Baby’s Vax Day Out

We signed up Alphonse and Alex to our local government’s vaccination program, QC Vax Easy, last month and to the home vaccination program of our barangay three weeks ago. At around the same time, I was also able to submit their names for home vaccination to the co-chair of our city’s vaccination program. To cover all our bases, we signed them up to the vaccine registries of other cities that allowed nonresidents to apply for drive-thru vaccination. We were fully aware that the supply of vaccines was limited, but we were also hopeful that because they belong to the A3 priority group (people with comorbidities), their names would be called up soon.

Nonetheless, my brother-in-law John, a surgeon working in the frontlines, kept us abreast of schedules and venues of forthcoming vaccination drives. Short of the home vaccination program, we felt that a drive-thru vaccination was the only other feasible option. Alphonse cannot wear a mask longer than a few minutes, and even then, that would be stretching his patience thin. He also has a hard time dealing with crowds and is almost always likely to have a meltdown in public. Given these, we followed the news and announcements from the city governments, from our barangay, and from my brother-in-law. When a local vaccination drive nearby opened up, John hurriedly signed up the boys to reserve their slots.


On our way to the vaccination site

Well, today was V-day. Vax Day! Alphonse woke up without complaints this morning. At 7am, he was dressed and ready for the day. We promised him a Jollibee or McDonald’s breakfast after his “tenteki”* and he nodded his head in agreement.

Alphonse was happy and excited on the way to the vaccination site. This was his first car ride in a year, and he was so thrilled that he kissed me a few times on my face shield. He held my hand throughout the drive, humming happily. We arrived at the vax site at 7:45am; we actually got there ahead of John, who texted that he was a little behind but he was on his way.

He seemed happy enough while waiting in the car. Outside the multipurpose hall, we could see people coming and going, setting up for the day’s activities. He seemed unconcerned at first, giggling happily and demanding for the Nips chocolate bits he found in my bag. John came at 8, right on the dot. When Alphonse saw his dad lower the window to wave at John, he stopped to look at his uncle. His face darkened a bit, probably remembering all the times this particular “Ninong Doctor” (Ninong is godfather in Filipino) had “tortured” him during home check-ups and wound debridement sessions that came after. Alphonse has such a long memory for hurt that he carries his “grudge” for a long time. Still, I was able to distract Alphonse with more Nips and his dark mood dissipated. I was even able to coax him to wear a mask, a few seconds at a time, which he tried to take off hurriedly, because, you know, Nips.

After Anthony filled in the registration forms, John motioned for us to drive the car inside the hall. There, he and the nurse took Alex’s BP and temperature. When they tried to do the same with Alphonse, that started a lot of groaning and screeching. Temperature check was easy; the vaccinators had an infrared thermometer. But we couldn’t get Alphonse to cooperate for the sphygmomanometer or even the pulse oximeter because he got so worked up. He didn’t want to be touched, didn’t want the vaccinators anywhere near him, and struggled against them. After a few minutes of back and forth and trying, the Vax staff gave up, and we heaved a sigh of relief. At that point, I felt they could have just asked us to sign a waiver for Alphonse. Even during hospital stays, the only way Alphonse’s vital signs can be taken is when he is knocked out cold by anesthesia. Awake, he would struggle and fight till he injured himself or hurt others.

When it was time for the actual vaccination, Alex received his dose first. I saw Alphonse stop and peek at his brother’s arm, his eyes widening in alarm. When Alphonse saw the needle beside his door, he started screeching loudly and kicking his legs against the back of the front seat. I couldn’t get him to sit still and when his dad and brother intervened, he fought them off. In the struggle, Alphonse had to be restrained manually by the strongest member of the family- Alex.

His body wrapped in his brother’s arms, with Anthony holding his right arm and me holding the other, Alphonse was able to receive his vaccine. He didn’t even flinch or make a sound when the needle went in. To him, the anticipation, aggravated by the departure to his daily routine, was worse than the actual event, which was over very quickly and with negligible pain.

We were handed their vaccination cards right away. Alphonse was still agitated then, his eyes alert and distrustful. When John said his goodbye, Alphonse gave him evil side glances. He isn’t likely to forget today, and we kidded John that he has become a marked man, hehe.

On the way home, Alphonse continued to be anxious and flustered. He ripped off the adhesive bandage the nurse left on his upper arm, shredded it into pieces, and swallowed a few small bits before I could stop him. He only brightened up considerably when we drove up to the fast food restaurant’s drive-thru. As soon as our orders were handed to us, he tapped his brother’s shoulder and begged for his share of the food. We drove straight home after that short stop.

As soon as we got home, both boys discarded their clothing to a waiting soapy wash, got bathed, brushed their teeth, and finally got their breakfast meals. The whole process took just a little more than an hour, but certain parts of it felt much longer. Like so many of our family’s life events, today turned out to be another rollercoaster ride- exciting, exhilarating, and also a lot scary.

Now that I’ve had the day to gather my thoughts, there were some things that I wish I could have improved upon:

1. Home vaccination would still have been the best option for Alphonse. In the struggle to restrain him, Alex dropped his face shield and lost his mask. It would have been easier to restrain Alphonse at home. BUT with the threat of Delta, we wanted to do it at the earliest possible time, and given the opportunity that was presented, this was a lot better than other available options.

2. Despite our attempts to teach Alphonse to mask up, his sensitivities have made it difficult for him to get used to wearing this. Note that this is a person who has never worn a hat or a hoodie in his entire life, who hated having his hair brushed or his face washed, and who only got used to haircuts when he was already in his teens. As a general rule, we usually check out locations and procedures in advance so we can anticipate his reactions and work on preparing him. This was the reason his dad and I received the vaccine ahead, using the drive-thru option available in EZ Consult. Alas, when this option was discontinued, we struggled to find kinder options for him. Persons with autism, in particular, would benefit from longer prep time and advanced notice so they can manage their fears and anxiety.

3. It’s been repeated over and over again by doctors of the Philippine Heart Association and the Philippine Society of Hypertension that blood pressure screening isn’t necessary to receiving the vaccine, but for some reason, this has remained part of the vaccine administration protocol. I wish there was a waiver for people for whom this procedure is next to impossible to perform. I was able to make Alphonse wear a mask for short periods of time, but when he became agitated with the BP screening, he ripped his masks repeatedly.

3. Because Alphonse is scared of doctors and nurses, I feel like for the next dose, the vaccine syringe and needle should be hidden from his view. We should still put him in some form of a support hold, just to be sure, but removing his fear would definitely make the whole process move faster.

4. We should have asked someone else on site to take a picture for posterity. Because we were all hands on deck this morning, we weren’t able to take a picture of Alphonse receiving his vaccine. On second thought, it wouldn’t be a good picture because we were all over him. Still, the picture would have made a good argument for home vaccination. It is extremely difficult to perform any medical procedure on severely disabled individuals like Alphonse. As such, I pray that the local governments take this into consideration in their vaccination programs.

Despite the difficulties, my family and I are extremely grateful for today. We are grateful for the sacrifice our health care workers continue to make and the hard work our local government officials pour into making our every day lives work in this pandemic. As a promise, we will continue to exercise every precaution to keep us, our family, and everyone around us safe. We will mask up, shelter at home, keep ourselves healthy, and encourage friends and family to get vaccinated. It’s the least we can do to help end this pandemic.

Stay safe, friends! Peace and love to you all always.

The Human Cost

This is not my story, and so, at first, I felt hesitant to share it. But I felt compelled to tell you of this family’s story, if only to remind you of the human cost of the Corona virus, and of our ignorance, our willful blindness, and our reluctance to call the people in power accountable for their mistakes.

(Credit to Amanda Madden)

On March 5 of this month, this year, an elderly couple flew back home to the United States after their yearly vacation in the Philippines. Their grown-up children (six kids, their spouses, their grandchildren) were divided in both countries so they would try to split the year between them. When the weather became unbearably cold in their part of the US, they would fly back to Manila for the milder climate. Around springtime, when the weather turned kinder to their old bones, they would fly back to their North American home to spend time with their three other children and their families.

This year was no exception. The elderly couple was glad to go back to the US; they missed the rest of their family. When they were here, they missed their kids in the US. When they were there, they longed for the ones they left back here. This year, maybe because of their increasing age, or maybe because of the traffic, they hardly went anywhere else, except for a few short shopping trips in the course of more than four months. For most of their time here, they stayed at home, content to spend the hours in the company of their kids and their grandkids.

Two days after their flight back to the US, on March 7, the couple came down with flu-like symptoms. They immediately quarantined themselves at home but less than a week later, their symptoms worsened and they required hospitalization. Their only daughter, the one who cared for them at home upon their return, also became sick.

On March 17, the elderly father took a turn for the worse. His oxygen levels were precariously low and he needed a ventilator to breathe. His wife was suffering too, but despite her children’s pleas, she refused intubation. And although she could feel her strength withering away, she tried to keep up with calls to her children, her voice weak and gentle as they prayed the rosary together.

On March 23, the couple succumbed to Covid pneumonia. In her dying hours, the wife wished for nothing else but to be by her husband’s side. Mercifully, the doctors and nurses gave them this final gift. They passed away together, mere minutes apart, still holding hands.

This is the true cost of this virus- losing loved ones in this battle. That they die alone, with no company or comfort in their last moments, makes it an even more unbearable death. Despite the overwhelming sorrow that envelops their family today, the children cling to the thought that their parents, who did everything together for almost 57 years, never left each other’s side to the end.

Their story does not end there, though. One of their sons, a surgeon and a frontliner in Manila, is quarantined with his wife and 12-year-old son after showing some symptoms. In the US, their daughter lays in her sick bed, alone, as she fights one of the biggest battles of her life.

Each day, this virus inches closer to us and to our homes. Already, the ranks of medical professionals all over the world are stretched thin. The elderly, the weak, and the sick- the most vulnerable of us- are falling. They are the first, but they will certainly not be the last. Next time, it may be someone you know. It may even be someone you love.

This is a true story. It is not mine, but it belongs to someone we love dearly. And though we are far apart and unlikely to see each other again till this is all over, we pray they know they are always loved.