The mass humanity clinic

Every four minutes a new person comes over and sits down in the chair across from me. I ask them some pertinent details about themselves and we make a little small talk. I write their name on a card and then they leave, bound for the next chair.

No, it’s not speed dating. The trigger for moving on is not a bell, but a gently placed band-aid over a COVID vaccine injection site. The next chair is the 15 minute waiting area, after which they will get up and move on with their lives as the next person comes in to occupy the newly vacated seat.

I’ve got a bit of time up my sleeve while I await my rescheduled flight to Australia, so I’m picking up a few extra shifts at the local mass vaccination clinic. Admittedly, it’s not the most intellectually challenging job that I’ve done, but it feels good to be a part of something big and important. I do miss the diagnostic puzzles and procedural tasks of my regular job, but after doctoring predominantly via telehealth for most of a year, my little GP heart is glad for these fleeting moments of face-to-face connection.

This particular clinic is still seeing two thousand people through it’s doors every day. Every day! It’s inspiring and humbling to look around and see so many people showing up to protect themselves and their community. And it’s working. In this part of the world, over 80% of eligible people have had their first vaccine and the second doses are upwards of 70%. After 16 months of lockdowns and restrictions, things are starting to feel normal. Friends are gathering again. Families are reunited. Musicians are playing to real audiences. Restaurants are packed full of happy diners. It’s all thanks to those millions of people rolling up their sleeves to get the job done.

In my few short hours in this one clinic, at my little station, I see just a tiny drop in the ocean of citizens. But in that brief time I get to see so much humanity.

I see the folks who are bursting out of their skins with excitement to be here, as well as those who are suspicious, anxious or overtly hostile. I see the old grannies with the twinkle in their eye as well as the stoic 13 year olds being brave for their siblings. I see the people in wheelchairs and in motorcycle leathers. I see them wearing babies in slings, dark glasses and bike helmets. I see every shade of skin and the whole rainbow spectrum of hair colour. I see the support crew turn up for frail elderly relatives, nervous teens and partners-who-always-faint. I see groups of friends egging each other on and couples on “vaccination dates”. I’ve injected gym-junkies with deltoids bigger than my head, and waifs with barely a skerrick of muscle overlying the bone. The public servant, the science nerd, the orchestral musician, the dreadlocked hippy, the sparkly unicorn, the fellow physician, the busy tradie, the professional athlete. Everyone is here.

Many of them thank me as they get up to leave, and I thank them right back. Every single person is a vital link in the chainmail armour against COVID-19 who deserves ALL the praise and air-high-fives. I have particular admiration for the severely needle-phobic, those who are genuinely vaccine-fearful, those who’ve had bad side effects before and showed up anyway. To those people I say “I’m so glad you came. I know it was hard. Thanks so much for being here.”

After many hundreds of doses, putting people at ease and giving a near-painless jab is easy. In fact, the hardest thing about this job is that I don’t get to go beyond the deltoid. It’s like going into a library and seeing so many wonderful books but never getting to read beyond the covers. I just know that all these people have fascinating stories and complex lives outside of the walls of the vaccine clinic and I wish I could dig a little deeper. As a GP, it’s an itch that needs to be scratched. It’s making me excited about the prospect of getting home and building a new practice of long-term patients who’s stories I can gradually discover, one page at a time.

In the meantime, every vaccination gets us one step closer to all being together again. So, if you haven’t taken your place in the chain yet, come on in. All are welcome here!

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