rest of the day after that was pretty mundane. I did a few chores. Made some delicious coffee. Went for an afternoon constitutional. Went to bed later that night. And woke up a lot in the night. In the morning, I had a very sore arm. Like as in “George Foreman laid into it for a few rounds” sore. That’s been today’s theme. I had a light headache early on, but that passed by the middle of the afternoon without doing anything about it. The arm thing? Not so much. It’s been dragging me down all day, making me feel like a heap of old rope, even though I have zero other symptoms. No fever, nothing. Just the arm. I generally don’t as a matter of practice, but I’ve been considering actually taking some Advil or something.

I chatted with a colleague who got it the day before, and he said it passed by the next day. I’m hopeful this will be the case. I’ve travelled a lot, and gotten many different vaccines, but wow, this one has them all beat by a country mile. I’m looking forward to getting the second dose, but it’s scheduled for the first day of my weekend so I have day two to recover. Put in a slightly more familiar light, you might have noticed that I usually hike on Thursday. I was hoping to get out to Isolation today, or perhaps Cannon. But the very thought of hanging a backpack on my back right now just isn’t working for me. Ouch.

Then again, I didn’t get any of the other side effects. I mean, yeah, a light headache, but that could have been from anything, and it was pretty easy to dismiss.

(Does this mean you’ll end up debilitatingly sore? Not at all. Soreness is a common side effect, as it is for many other intramuscular injections. But one’s reaction will vary according to one’s own body.)

Thoughts on the BS

There’s a lot of BS floating around about the vaccine. 5G, microchips, aliens from Mars, Jimmy Hoffa… whatever else. It’s BS. USDA Grade A crap, suitable for fertilizing the lawn and not much else. I encourage everyone to pay no heed to the idiots out there.

After seeing the size of the cohorts involved in the studies (and they generally numbered more than 35,000 people in the Phase 3 trials, which is pretty damn gold-standard right there) as well as the efficacy results and the overall safety (number of adverse events was tiny, and way below what you see for many other drugs that have been in widespread use for years) I was pretty sure they had a good handle on things. I’ve medicated plenty of patients, and reading about the Phase 3 trials, nothing raised the red flag. Nothing. I worry more about giving common baby aspirin to patients with chest pain.

The studies have been double-blind (meaning neither the subjects nor the researchers know whether the drug or the placebo has been administered) and randomized (eliminating the potential for cherry picking) which historically has produced the most robust and most clinically unassailable science. The trials, by the way, continue, as they do for many medications that have been approved by the normal means. And as a recipient of the vaccine, I’ve also opted to check in with the CDC periodically to report how I’m feeling. These check ins will go on for the next year. Because science.

Coronaviruses have been studied for literally decades (actually coming on a century now) so this wasn’t an unknown new thing. An unknown flavor of an old thing came running down the pike, but that was about it. Some forms of the common cold are coronaviruses. COVID-19 is kinda like seeing various breeds of dogs for your whole life, and then someone brings a Great Pyrenees (which you’ve never seen before) into the room. White, and a bunch more fluffy than, say, a Boston Terrier, but still a dog that likely does as good a job of holding its licker as any other. (Which is to say: “not at all.” Puppy smooches are awesome.) We vaccinate our pups to ensure they’ll be there for us. We should vaccinate ourselves, so we can be there for our pups, right?

James Watson and Francis Crick first observed DNA (courtesy of the pioneering x-ray crystallography of Rosalind Franklin) in 1942. Before that point, they and other scientists were getting pretty darn close to cracking the code, but that means they and some damn smart people had been working on the problem for years. And in a similar vein, RNA isn’t some new idea someone cobbled together on the back of an envelope last week. If you’ve taken any level of science class that included even the briefest study of genetics, you know that it’s physically impossible for a RNA vaccine to disrupt your DNA. (Not the least of which, the stream flows in the opposite direction, folks.)

With all the testing that’s been done in different labs and different countries, I feel pretty safe saying this isn’t a repeat of Thalidomide. Time will tell, but in my opinion, that’s where the winds are blowing right now. While COVID-19 didn’t rear its ugly head until 2019, a lot of very smart people were well aware of Coronaviruses, well versed in genetics, well versed in vaccines. It’s a bit like making a new electric car. At this point, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Batteries have been around for ages. People have been making glass for centuries. And so on.

What about for now?

Yes, my arm feels pretty beat up at the moment. That should resolve before long. (update: it’s the morning of day three, and while it’s still sore, it’s about half as much as yesterday. Things are going in the right direction.) Other than the soreness, I’ve experienced no adverse effects. No rash, no fever, nothing. Were any of that to happen, it would have done so yesterday. So far, the experience has been pretty tame. Almost anticlimactic, even. (I WAS TOLD I’D HAVE LASER BEAMS COMING FROM MY EYES! WHERE ARE THE LASERS?!) At the end of the month, I go for round two. Hopefully, I don’t come out of that one feeling as sore. Stay tuned.

Looking to the near future, I’m still going to be wearing my N95 and the rest of my PPE at work, at least for a while more. At best, in a month, I might be able to hang around the crew room without a mask, or at least be able to go back to wearing a surgical mask. But I’m hopeful that in a couple months, we can start having the discussion about returning life to the normal we once enjoyed. Maybe by summertime, we can all ditch the masks, perhaps raise a glass with our dearest of friends. We can hope.

However, that won’t happen if people don’t line up and roll up their sleeves. Social distancing on the trail is the way to go, for sure. But sometimes, we don’t mind sitting down to eat at a restaurant. Right?

Be cool, folks.

As always, stay safe out there.

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