DM Blog

Grappling With a Severe Needle Phobia To Get My First COVID-19 Vaccine

To say I have a severe needle phobia is putting it lightly. Several ER nurses have told me on multiple occasions that I have one of the worst needle phobias they’ve seen. Why they’ve told me that or how it’s supposed to be helpful, I’m not sure[1] — it’s not like I win a prize for having the worst needle phobia. Perhaps it wasn’t directly for my benefit at the time, but more to give me a repeatable anecdote that would give future nurses a better “heads up” with greater context: there are needle phobias, there are severe needle phobias, and then there’s this guy! To be clear, this is not something I’m at all proud of. But I start with this so that you can understand where I’m starting from and the gravity of my words when I say, I don’t like needles


The Lead-Up

Before I recount the events of the day I got my first vaccine, I should start a little further back and give some background.

Like everyone else, I had been glued to the news during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and kept hearing how the vaccine was coming and how it would be our only way out. While I wasn’t at all eager to get a shot in my arm, the fact that it was initially in low supply and a hot commodity that was being rolled out in phases made me feel like I would be missing out if I didn’t jump at the chance to get vaccinated the very moment my turn came up. So on the evening of April 19, 2021, when I first learned that the government of Ontario would be opening up eligibility to those 40+, I set an alarm to make sure I could be one of the first to sign up early the next morning.

When eligibility opened up to a younger age group a week or two later, I gave my appointment to my wife Michelle instead and booked a later appointment for myself to give me more time to get ready for what I knew was going to be an extremely onerous challenge. My needle phobia proved to be far stronger than my desire to have what others couldn’t, so I ended up cancelling my appointments several times and re-booking as far into the future as I could. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what exactly would be involved. I started to form a clearer idea of what it would actually take for me to get vaccinated.

At the same time, the government was making a point of repeating that they weren’t going to mandate vaccines or force anyone to get vaccinated. Health professionals on TV emphasized that it was up to each person to do their research, weigh the risks and benefits, and decide on their own whether to get vaccinated. Knowing what kind of stress I would have to put my body through, and the fact that there was no way I could do it without heavy sedation, I thought to myself many times, “where do you draw the line?” At what point do you say, “this is crazy, this is too much. If this is what you have to do and what you have to go through to get the vaccine, maybe you qualify for a medical exemption?” Or was that just my way of trying to get out of it?

By this point, I was experiencing severe needle anxiety whenever I’d even just think about getting vaccinated: dripping sweat, pacing, dizziness, extreme weakness, unable to stand, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia… It didn’t help at all that there was a video clip of a needle every ten seconds on the news, so I was unable to watch anymore. I’d try to cover my eyes or look away but by the time my reflexes would kick in, I had already seen enough to trigger symptoms. I started listening to the TV in the background while doing something else instead so that I wouldn’t accidentally see needles on TV or watch anything that would trigger me.

I contacted my family doctor to tell him that I had signed up for the vaccine at two pharmacies, but was experiencing severe anxiety about needles. He knows I’ve been forced to take Ativan every time I’ve had to get a needle in the past, so I asked about getting a refill. I also briefly explained the amount of planning involved for me to get the vaccine. For example, my wife would have to take the full day off from work; we also knew that Ativan would give me permanent short-term amnesia and would require at least a week to recover from, based on past experiences. I knew that family doctors didn’t have access to the vaccine, but I asked about getting the vaccine there anyway. What I was hoping for though, was that my family doctor would conclude, “if that’s what you have to do to get vaccinated, maybe the risks far outweigh the benefits and you should consider not getting it.” But I wasn’t so lucky.

I continued preparing myself mentally for the inevitability of having to get vaccinated while coming across various logistical hurdles and pushing myself to not let them turn into excuses to not get vaccinated. After my wife got her first dose at our local pharmacy, we realized how time-limited the appointments were and how ridiculous it was to think that I could ever get a vaccine at a pharmacy. They’re not set up for what I need, at all. It also made us question if it was crazy to think that I could just show up to an appointment at a city-run vaccine clinic without any advance notice and expect them to be able to accommodate my unique needs.

