It was the start of the lockdown maybe a month ago when I turned my mind seriously to procuring a vaccine.
Like our prime minister, I had fallen victim to hubris and complacency. While cases were in their zeros, it seemed like I had all the time in the world to get vaccinated.
Now, suddenly, I didn’t. Delta was among us. It was a strain.
The first weekend of lockdown was spent online trying to get a vaccine at Sydney Olympic Park. I remembered an ancient version of myself a few weeks ago, telling a friend that I would wait because “it was a hassle getting to the vaccine place on public transport”. Two trains. Two buses.
I was punished duly by spending a tedious and frustrating weekend on the New South Wales Health website and associated pages. Adrenally I jabbed refresh, refresh, refresh on the page. Catching the disease hung like a sword of Damocles as I tried to load a slow webpage. As it crashed or froze, I felt the sword lower.
What if I missed out and got the Covid all because there weren’t enough Ubers?
Meanwhile in Sydney the numbers of Covid cases climbed. The restrictions tightened. Some nights I went back online but the official websites were still frozen.
A friend called. His family medical clinic had loads of A-Zee. I could get A- Zee tomorrow. I booked in.
Then the doctor from the clinic called. He said maybe I should not get the A-Zee. He had a link. A special link to a clinic he hadn’t heard of. They had Pfizer. Finally someone was sending me a “secret” link. The name came off sounding unfamiliar on his tongue. But he recommended it because of my age.
I hesitated. I felt almost politically aligned now with the underdog vaccine. Plus, I was willing to take the same vaccine as my parents and millions of people around the world had taken. Plus, I had said on Twitter I was taking the A-Zee and now I had to take it. I didn’t want to add, in my own small way, to hesitancy around the A-Zee.
I took the Pfizer appointment.
I had never heard of the company distributing the Pfizer vaccine – until I had it in my arm, part of me was certain it was an elaborate hoax.
In my mind, this company, sprung up overnight, was going to exploit the desperation of the people and the incompetence of the government, in some elaborate but obscurely-intentioned phishing exhibition.
Occasionally I would get texts from a random number from this company. “To confirm your attendance for First Dose – respond YES.”
“YES” I responded. I wanted to text back, “Are you even real?”
I realised with horror that I was one of those people who thought vaccinations were a hoax – but in my case, it was for entirely different reasons. I wanted a vaccine. I believed in vaccines. I just didn’t think the hub, this operation, was real.
My Monday appointment rolled around. The date was highlighted in my calendar. It was the only place I had to be in five weeks – and probably the only place I would need to be before Christmas. A thrill ran through me. Even if it was a hoax, at least I had somewhere to be.
My appointment was at 6:45pm. That afternoon, I was reading, lost in a book – when suddenly it was 6:15pm. Eugh. Cutting it a bit fine.
I pulled on some shoes and ordered an Uber.
It was 13 minutes away. I cancelled the Uber and ordered another. It was 13 minutes away. Time was passing. Thirteen minutes would not get me there on time. I cancelled again. The next Uber was 11 minutes. I sunk into despair. I was going to miss my appointment. I would remain unvaxxed.
I waited outside and nearly jumped in front of the Uber when it arrived, six minutes before my vaccine appointment.
“Driver – step on it! I’m late for my first dose of Pfizer!”
The driver, Xi, practically did a burnout at the end of my street, and we were off.
Fate depended on me getting to the appointment in time. What if I missed out and got the Covid all because there weren’t enough Ubers on the night?
“All the drivers are in south-west Sydney and can’t leave – they locked down hard,” said my driver, who was from the north shore.
The streets were dark and empty, just the whirr of electric bikes of food delivery drivers. The numbers on the digital clock ticked over.
There was something dramatic, cinematic and yet achingly sad about the scene. Entering the city from the east side, we swooped down Hunter street, the skyscrapers’ lights on but everything dark and nobody around. It was like a scene from Blade Runner, like some terrible catastrophe had emptied the city. Racing through deserted streets, I was on my way to get some life-saving medicine. Or I was speeding towards a giant hoax, a joke, a fake company, a string of clues, a cosmic puzzle – like the heroine in Thomas Pynchon’s great novel The Crying of Lot 49.
We arrived at a place in the city next to a posh hotel where I once sat in the lobby and accidentally ordered a glass of wine that cost $22. A memory of a different world.
Now, outside the shuttered hotel, there it was. A new vaccine clinic. There were people in high-vis vests and iPads and clipboards and PPE and a socially distanced queue. It was a dystopian scene but I was flooded with relief.
I was five minutes late – but that was OK, they said. They would still give me the vaccine.
It was real, it was real. All of it was real. And this was no listless queue. It vibrated with something tremulous and important. People were wanting this, were grateful to be here. Everyone was talking to each other about how lucky they felt to get an appointment.
Everyone staffing the centre looked to be under 40. I felt a pang. History should be kind to them, I hope, because the present is not so great. Right now they are staffing a vaccine centre, for a vaccine they are not yet eligible for. One of their number died during the week waiting for the vaccine, Adriana Midori Takara. She couldn’t get in until October, and she died trying. This is an outrage and we should not forget it – and her.
At the front of the queue I handed over my learners permit and Medicare card. I got shown to a booth where a young woman with a soft voice put a needle into my arm. I felt like weeping with a release from a tension I didn’t even know I was carrying. Then 15 minutes to recover in a separate room.
There, a young woman was giving out chocolates and bottles of water.
We are better than our leaders, I reckon. And kinder and more organised, and get things done with less fuss.
I didn’t believe I would get vaccinated because, in some part of my isolation-affected imagination, I didn’t trust the competence of the government. And if I did get vaccinated, I only imagined chaos and queuing and the sort of anger that happens when strangers are thrown together in an unfamiliar place, under stress, during a pandemic.
Instead it was organised and awe-inspiring. Science, in record time, has created a way out of this plague. God, we’re lucky.
Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist