Opinion | I Got Vaccinated. But the Shot Won’t Save My Dying Patients.


I recently cared for a man who loved Boston sports, whose wife had decided to have a quick meal with a friend. By the time she learned that her friend had symptoms of Covid-19, she had already passed the virus on to her husband. He died after weeks on a ventilator. There is a grandmother whose family took false comfort in a negative test. A father who welcomed a dozen people into his home for the holidays. Each casualty is made even more poignant by the celebratory vaccine selfies on my phone and the knowledge that had they waited, my patients might have lived.

And of course, our hospital is treating not just people with Covid-19. We also bear witness to the suffering of patients with cancer, with life-threatening infections, with complications from organ transplants. We see overdose and withdrawal cases in unusually high numbers, psychiatric illness pushed to its breaking point. A relatively young man was brought to our hospital after being found unresponsive in a hotel room, his heart barely beating. When we managed to extubate him and he started to wake up, he began screaming at his nurse and raging against his restraints. There are so many different kinds of pain for which we have no vaccine.

Early in the pandemic — watching people refuse to wear masks, assuming that youth or good health would keep them safe — I believed that fear was the only way to change behavior. If only you could see what it is to be intubated, if you could conceive of being suctioned through a tracheostomy tube while learning to walk again, you might make different choices. Surely, I thought, the fear that you might sicken your parent or spouse or child would be enough to motivate you to take precautions, no matter how lonely you were. But now, as people congregate because they are just so exhausted by the loneliness and the waiting, I wonder whether hope is actually a more powerful tool.

Maybe that is the real promise of the vaccine photos. It is not just a way to celebrate science or to encourage the public to get the vaccine when they are able. It’s also a tangible sign of hope, however fragile. For most of the country, the vaccine is still months away. And now, with headlines about the wealthy trying to pay to jump the line, and images of politicians getting vaccinated before many nursing home residents, it is so easy for some to fear that their time will never come. The vaccine selfies tell us to hold on.

When I work overnight, the hardest part is always the hour right before sunrise. In my exhaustion, my body’s ability to regulate temperature and my sense of time go haywire, and I often find myself reviewing lab reports while wrapped in a blanket from the blanket warmer, wondering why time feels as though it is moving backward.



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