After my second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine last Friday, I expected days of flu-like symptoms. Luckily, I only had a low-grade fever the next day and fatigue for a couple of days. I should have full immunity in another week.
So far, I’m the only member of my immediate family who’s been vaccinated. My husband, Patrick, and both of my parents finally have appointments in late March for their first dose.
As my caregivers, they’ve done my shopping and brought me food for the past 49 weeks so I wouldn’t expose my weakened immune system. Now that I’m immunized, I can reclaim my independence. The thought of returning to civilization is daunting, despite my attempts to assimilate over the last few months.
Learning to social distance
When I left the hospital after my liver transplant, my team gave me a list of precautions to follow. They were pretty similar to COVID-19 safety measures: wear a mask, avoid crowds, wash and sanitize my hands frequently. I didn’t think I would have issues reentering the COVID-19 world. However, I wasn’t used to one new protocol: social distancing.
During my Remicade (infliximab) infusions, I don’t make a conscientious effort to stay 6 feet away from the other three patients, because the one-room clinic is designed for social distancing. My first real encounter with multiple strangers was when I got an abdominal ultrasound and an MRCP in June.
The plexiglass sheets threw me off guard. I’m soft-spoken and have a low-pitched voice. Before the pandemic, I deliberately spoke around barriers so that people could hear me more clearly. I caught myself doing the same in the COVID-19 world, defeating the purpose of the protective shields.
My other faux pas was not paying attention to the floor stickers directing people where to stand. Checking in wasn’t a problem. I’m used to standing back until a representative calls me. Checking out was a different story.
When I walked up to the counter, the patient representative sternly ordered me to stand on the sticker more than an arm’s length away. When she asked for my discharge papers and payment, I was too intimidated to move closer. Instead, I tossed my paperwork and credit card through the narrow opening of the plexiglass, watching helplessly as my credit card slid past her.
Thankfully, I’m a quick study. I mentally noted my mistakes so I wouldn’t repeat them the next time.
Attending medical appointments all summer, I became a little braver and more confident about being in public. In November, when I had to go to the bank to make a transaction in person, my curiosity about shopping got the best of me.
The home improvement store was on my way home, and we needed air conditioning filters and fire logs. My husband had been stopping at a different store every other day to pick up my holiday shopping orders. I wanted to relieve some of the burden.
I thought a home improvement store wouldn’t be too crowded on a weekday afternoon. The fire logs and air filters were only a couple of aisles over from each other. I could be in and out quickly.
I was wrong.
The fire logs were easy to find. Not the air filters. I briskly zigzagged the aisles, turning around, doubling back, and approaching from the other end when I ran into other customers. My anxiety grew.
My search turned from the air filters to a store employee. I spotted one, but he was helping a customer with his mask below his nose. I finally found someone who directed me to an aisle on the other side of the store. Dodging other carts, I practically ran to the aisle. Relieved to have the air filters, I made my way toward the checkout. I couldn’t leave the store fast enough when a couple, neither of them wearing masks, walked by.
My 10-minute stop took 45 minutes. Safely in my car, I decided to leave all the in-store purchases to Patrick. However, I was able to take over some shopping after discovering the ease and convenience of contactless curbside pickup.
Paying it forward
On Friday, March 5, I plan to resume full grocery shopping duties, 356 days after I last set foot in my neighborhood store. I might feel like a stranger in a new land, learning how to conduct myself properly in the pandemic world. But I just have to remind myself to act like I did a year ago. The only difference is that then, I acted to protect my health. Now that I’m immune, I have to protect everyone else.
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