Mid-January, I traveled to New York with my husband to see my parents. They are in their mid-80’s, still living in their own home. The day we arrived, New York had just opened vaccinations for group 1b – those 75 and older. Much of my time there was spent trying to secure vaccine appointments for them. You can read about that early experience in my previous post entitled Vaccine Matters.
We came home after a five day visit. They did not have appointments for vaccines. However, I was able to add their information to their Regional Healthcare Group and the County site – both of which promised calls if vaccine appointments became available.
Here’s where it gets muddled. The day we left, an hour after leaving, my mom received a call from their Regional Healthcare Group stating her name had come up in the lottery! She asked if they had a spot for my dad, her husband, too. No – they explained it was a lottery and there was only a spot for her to receive the vaccine. My mom is 83 and my dad is 84. She declined the spot, stating that they needed to both have the vaccine – at the same time. Now, some of this was misunderstanding how the system worked. And, I partially blamed myself for not making sure they understood that they are considered individuals when it came to healthcare – and especially when it came to a vaccine lottery. Believe me, I was very upset to learn – in the car, on the way home to Wisconsin – from my sister – that my mom declined her chance to have the vaccine.
Elderly people receive care from trusted providers, such as their private physicians. They are also used to being involved in caring for each other. The HIPPA laws of today, where everything is private for individuals, is really something beyond their comprehension.
And, it is also hard to understand, even for me, when you have two elderly people living in the same household, that they might have to run two separate times to receive vaccines. Their lives have been entwined for over 60 years! Vaccines could have been provided to both, at the same time.
But, the system, obviously, did not allow for this. So, for the next seven weeks – from January 18th until March 2nd, I searched for vaccine appointments for my parents – at Walgreens, at CVS, at Rite Aide, at Wegmans (a grocery store with a pharmacy). Soon, we settled on Walgreens being our best bet. This still involved signing on daily to the Walgreens website. Not once a day, but any where from several to many times a day.
But, the decision to go with a specific site came with it’s own set of problems (which really applied to all the sites). Each online site required registration and an account to be set up. Then, one had to search for appointment slots according to your zip code. Once a slot showed up (and there were many days that none were available), you had to secure a second slot for the second dose. 99% of the time, there were no slots available for the second shot appointment. I even ended up calling a Walgreens local to my parents home and asking if one had to secure both appointments at the same time. (I thought that maybe I was doing something wrong, since success was so elusive.) After an hour on hold, I found that the answer was yes – both vaccine appointments had to be made at the same time.
In addition, I asked if I could register them over the phone for their vaccines, since Walgreens and all the other sites as well, stated on their websites that one could call to make an appointment. I learned that is not so. Appointments could only be made online.
Okay. Well, who ever thought that our elderly would be computer savvy enough to navigate all this online searching, registering, and making appointments online was nuts. They don’t have the skills. Fortunately, I was able and available to help, even from a distance of 900 miles. But, for seven weeks, I came up short.
Finally, on March 2nd, I secured appointments at Walgreens for both of my parents, a half hour apart on March 3rd. It just so happened my sister in law, who lives in Buffalo, was going to visit them and take them some homemade meals later the same day. She jumped at the chance to go early and get them to their appointments. I will be forever grateful.
But, the lack of consideration towards our elderly did not stop with how the appointments were made. Walgreens, and I am sure other sites, wanted vaccine registrants to download and print their consents and bring them to the appointment. My eighty-four year old father admitted he did not know if he could do that part.
“I don’t think I’ve ever downloaded and printed anything,” he told me.
So, after finding my way back to the consent page (this is before we received the confirmation email where the consent page is linked), I downloaded the form and sent it to my sister in law. She printed them at home and took them to my parents, in addition to helping them fill the consent form out before they left for the appointments.
What I’m trying to relay by recounting this experience is that the roll out in New York State was poor for our elderly. There was not any consideration for them and their ability to navigate online systems. I know it has not been the same in other states. In fact, I know that for some here in Wisconsin, it has been extremely easy for some independent elderly to receive their vaccinations. It must be recognized that things such as vaccine rollouts vary from state to state and probably, even place to place within the same state. Do not assume your experience is what happens everywhere or for everyone. I know that comprehending what we had to go through to get my parents shots might be hard to understand. But, it was difficult. If it has not been so for you, count your blessings.
My daily search for vaccine appointments ended this week. It is something I am not going to miss! I wrote another poem about this experience for some closure.
One Week in March
As I lay in bed with insomnia as my lover, I hear the train whistle blow Long and low Cutting through the silent darkness enveloping me. Night worries have gone From my children, now grown To my parents slowly returning to toddlerhood Complete with wobbly knees And, sadly, decreased capacities. I long for sleep. COVID worries are few Now that the elusive vaccine has Come through Elderly lives on hold for a year, Makes this daughter work hard To drive down the fear. And so, as it took a village to raise Our children to take the lead on stage Others so near help our parents To get there. A small needle in the arm, Does no earthly harm, Now my worries can rest Until there is another test. I welcome sleep until then.
Today is Day 5 of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thanks to TwoWritingTeachers.org for developing this supportive community of writers.