I sent an email to Toronto Public Health and explained the severity of my situation. They assured me that I could lie down and that they would be accommodating, but their reply read very much like a quick boilerplate response. For her second dose, my wife went to a major city-run vaccination site and made a point of checking out the facilities, asking questions, and seeing how it was set up. As we suspected, she concluded that there was no way I could expect a successful outcome at a city-run clinic either. What I needed was a hospital, or if she had her way, a mobile vaccination that could come to our house. Mobile vaccinations were (or still are?) limited to the elderly who are homebound. Though in the past my SEIDs have at times made me homebound for months at a time, lately, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to get up and out of the house at will.

So getting vaccinated at a pharmacy was definitely out of the question, and a city-run clinic, while better, was still ill-equipped to deal with a needle phobia as bad as mine. The goal of these clinics is efficiency: to vaccinate as many people in as little time as possible. But I needed somewhere I could go where tying up multiple nurses’ time for over an hour would not only be possible, but where they could do it with patience and understanding. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but I’ve been through enough needles to know that I would take well over an hour under optimal conditions.

At this point, I cancelled my remaining appointments without booking a new one, so I guess you could say I had sort of given up. I knew I should get the vaccine, but I was exhausted from all the ups and downs. The anxiety I would get just thinking about it was becoming too much and it was taking over my life. I decided I would just wait until the last possible minute to get vaccinated and “leave it for later” while enjoying my restored health from not having to think about it anymore.

Then in mid-July, while catching up with a friend through iMessage, he informed me that he and his wife had just gotten their second dose and inquired about whether we had gotten ours yet. Michelle already had her two doses, but I half-joked that I was waiting for the soon-to-be-released vaccine in pill form, which I had honest-to-god heard about on the news that week. My friend knows I have an epic needle phobia, so I told him that I had given it my best effort and tried very hard to get vaccinated, but it’s not gonna happen. His response? Danger!

Literally the very next day, he texts me to say, I’m watching CP24, and tells me that CAMH is doing a special vaccine drive for people with needle phobias. Coincidence? Or meant to be? I looked into it, found several news stories about it, and read through the information on their website. I knew that if I was ever going to get vaccinated, this specialty clinic was my only chance. While I missed the opportunity on the first Monday, I was able to book for the second Monday (July 26, 2021). Once the appointment confirmation hit my email inbox, however, it brought back the severe anxiety and plethora of symptoms that would plague me for the entire week leading up to my appointment.

The Rationale Behind Going Unaccompanied

Parenting 101: a kid plays on a playground and falls to the ground. Parents quickly learn that if they make a big deal about it, their kid is guaranteed to cry. But if you try to make light of the situation and reward the kid for getting up quickly, (as bad as the fall might appear), then the kid is more likely to rebound, dust themselves off and continue playing. It can feel like tough parenting the first couple of times, but it’s important not to baby your kids too much, or it just ends up feeding their fears. This was my working theory and the basis for why I had decided that my wife Michelle should not accompany me to my vaccine appointment. I had wondered if perhaps she was babying me too much in the past and in doing so, inadvertently feeding my anxiety and making it worse. She loves me tons and is very caring, understanding, and patient with me. I’m very lucky! But maybe what I needed to get through this was some tough love? After all, I recently had two moles removed from my face and had to get two needles of local anesthetic — an appointment that I went to by myself and it only took about half an hour of coaxing for me to get the first shot. So we agreed that I would go to my vaccine appointment by myself, but that when I was done I’d let her know when it was time to pick me up.


The Day Of

My appointment is scheduled for 1:30 pm, but after a sleepless week and my needle anxiety in full swing, it takes me a lot longer — and it’s a lot harder — to get ready than I anticipated. I’m never late for anything, always at least 15 minutes early, but by the time I should leave I still haven’t showered and it’s clear that I’m not going to make it on time. Maybe it’s a sign? I contemplate cancelling my appointment and leaving it for another day, but I see online that there’s an opening at 3:10 pm. With no easy exit, I’m forced to reschedule instead of cancel.

The anticipation is insane. I’m super anxious, I can’t stop thinking about the needle, my legs are like jello and it’s immensely affecting my ability to get ready. I know I need to numb my senses a little, or there’s no way I’ll make it there at all. After all, I still have to sit on the bus for a good 40 minutes to get there! I’m planning on drinking some alcohol once I get settled at the clinic, but desperate times call for desperate measures: I drink a small wine cooler while getting ready to take the edge off and make the commute less stressful.

