I saw the text and immediately started crying.
“I got the vaccine!”
It was from my sister Lindsay. I called her immediately. She was smiling and I was laugh/crying with relief as we spoke. Her baby girl was sitting in a high chair, cramming pancakes in her mouth, and my kids came over to say hello and do a cheer. The vaccine!
I wasn’t expecting her text, even though Lindsay is an emergency room nurse in a busy urban hospital. Even though she spends much of every 12-hour shift with confirmed Covid-positive patients. Even though she wanted the vaccine as soon as it was available. I had called her the day the vaccine came out, wondering when she’d get it. “There’s no one who is more exposed than you are!” I said.
“Well, it’s not at our hospital yet,” she replied. Characteristically, she was matter-of-fact about the circumstances. “I’ll get it the minute I can, but I don’t know when that will be. I just have to wait.”
My sister has a lot of my dad in her. She accepts reality as it is, faces difficult things, and doesn’t overreact. This is why she’s really good at her job.
It’s also why I’ve worried so much about her since the start of the pandemic. When she didn’t have proper PPE, I asked if she could take a temporary leave of absence. She told me that wasn’t an option. When she couldn’t find a babysitter for her daughter, because no one wanted to babysit for an ER nurse last spring, I asked her if she could just stop working. She told me that wasn’t an option. When she found out she was pregnant soon thereafter, I asked her if she could move to another department, so her exposure would be lower. She told me that wasn’t an option.
“This is my job,” she said, simply, as I worried openly with her on the phone as cases rose this winter. “I’m not sure why I’m not getting sick, but I’m not. Don’t worry about me.”
But I did. I worried a lot because of course I did. What are the chances something terrible could happen to someone I love? I know they aren’t zero.
She didn’t appear to share my worry. She was stressed at times, but mostly just soldiered on, texting me funny photos when she got new high-tech masks and calling me every morning as she fed her daughter breakfast. “I’m fine,” she’d say when I asked.
So I was a little surprised when she admitted, partway through our conversation, that she was feeling a lot of relief after getting the vaccine. “It’s comforting to know that I’m not going to bring the virus home,” she said. “I worried about that all the time.”
I kept saying, “Thank God! Thank God!” even though neither of us is particularly religious. There just didn’t seem to be any better was to translate how I felt. I could see the relief in her face.
I mean, of course she had been worried about bringing Covid home to her family. Even with her stoic attitude, of course she had imagined – somewhere in the back of her mind – that something terrible could happen.
I know I’ve worried about the same thing, and I have almost no exposure. I worried because I have lived through unexpected illness and death, and she has too. Should our mom have died when we were teenagers? No. Should Shawn have died when my kids were really little? No.
But Lindsay has also seen unfair death in the ER. She doesn’t often tell me about it, but every once in a while there’s a story that rattles her. I remember the first time she shared one with me, a story about a young man who was an unexpected victim of violence and who they couldn’t save. She was shaken by the injustice of it all.
My sister and I have been lucky in so many ways, and we know it. We have our dad and our extended family, we have resources and health care, we have stable jobs and healthy kids. We have so much.
But she isn’t immune to the worry. It’s the worry that says, “what if?” and it’s the worry that we just cannot know the future. Bad things can – and do – happen. That’s just the reality of the world, one that Lindsay faces more than most when she goes to work.
She faces it with a stoicism that I admire more than I can fully convey. All I can really say is that I feel grateful that she’s my sister – and that there are many other health care workers out there like her.
“Did it hurt?” Claire asked my sister, the day she got the vaccine.
“It hurt a little, but that’s normal,” Lindsay replied. Then, seeing some worry on Claire’s face, she smiled and said, “you know what? It felt great.”