I’ve been behind the scenes for over a year now, communicating every twist and turn of the COVID-19 pandemic to our community and to Baptist Health’s frontline team members, who are still fighting every day to care for those with COVID-19.
There’s no doubt I’m an extrovert and crave in-person human connection, but at the height of the pandemic, the sight of one person without a mask in the same elevator was enough to leave me sleepless for two weeks. Did he or she have COVID-19? Or could I unknowingly have it and spread it to someone else?
If these little experiences made me anxious, I truly can’t even imagine what the triumphant angels working with COVID-19 patients were experiencing. For them, I am extraordinarily grateful.
Like everyone else this year, I had to make hard decisions. I counted myself out from get-togethers with friends, lost time with family and canceled holiday traditions as I’ve known them for the past 26 years. My best friend changed her wedding plans and other friends became new mothers without their loved ones around.
I watched the number of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals rise and cheered on our teams fighting together to serve our community. I prayed for peace as the number of COVID-19 deaths around the world skyrocketed.
As we neared the end of 2020, the Pfizer vaccine was approved, igniting a long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel. On Dec. 18, I cried happy tears as I watched our frontline heroes receive the first doses of the vaccine at Baptist Health. I’ll never be able to put into words the hope I felt for brighter days ahead. Lives were saved that day.
I watched all this and for some reason, I was still slightly nervous about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
I didn’t know some of my family’s darkest days were still to come. Around Christmas, my dad’s parents, Becky (Nana), 82, and Loyd (Pop), 85, got COVID-19; my worst fear of the pandemic. Not long after testing positive, they were both taken to the hospital in North Carolina.
After a few days, Nana started to recover but for Pop, things weren’t looking up. And then they were. Then, hospice was called, but we were later told everything was going to be OK. To say it was an emotional roller coaster would be the understatement of the century.
My family and I huddled around the phone to FaceTime with Pop, and though he was singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” only a few days before, now he could barely speak. My grandfather, the life of the party and dancing king, was fighting for his life.
While Pop was in the hospital, I was on my way to the vaccine clinic at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville for my first dose of Moderna. As helpless as I felt, I finally had the opportunity to do something that could save lives.
I’m young, healthy and my family is everything to me. I can’t wait to be a mom one day. Like a lot of other people my age, I was exposed to mistruths on social media about the vaccine potentially affecting my fertility.
One thing I’ve learned during the pandemic is that it’s OK to have questions when something new comes along. Luckily, I get to work with amazing doctors at Baptist Health who reassured me (with scientific evidence!) that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young women who want to have kids one day (that’s me!). This personal reassurance from doctors I know and trust, plus the guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), dispelled any doubt I had.
Only four days after my first dose, Pop lost his fight, like more than half a million other people in the United States. As part of the COVID-19 communications team, watching the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths climb was a daily part of the job. But to look at the numbers and realize Pop was one of them, that my family is now one of millions around the world grieving, made the pain of COVID-19 so personal.
And as though a loved one’s death isn’t hard enough, attending a funeral where you can’t hug your family is absolutely gut-wrenching.
Four weeks later, I got my second dose of the vaccine. Looking back, I’m not sure when exactly I felt the elephant of anxiety lift off my shoulders, but I finally feel free again after a year of fear from COVID-19. I felt even more relieved when my parents and my husband’s parents got their second doses. I finally hugged my mother-in-law for the first time in what felt like forever and we safely celebrated Easter together recently.
It’s hard not to think that if a few more weeks had passed, Pop would have had access to a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s why I would encourage you not to wait. The choice is yours, but if I can help save one person’s Pop, you can count me in.
It’s your turn! The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to all Florida residents age 18 and older. For information on where to receive a vaccine that’s convenient for you, visit baptistjax.com/covid19vaccine.