Dressed in a sporty black and grey t-shirt I proudly made myself — with sleeves that roll up easily — I pack a backpack with everything I know I’ll need: two well-chilled wine coolers, two Ativan, my wallet, my iPhone, a mask, a hand towel to wipe the sweat dripping off my face, an expired Emla patch (just in case), the completed vaccine consent form I had printed and filled out in advance, and with his permission to squeeze him as much as I needed, my teddy bear Lorem Ipsum.[2]

Getting There

I get on the Ossington bus southbound to Queen at Vaughan & Oakwood and sit at the front of the bus. Out of habit, I set my destination on the Transit iPhone app to get notified when to get off the bus. Like some sort of weird biological odometer, my breathing gets heavier and heavier the closer the bus gets to my destination. By the time the bus leaves the subway station at Bloor & Ossington, I feel myself starting to hyperventilate. I try to calm myself down, but people are staring: the mask on my face flaps in and out a whole meter at a time with every exaggerated inhale & exhale. Then, a tap on my wrist. It’s my Apple Watch: “heads up, Queen Street is two stops away.” I feel tears starting to run down my face as I think to myself, “get a grip, Daniel!” What’s going on!? Now I’m crying on the bus!? This is crazy! The kneeling bus stops and as I struggle to make my way to the front door, the driver lowers the bus so I can crawl off. The light is green, but he’s not leaving; he leaves the door open so he can watch me better and I imagine he’s asking himself, “Is this guy going to be okay?” Slowly but surely I make it to the crosswalk at Queen and the bus leaves right before the light changes to red. Somehow, I pull it together and calm my breath just enough to talk to myself, “snap out of it. You got this. It’s going to be okay.”

When my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been severe, I’ve been walking through downtown Toronto so slow that octogenarian grandmas with walkers have offered to help me cross the street (seriously), but this day I’m walking much slower than that. No rush, just try to find the courage, one limp at a time.

As I inch my way down Lower Ossington towards Stokes Street, I notice a young woman in a bright purple CAMH shirt with a lanyard around her neck standing on the corner in the distance. I guess she’s there to point people in the right direction? I’m walking slow, taking breaks to wipe the sweat dripping down my face, then tightly clenching my sweat rag as I fight with my body to take another step and march forward. It’s clear I’m having a hard time walking. Baby steps. I finally reach the girl who gently and cautiously asks me, are you okay? Can I help you find where you’re going? I completely break down and start sobbing uncontrollably. I’m weak in the knees and feel like I’m about to pass out, so I turn to the side and prop myself against the building to keep myself from falling. I can’t speak, not only because I’m too busy ugly crying, but more so because I’m suffocating and unable to breathe. I’m shocked by my reaction, which took us both by surprise — I’ve never done this before — and I feel bad for the young woman who only meant to help. She must think I’m crazy, so I need her to know why I’m actually at CAMH before she calls for help. I take out my phone, open the Calendar app and show her my vaccine appointment on my phone screen. Oh, you’re here for a vaccine appointment? Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. Her caring, patient and calm demeanour — completely free of any judgement — helps me get a grip and I listen to her directions to the vaccine clinic. She offers to walk me there but I decline, I think it’s better if I go by myself. Before proceeding around the building at the same snail’s pace that I approached her from the crosswalk, I assure her, don’t worry, my appointment is at 3:10, I still have half an hour to get there. She reassuringly encourages me, even if you get there a little early or a little late, don’t worry, they’ll be able to help you with your vaccine. You’re in the right place.

As I drag myself around the building towards death row, I ask myself, “what’s going on Daniel!? You’ve never reacted this way before. Get a grip!” I can’t help but question whether I made the right call coming alone and asking my wife to stay home. I know this wouldn’t have happened if she was here! But okay, maybe I was just overwhelmed with emotion but now that I got it out of my system, I’m going to man up and just get this over with. Mind over body.

Arriving at the Clinic

It takes me about five minutes to get around the building, something that should have taken under a minute, but I get there. I look at my watch and notice the time: 2:45 pm. I’m a little worried because I’m 25 minutes early, and not once but three times — while booking, through the email confirmation and then through the appointment reminder — it was made clear not to show up more than ten minutes early. But I also feel that, given the severity of my needle phobia, I’m doing them a favour by showing up early.

