OPINION

Lessons learned at the vaccine clinic

The Examiner

Now that the CDC has cleared vaccinated folks to, literally and figuratively, feel free to move about the cabin, maybe it won't be long before our pandemic confinement ends, and we can resume weightier thoughts than pondering why Leanne Ford always seems stoned on her HGTV show.

Celia Rivenbark

The realization that we are, as Southerners say, "in the short rows" makes me feel I should've done so much more this past year. All those months would've been the perfect time to reread – er, read – the classics, learn more complex – er, any – yoga poses or bake beautiful braided breads – er, box muffins.

To feel a little better about things, I decided to volunteer at a vaccine clinic. There were lots of jobs available and I chose the "observation room," where the freshly vaccinated must wait for 15 minutes to make sure, in medical speak, "they don't fall out."

I was told to select, and douse with disinfectant, a supremely unflattering blue vest that would identify me as a fully background-checked volunteer. There was an informative training session which was useful for the others, but not for me because, as I explained to the doctor in charge, "I have watched all 17 seasons of 'Grey's Anatomy' so, yeah, I got this. Quick follow-up: Are those pizza-flavored Combos in the break room free?"

I was given a walkie-talkie so I could summon a paramedic immediately to the observation room in case anyone was having an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Pfffft. Did they not hear the "Grey's" training part? I could separate conjoined twins at a plane crash site using a ballpoint pen and Twizzlers, for heaven's sake. I hitched the "walkie" as we say in the bidness, to my belt loop and promptly forgot it was there.

The first clinic was for the very elderly, a mix of singles and couples. Because there were several vaccine stations and observation rooms, many of the couples were temporarily separated and that's when I witnessed a curious phenomenon: Men would arrive and anxiously ask "Where's my wife?" before setting off to find her. Women had a different reaction: "Huh. He's not here," they'd say before sinking into the soft chairs, smiling and closing their eyes. Every. Single. Time.

The other revelation was the male 85-plus demo can be quite flirtatious. At least five asked me if I would "date an older man." I shared this with another volunteer who said "Don't flatter yourself. They're looking for a nurse with a purse." Oh.

A week later, I worked the teacher clinic. No flirting and no lost spouses but an admirable ability to follow the rules. When told they could leave at 5:13 for example, not a soul tried to bolt at 5:12 or waited until 5:14. "I'm a rules-follower" said every single one of them, while pulling out papers to grade during the "nice 15-minute vacation."

Using my semi-impressive medical background, I quickly deduced (A) absolutely no one was going to fall out, much less deliver conjoined twins and (B) the hardest part of the job was sanitizing the chairs once vacated.

"Please place this post-it note on the headrest when you leave," I said 857 times one day. "That way I will know which chairs to sanitize."

The teachers, you guessed it, placed the sticky notes on the headrests. Everybody else? Floor, chair seat, chair back, armrest of the seat next to theirs ...

During the clinics, I'm often thanked for being a "health care hero" among other wholly undeserved comments. It's sweet but something tells me they'd be less impressed if they knew how much I love free Combos.

Celia Rivenbark is a  bestselling author and humor columnist.