Saturday, February 27, 2021

Waiting in Line to Get Shot

This happened a month ago, and I’ve been meaning to write it up as a blog post for all that time.  But after spending years doing a lot of writing in the evenings, almost daily, I’ve gotten out of practice. It’s just really hard to force myself to slave over a PC and bang out a post these days. This year-long break from actually living has had a major effect on all my habits, both the good ones and the bad ones.

So in an effort to return to an actual life, I wanted to get the COVID vaccine. You know, so I could start living again. The distribution of the vaccines has been chaotic, to say the least.  Every state has different rules, and then every county within the state has different rules, and I think even some cities have different rules from the counties.  It is disorganized chaos (and that’s the worst kind).

My HMO is Kaiser, one of the biggest.  And they know my medical history. I knew they were going to be administering vaccines, and honestly, na├»ve as I was, I expected them to contact me the very first day they got the vaccine and demand I come in for a shot.  Hell, I half-expected them to just show up at more door one morning, with a Nurse Ratched type holding a needle and ordering me to drop my pants and bend over. Yes, I knew the shot goes in the arm, not the ass, but go with me here.

I mean I have a ton of co-morbidities.  Overweight.  Over 65. Type 2 Diabetes. Triple bypass survivor. I kind of felt I should be at the very top of the list.

But no, first they had to vaccinate health care workers, then people old enough to consider me a young whippersnapper. In fact, when they opened it up to non-health care workers, they wouldn’t give the shot to anyone under 75.  Old as I am, I am not that old.

But then the county of L.A. lowered the age to 65+.  I qualified.  I expected to get that call from Kaiser. “Come right in, today, Mr. VegasPoker. We have your vaccine right here. Don’t waste a second.”  But no…..Kaiser still was not vaccinating anyone under 75, even though the county said they could.  I guess they didn’t have enough vaccine, and they were saving what they had for the real geezers.

So I waited.  But my friends encouraged me to try to get the shot outside of Kaiser, not to wait.  BTW, these friends live in Ventura County, right next store to L.A. County, and in that county, the lowest age was still 75 for everyone. My friend was really eager to get the shot, but she couldn’t because she lived in the wrong county. Like I said, it’s a crazy system.

My initial assumption was that if I tried to get a shot at non-Kaiser location, they wouldn’t take me, telling me I had to go thru Kaiser. My friend insisted that wasn’t that case, they would shoot anyone who showed up and was old enough. So I tried to book an appointment on one of several government run websites that had vaccine appointments available.

There were many false starts. The website was poorly designed. Instead of just being able to register first for all the possible locations to get the vaccine, you had to pick the location first and then register.  I don’t know how many times I entered a shitload of data on a particular site, just to get to the point where it said “click here to book an appointment” only to find out that that particular site didn’t have any appointments.  And I’d have to start all over.

One site that would have been real convenient said they had appointments for every day in that week.  But when you got to the point of booking it, you could only pick one day, and that day was booked.  I had to back out, enter all the information again, and go to another day.  I did this five times for this site and it turned out that, despite what it said at the front end, there were no appointments available any day that week.  I was just a total waste of time.

Then finally, a month ago now, I tried again. I noticed a location saying it had appointments available that had never had appointments before. It was at a park that I wasn’t that familiar with, but I kinda knew was pretty close to my house.  I broke through all the preliminaries and got to the magical place that said, “book an appointment,” I clicked it and expected to be told they had no appointments. By the way, the date available was this very day, implying I could get the vaccine that same day.  To my astonishment, it said they had an appointment for today….11:40am.  I looked at the clock.  It was then exactly 11:38am. Shit. This place was close but not that close, especially since I wasn’t even dressed.  But I clicked it anyway and saw that 11:40 was just the first appointment available. They had appointments available at 10 minute intervals until about 3:20pm.

Hooray.  By this time I had checked Google maps and found out that this location was a mere seven minutes from my house.  Initially I was going to click on 12:10 but then I thought better of it.  I had no idea how long this would take, I better eat lunch first.  So I made it for 1:40, giving me plenty of time to eat, and find the place. I wasn’t familiar with the area, wasn’t sure where I had to go or where I would be able to park.

This vaccine site was being run by the L.A. Fire Department. After booking the appt, I got an email from some HMO I’d never heard off before confirming my appointment. I guess this was the outfit that was actually administering the shots, since firemen aren’t nurses.

You may have heard that there were some huge, mass vaccine centers around town.  Your area may have one of them.  For L.A. County, these were places like Dodger Stadium and the Forum.  These were drive up locations, where you had to wait in your car for possibly hours until you got the shot.  I avoided places like that like the plague.  I had no interest in waiting in my car, moving along inch by inch with my engine running while I got barely closer to the front of line. Ugh.  So I never tried to get an appointment at Dodger Stadium.

All the confirmation told me was to wear a mask, and bring a copy of that email which had the QR code. No other vital information, like where to park, or a more exact location to report to.  There was a specific street address given when I booked the appointment. One thing it did warn—do not arrive early. That was a very specific rule they had.  Show up on time, not early. Don’t get in line early.

Of course, I planned to arrive early and if necessary, just sit in my car until it was time to report in.  I didn’t know how to find the place or where to park.  So I left my house and Google maps found the street address of this place.  Which, of course, didn’t exist.

I was driving on the street where the park was, I mean I could see the park on my left, and even saw a parking lot for it. I almost parked there, but I could see it was a pretty big park and I might be in for a big walk.  So I came to another entrance to the park on the left, but Google maps was telling me to turn right for the address I had put in.  I was glad because I couldn’t have turned left into the park’s entrance.  There was a line of cars a mile long waiting to turn right into the driveway. I saw in front of the driveway a sign that said “COVID Testing.”

Boy was I relieved I didn’t have to get in that line. There must be some other place where they are giving out the vaccines, I was sure of that.  When I was on that street that was leading away from the driveway, Google maps told me I had arrived at my destination.  There was nothing there!

Well not quite nothing.  At almost the exact spot where Google maps told me I had arrived, I saw about three or four people on the sidewalk, sitting under a temporary awning. I figured that was where the shots were being administered.  They were sitting in front of a fence that had what looked to be a little league baseball field behind it, something you’d expect to see as part of a public park.

I wasn’t sure I was right though, so I went to the end of the street and parked on the street. I walked over to the folks under awning.  As I was about to ask, “Is this where I get the vaccine?” I realized I was about to make a fool of myself.  These people were sitting there, enjoying their lunch.  They were clearly not medical professionals distributing vaccines.

Well, I decided to keep walking and go that park driveway, and ask where I should go for the vaccine. By the time I got to the intersection, to cross the street and be on the same side as the driveway, I got a good look at what was going on.  There was not only that big sign that said “COVID testing” but there was a guy there directing traffic, guiding cars into the driveway one at a time as the line moved ever so slowly.  I got across the street and asked the guy where I should go for the vaccine.  He pointed to the seemingly endless line of cars that was backed up down the street, leading into the driveway.  “That’s the line, get in the end of it.”

I was sure he was mistaken.  That was the line for testing.  I wanted the vaccine.  I explained that to him. He shrugged and said, as far as he knew, there was only one line. If I wanted to, I could walk up to where there were people checking the cars in.  So I kept walking, on the driveway, towards the people there. 

It didn’t take long for a woman to come running toward me, waving her arms, apparently telling me to stop.  I did, and she came over to me, what did I want?

I told her I was there for the COVID vaccine, not COVID testing.  Where do I go for that?

She pointed to all the cars. “There is one line for the test and the vaccine.  You have to get in your car and find the back of this line.”

Are you fucking kidding me (I didn’t say that to her, I just thought it)? “I have a 1:40pm appointment, I’ll never get through this line in time (it was now about 1:20pm).”  She said that was fine, they’d keep my appointment.

I said, “The website said nothing about having to be in your car, about having to wait in your car, about even needing a car to get the vaccine.” She apologized for that but said the website is run by the county and they have no control over the information on it.  I needed to get in my car and find the back of this ginormous line and just slowly creep along and wait my turn.

I started walking back to my car, which was quite a bit away.  And I was damn furious.  Yeah, the website is run by the county, but I got an email from the HMO running this thing. Why didn’t it say that I needed a car? I mean, most people in L.A. have cars, but some folks don’t.  Or, what if someone decided to take an Uber because they were worried about the possible side effects of the vaccine, and were worried there’d be a slight chance they couldn’t drive home?  The email should have given that detail—that you would have to be in car and prepare to sit it in for hours while waiting for the vaccine.  At that point some people could have realized that they couldn’t deal with the arrangements at this location and cancelled, and tried to find another site. There is no doubt in my mind, since the website gave no hint of this, that there were people who took a bus there, or walked, or took an Uber, and were shit-out-of luck when they saw how this thing was operating.

I was seriously considering leaving.  Waiting in my car and creeping ever-so-slowly for hours was not what I bargained for.  I thought I was avoiding that by not going to a place like Dodger Stadium.  But, reluctantly, I got in my car and tried to find the end of the line.  First I got to the end of the block and saw that the line turned the corner and I had to make a left turn to find the end of the line.  In my memory at the time, I thought I had to turn left once more to find the end, but that turned out to be incorrect.  I only made one left turn.  But that new street that I was following to find the end of the line seemed endless.  There were many intersections crossed and there were traffic guards keeping the lines straight at the intersections.

I finally found the end of the line and had to make an illegal u-turn in the middle of a fairly well trafficked street to get into the line.  I had no idea how many cars were in front of me but it seemed like a million. I was over two miles from the actual check-in spot, and my pal Woody estimated that there were 250 cars in line. Again, I wondered if it was worth it to do this.  I know if I had known when I made the appointment I was going to have to do this I wouldn’t have made the appointment, I would have tried to find a venue that was run more to my liking.

And of course, once I was in that traffic line, I was pretty well stuck.  It would be hard to bail at that point. I mean I couldn’t pull out of the line.  I would have had to stay put for awhile, had the cars behind me honk at me, until I had enough room to pull out.

But I stayed.  At least it was a decent day out, not too hot, so there was a lesser chance of any car overheating than there might have been.  That would have been a nightmare.  Especially if the car had been mine, or literally any car in front of me. I didn’t like idling all that time but it would have been insane to turn the engine off and restart it probably 100 times or more if I had decided to do that.

I was really glad, that without proper warning, I had eaten my lunch first, since I probably would have died from low blood sugar if I hadn’t.  Also glad I went to the bathroom the last thing before leaving my house. And glad I had taken a bottle of water with me in the car.  But as I moved along at a glacial pace, I started to worry that I might just be gulping that water too fast.  I wasn’t worried about running out—I was worried about filling up my bladder too fast.  Of course, there was no way to take any kind of a bathroom break once you got in that line.

Then I thought about the people in line who were waiting for the COVID test. And I assumed that most of the people in the line were there for that. Because all you hear about is how the vaccine is in limited supply and there are so few shots available.  I assumed that 95% of the line was for testing and how ridiculous was it that the few of us who there for shots (and had dutifully made our appointments as we were told to do) had to be in the same line. It made no sense.

So, those people who were waiting to get tested were….well, sick.  I mean they were having COVID symptoms, that’s why there were waiting to get tested, right (I suppose some felt fine, and were either getting tested as a requirement to return to work or because they had been exposed to a COVID-positive person)? So how great must it have been to wait in their car in that obscenely long line while they were ill, possibly extremely ill?  What if they suddenly had trouble breathing (the most common really bad symptom of the disease)?  How would that work?  I mean, it might not be stalled car that held up the line….it might have been a passed out driver that did it!

And then another thought.  What else is a symptom of COVID?  How about diarrhea?  I mean whenever you a screened for COVID before they let you enter a place that does screening, one of the questions they always ask you is, do you have diarrhea? So imagine having that symptom and being stuck in your car in that line, waiting to get tested?  How exactly would that work?  I mean I know how it would work and it wouldn’t be pretty.  Or smell good.

Most of the time, the line of cars was hugging the curb. But occasionally there were (legally) parked cars we had to go around, thus venturing out into the street, a main road in that neighborhood. I pitied anyone parked there who had to leave before the line of cars was gone.

What a fustercluck!  And after spending all my adult life dealing with L.A. traffic, I was now in the worst traffic jam of my life.  And what was that bullshit about not arriving early for your appointment?  The times obviously meant nothing.  I wished I hadn’t waited the extra 10 minutes I did before getting there. The sooner the better for this absurdity.

I don’t know what the right way to do this was.  But I was sure the way they were doing it was the worst possible way. But finally, I crept forward, turned a corner, and eventually—after over two hours in my car, in line, I could see the entrance to the park. And after a 2:20 hour wait, I got to the point where a human being came over to my car window and asked to see my appointment email and screened me.  Cars getting the vaccine went straight, cars getting tested turned left. It seemed that there were a lot more people getting shots than I had ever imaged.  My 1:40 appointment (it was now after 4pm) was not mine exclusively, obviously, but just a window.  I followed a trail, found another line to get in (inside the park, at least) and waited some more. I got screened several more times, I got asked the same questions about half a dozen times, but finally got in a queue (one of six) where I could see at the end of which people were getting shot as they sat in their vehicles.

The one question that seemed dumb was which arm I wanted the needle in.  Did I have a choice? I mean for me it’s always the left, although since I broke my right arm a case could be made that my left arm is now the strongest and I should get it in the right arm. But I said left because, well, I was not supposed to get out of the car and the nurse was clearly going to shoot me through the driver’s side window.  How would that work, if I told them my right arm?  Would I have to contort myself to make my right arm available?  Would the nurse go around to the passenger side and reach over to shoot me?  I never found out.

So I got my shot. And they gave me a card, making it official that I got my first shot. It was blank, at least as to my name.  I could have filled in anyone’s name as having gotten the first shot.

Now the email said I would be monitored by a medical professional for 15 minutes after getting the shot in case I had any side effects.  That was quite an exaggeration.  Instead I was told to drive my car to a dirt “parking” area and just wait in my car 10 minutes and if I felt ok, drive off into the sunset.  So I did.  That area was jammed with cars and I ended up getting stuck in a ditch trying to get out of the way of other cars waiting. Fortunately, although I couldn’t go any further forward, I was able to back out of the ditch, turn my car around without hitting another car, and wait.  I had to drive through some shrubbery to exit (no kidding).  I left after about 8 minutes because I was afraid I would get blocked from exiting as more cars were coming in to that dirt lot than were leaving.

The way I left, I was surprising close to my neighborhood, and made it home in just a few minutes.  As I pulled into my driveway, I received a text from the HMO running this thing that it was now safe to leave the area, I had waited long enough.  Good to know.

I had no side-effects from the first shot. All told, the ordeal lasted around three hours.  And I was exhausted, mostly from mental fatigue.  Who knew that waiting in line in your car could be so exhausting?

Now you can read my report on my second shot, see here.