It’s a hot sunny day so the doors are open. I take a few steps inside and see a vaccine clinic set up in a gymnasium in a similar fashion to what I’ve been seeing on TV for months. I immediately run out the door overcome with emotion, again hyperventilating and sobbing uncontrollably. Holy fuck! Holy fuck! Holy fuck! The people in charge run out after me, catch me from falling and assure me, it’s okay, just wait outside, take a breather, you’re okay. You’re in the right place. While two of them are holding me up, someone else runs back inside to grab me a chair, but I tell them I’d rather wait inside. I just need to lie down. Before following them into the room with a stretcher — knowing I’m breathing so hard that I can’t say anything coherent — I dig in my backpack for the completed form and my OHIP card so they can know who I am. They thank me for being so organized and prepared, which only serves to remind me exactly how long I’ve been preparing for this very moment. How could I not be prepared? It has taken a lot of planning for me to get to this point!

Now I’m in the room with the stretcher while a whiteboard on wheels serves as a makeshift fourth wall to (somewhat) block off the rest of the clinic from my sight. I can’t bring myself to lie down, though. I know it’s the only way I’ve been able to get needles in the past, but without my wife at my side to protect me, laying down feels too vulnerable. I can defend myself better if I sit. They offer me a bottle of water, get me a fresh mask to replace the soaked one I’m wearing and allow me to sit by myself to give me some space and control my breath on my own. The clinic manager will be in to talk to you shortly.

Before the clinic manager comes in, they bring me some colour-printed sheets of paper with coping mechanisms and various things I can try to calm down. They also give me a list of requests that have worked for other people at their clinic and tell me that I can circle anything on that list that I think will help me. Listen to music? Any comfort items? Lights dimmed? Tell me when it will happen? Don’t tell me when it will happen? Watch the needle go in? Don’t watch? Just reading some of them makes me tremble.

When the clinic manager comes in, I tell her, I just don’t like needles and repeating the anecdote that ER nurses have armed me with actually comes in handy: several ER nurses have told me on multiple occasions that I have one of the worst needle phobias they’ve seen. I make a point of mentioning that my wife wanted to be here, but I asked her to stay home because I thought she might make things worse. Then we go over the things I circled: I need to lie down, I prefer to apply the alcohol wipes myself, I want to know before it happens and the most important thing, which I barely-legibly added myself: PATIENCE.

Full Disclosure

I tell the clinic manager about some of my past experiences with needles and level with her, look, I know this is a lot. When booking the appointment, I put some of this in the comments, but I completely understand if you’re not prepared for this today, or if you don’t have enough time. I can come back another day if you need to prepare better. She assures me that they’ll be able to accommodate me there and then and that they have enough time to be patient with me. Okay, I’m starting to go from feeling like I’m in the right place, to knowing I’m in the right place. Even after all this, a large part of me was hoping to find an excuse, any reason at all to walk away, but this specialty clinic is unquestionably set up to accommodate my needs. Fuck! I can tell they have solid experience dealing with needle phobias and I almost don’t feel like mine is so bad all of a sudden. Forget best or worst needle phobia, slight or severe needle phobia, or any qualifier for that matter, I’m just another person with a needle phobia, and they’re prepared to help patiently!

Having calmed down significantly and feeling like I can trust them, I know it’s time for full disclosure. This is not my first rodeo so I’ve come prepared because I know what I need to see this through, realistically. As I clench Lorem Ipsum and feel bad that I’m torturing him with every twist of my hands, almost ripping him apart at times, I tell her that I know I shouldn’t mix alcohol and drugs, but I brought two prescription Ativan with me and I was hoping to drink a wine cooler to relax me a bit too. It’s good that you know what works for you and that you’ve come prepared with any comfort items that will help you calm down.

I’m starting to feel safer, so I tell her that I’ve had to take Ativan every time I get a needle in the past, that’s why I have a prescription. But, don’t expect the Ativan is going to calm me down and make your job easy! In fact, I tell her, the reason I brought the Ativan is not that it makes it any easier for you or me, but because one of the known side-effects of Ativan is that it gives you amnesia. If you’re honestly going to expect me to do this a second time, you better hope I don’t remember a thing about today! I brought the Ativan to give me amnesia, and the alcohol to numb my senses and help me calm down. I don’t know if there are any dangerous long-term side effects to Ativan, but I do know that it absolutely gives me short-term amnesia — and my multiple experiences with it in the past is why I know that I for sure need someone to pick me up afterwards.[3]

I don’t have any questions about the vaccine itself, but we work through the various questions I have regarding process. When should I call my wife to pick me up? Because we don’t live too far, she tells me to wait until after the needle since I have to wait for a minimum of 15 minutes afterwards anyways. I recently heard on the news that because I’ve had the lymph nodes removed (twice) from my left armpit that I should always get vaccines in my right arm? She’s not aware of it but promises to look into it. I tell her that because of the amnesia and knowing how I get on Ativan, I didn’t want to take it in advance. But now that I know they can certainly accommodate me, when should I take it? We have a quick discussion about how sublingual Ativan usually takes under ten minutes to take effect, but I tell her I don’t like putting it under my tongue because it tastes gross, so I usually just drink it with water. I’ll try to put it under my tongue though. I get the Ativan out of my backpack and crack open a wine cooler before she leaves the room to find out about my lymph node question.

When she comes back in the room briefly to check up on me and ask me something, I feel guilty as she sees me crack open a second wine cooler. I had told her I brought some alcohol, but I didn’t say how much. She doesn’t judge. I also tell her that I couldn’t stand the Ativan under my tongue so I just drank it instead, but again, I immediately feel guilty because I know it’s a lie: I just drank the two Ativan without even trying to put them under my tongue.

She leaves and comes back a couple of times, one time with the answer to my question: while not specific to the COVID-19 vaccine, there is indeed some literature that says you should probably get the vaccine in the opposite arm of your lymph node surgeries. I try to block out the noise in the clinic when she leaves again. Someone else in the clinic with a needle phobia is getting vaccinated, but putting up a big fight. I hear the vaccinator try to calm them down, you see, I don’t have the needle anywhere close to you. It’s all the way up here! Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of the needle being held high up in the air. Holy fucking hell!

Even with time, I’m still dripping sweat, breathing way too heavy, trembling and taking a long time to calm down to a point where you could even think about starting. My needle phobia is winning. I can feel it, and I can tell she notices it too. She tries to calm me down by telling me that for a lot of people, it helps to not think about the needle but instead think about why they’re getting the vaccine: see/hug loved ones, attending concerts or getting into places, etc. Fully aware that the clinic is at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, I cautiously respond, I actually don’t want the vaccine. I’d honestly rather die! I don’t want to say too much, but I don’t have a good reason for getting the vaccine. The only reason I’m doing is this because I don’t want to be a Covidiot or appear to be a vaccine denier. But I’d honestly rather die. On her way out, she asks me if I have a preference for male or female (I don’t) and leaves the room to find a vaccinator.

Finally, a young nurse accompanies her into the room and I think to myself that she not only looks young but is also very attractive. Turns out she’s a doctor, not a nurse. I swat to kill a mosquito that’s been flying in and out of the room while repeating something that I saw on TV the night before: Did you know that mosquitos are the most deadly animals on earth? More people die of malaria (via mosquitoes) than any other animal on earth! And through the magic of Ativan, that’s where my memory ends. After that, I remember absolutely nothing. Nada!

Was it easy? Was it hard for them? Did I stay sitting? Did I eventually lie down? Did they need extra help to hold me down? Did I ever calm down my breathing? Did I cry? Did I scream? How bad was I shaking? My official vaccine receipt says that I received the shot at 4:15 pm, so it only took 90 minutes after arriving for me to finally get the shot. Based on my previous experiences, that seems extremely quick to me, but they were very good at making me feel like “I was in the right place,” so it’s not too surprising that they were able to get it done so fast.


The Aftermath

The next thing I remember, I was with a nurse in the emergency room as she was sticking leads on me to run an ECG. I quickly opened the ECG app on my Apple Watch and took an ECG while waiting. I just did an ECG on my watch and it says I’m okay, I told her. She smiled, that’s okay, I’m still going to do another one, and she finished hooking me up to the machine. Wait, what!? Did I at least get the vaccine? Tell me I got the vaccine! The rest is a blur and I remember very little of my time in the ER. My next memory is waiting outside for a cab to go home with my wife Michelle and thinking, how is the cab supposed to find us with so many ambulances in the way? Apparently, there were indeed a lot of ambulances there and my wife says she thought the same thing. We made it home and though there’s still more to the saga that follows, (ask me privately — it’s shocking), that’s where my story will end.

So how did I end up in the ER?

Just after 4 pm — after I had taken the Ativan, but before I had gotten the vaccine — my wife texts me:

You OK?

Yeah. No need for you to pick me up. I’m fine.

Really? You’re taking an Uber back though right? Uber, Lyft, whatever.

Yes.

I have no idea why I would text no need for you to pick me up, I’m fine. But given my past experiences with Ativan, it doesn’t completely surprise me. Besides, after accompanying me to numerous blood tests and appointments requiring needles, my wife should have known better than to trust that. In the past, she’s had to take my phone away to prevent me from texting. So she should have known to just get in a cab and come pick me up whether she got confirmation that I was done and ready, or not. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to absolve myself and blame everyone else. Not at all. I’m only saying that in our 16 years together, she’s had to accompany me to well over 16 hospital visits requiring needles, so it’s not her first rodeo either.

With that out of the way, the more obvious question: how, or why did the clinic — knowing that I had drunk two wine coolers and taken two Ativan in front of them, and telling them that it gave me amnesia and made me very unpredictable — ever let me leave by myself? I was under their care and they should have known better! But again, to be fair, I also have enough experience with Ativan (and my wife to tell me all about it) to know that I can appear very normal and put together, even when I’m not. It wouldn’t surprise me if I thought I was taking too much of their time, tried to get out of their way and told them that my wife was waiting for me in an Uber just around the corner, or some other made-up bullshit. I have no idea how I left, if they tried to stop me, if I escaped on my own, or what happened. So I can’t blame them.

Back to the timeline: around 5 pm I sent my wife and our neighbour (who had previously offered to pick me up) a nonsensical, incoherent group message — uncharacteristically full of spelling mistakes — that started with thanks the offer for your time. After my wife and her text back and forth expressing their concern and my neighbour writing, I can come get you Daniel. Where are you? I reply that I’m making my way home and that I’m in a safe cab.

My wife stayed home (in case I did arrive home in a cab) and tracked my location with her iPhone, while our neighbour got in her car and made her way to me. At some point, I’m told, a guy found me laying in the street several blocks away from CAMH and tried to talk to me. He decided to call an ambulance because I didn’t seem well. Apparently, he was trying to get me to call my wife but I was so out of it that I couldn’t even unlock my phone with my fingerprint.[4] I have some unexplainable scrapes and minor bruises on various parts of my body, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t fall down because my Apple Watch would have immediately called 911 and my wife after detecting the fall.

Luckily my wife happened to FaceTime me, so the guy who found me was able to swipe to answer the call and tell her that an ambulance was already on their way. I’m told my neighbour was able to locate me, saw me get into the ambulance and lent her phone to the paramedics so they could talk to my wife too. I spent the entire evening with the paramedics in the ER; my wife came to visit me several times while our neighbour watched our dogs. But again, all I remember is the nurse — who turned out to be a doctor — walking into the room to administer the vaccine, and then being prepped for an ECG in the ER shortly before I was allowed to leave.

After hearing my recounting of what happened — and the fact that I did indeed fully disclose to the clinic staff that I was taking both Ativan and alcohol — my wife was very upset that the clinic would let me leave by myself. She went to the clinic in person the next day to ask for an explanation while searching for my lost wallet.[5] There was all new staff at the vaccine clinic the next day, so there wasn’t much they could do but listen to her. I implored my wife: don’t focus on the one thing that went wrong, instead be grateful for all the good they did and the countless things they did right. Without that specialty clinic, I wouldn’t have my first vaccine.

The Recovery

Whenever I’ve had blood work or an IV in the past, it has always taken me around a week to recover, so I was expecting about the same from the vaccine. As I had explained to the clinic manager, it doesn’t end here immediately after I get the shot. Part of my recovery would involve recovering from the vaccine, which is known to take a toll on some immune systems. Another part involves recovering from the anxiety and the insane amount of stress that my body had to go through for a whole week leading up to vaccine day. Recovering from Ativan also takes time. But most significantly, I’m dealing with the fact that everything takes me much longer to recover from than the average person. From dmblog.com/seid:

…a central characteristic of the disease: the fact that exertion of any sort—physical, cognitive, or emotional—can adversely affect patients in many organ systems and in many aspects of their lives.

If something as simple as taking too long of a walk can sometimes put me out for a whole week or more, imagine what a sleepless week of anxiety, the stress the day of, Ativan mixed with alcohol, plus the vaccine’s side-effects can do! And how do you differentiate what’s what?

On my first day of recovery, my wife had no choice but to go into the office, and on less than four hours of sleep.[6] (I know, I’m lucky to have her.) The fact that I was home alone while recovering in bed was better, though, because I know she would have freaked out and called 911 if she saw what I was going through. I woke up with intense chest pains several times, gasping for air, feeling like I couldn’t get enough oxygen, and I had a lot of difficulty breathing. My brain felt like it was about to explode. The severity of the symptoms I had would surely make most people call 911 and head to the hospital, but for me, I knew that it would inevitably mean having to get blood work (to check for Troponin levels) and/or an IV. I had already had enough needles, thank you very much! Plus, my Apple Watch kept reporting that my blood oxygen was normal and I was keeping a vigilant eye on my temperature, heart rate and blood pressure, too. I was glad that I could monitor that on my own without her being home to worry. By the time she got home late in the evening, the severity of my symptoms had significantly downgraded to minor chest pains/tightness and an annoying headache.

Since then, I’ve been experiencing a mishmash of symptoms: ice-cold frozen legs, shirt-drenching night sweats, headaches, joint pains, muscle cramps, erratic blood pressure, nausea, feeling feverish but with no actual fever, to name just a few. How much is this my body’s reaction to the vaccine and how much is it a periodic onslaught of SEID symptoms? Hard to know for sure.

I’m slowly getting better, though. Some days I have enough energy to walk the dogs around the block; other days I’m lethargic, moving as slow as a sloth and sleeping more hours than I’m awake. Unrefreshing sleep that makes me more tired than when I started is something I’m very familiar with, but the unpredictability of it still pisses me off every time. And then a couple of days this week I’ve woken up refreshed and ready to tackle the day, but with paralyzing neck and lower back pain so bad that I can’t even move enough to pull the covers off. (On a side note, we’ve also been eating a lot of take-out while I recover, which is something I completely neglected to plan for.) I had originally wanted to post this in July, but I haven’t had enough energy to even type on some days. So far, it’s been ten days; though I’m not quite 70% better yet, I do see an end in sight.

Second Dose?

In thinking about my second dose, I have come full circle a couple of times.

My first thought was that you’d have a very hard time convincing me not to proceed with a second dose after I’m already halfway there. If you tell me I don’t qualify to enter a race, that’s one thing. But to tell me halfway through — after I’ve already pushed myself this far and can see the finish line on the horizon — that I have to quit!? Good luck getting me to give up on a second dose at this point.

Then as I reflected on everything that I went through to get my first dose — not to mention what I put others through — I began to think: don’t be so stubborn. This clearly is too much; the risks far outweigh the benefits. The only thing I would change for my second dose is to abandon the foolish idea (oh, how wrong I was!) that my wife might be making it worse by babying me too much and instead make sure that I have her by my side from start to finish. Indeed, Michelle staying behind was a colossal mistake. But apart from that, I wouldn’t change anything else. The Ativan and alcohol not only helped but were completely necessary. It’s the only way. But my neighbour and Michelle had also concluded that even if they had picked me up right after my vaccine and I wasn’t found passed out on the street, they most likely would have ended up calling an ambulance (because of my elevated heart rate and erratic blood pressure), and I still would have ended up in the ER anyway. So given the high chance that I’ll end up in the ER again after a second dose, is the vaccine still worth it? Or should I spare everyone the trouble, forget about a second dose and end the insanity here?

What brought me full-circle was watching listening to the news and hearing how much worse the Delta variant is, especially among the unvaccinated. Doctors are at their wits end with people ending up in the hospital for months at a time, only wishing they had gotten vaccinated when they had the chance — not to mention the many countries where the vaccine isn’t yet available. So I think to myself, “maybe one more day in a hospital ER is better than four weeks on a ventilator in the ICU?”

But then again, reputable news sources say that breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated are mostly happening to the immunocompromised and people with underlying health issues, like me. So then what’s the point, if the vaccine isn’t going to do much for me anyway? I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d rather die than get another needle.

Up and down, yes then no. After all this trauma, maybe I’ll chicken out on a second dose? As it stands today, I’m pretty much in the same situation I was in with my first dose: hoping that some medical professional might tell me: “if that’s what it takes for you to get vaccinated, clearly the risks far outweigh the benefits and you should consider not getting a second dose.” At the same time, I’m not cancelling my second dose appointment but instead dreadfully planning for it…

I was hoping my recovery would only take a week so I could get a whole week “off” before going through another week, pre-vaccine, of anxiety, insomnia and calamitous symptoms that take over my life. But given that my first dose has put me out for ten days so far — to get only about 70% better — it’s looking like I’ll have to write off the entire month of August. Not fun.