Sunday, May 30, 2021

My First Shot: Joy, Gratitude, and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic - a Sartorial Ode to Nurses Past and Present

Halle bloody lujah - !הַלְלוּיָה - I got my first vaccination! I cannot tell you how happy I am. But I'm going to give it a try. This is a post about joy. Pure joy.

Part of that joy is in my carefully planned outfit. One might even call it choreographed. Everything I wore was symbolic and meaningful to me. Above all, I dressed to honour health care workers. I especially hearkened back to the nurses, all of them women, who stepped up to help during our last global pandemic: The 1918 Influenza Epidemic.

I also wanted my outfit to symbolize life itself, its tenacity, our tenacity, and all the new life we can look forward to now that this global pandemic is almost over. 

For me, now, this is not the time for a great reckoning with all the pain of the last year and a half, and all the pain that it has left in the hearts of those fortunate enough to have survived. That reckoning will be huge, global, and it will last for generations. It will be the stuff of a multitude of studies - in history, economics, psychology, education, sociology ... It will be the stuff of family grief and lore. But this is not the time for that.

This is the time for jubilation. 

 First, though, a few notes about the last several months here in Canada. We have been way behind the United States in getting our vaccinations. Until recently, we just didn't have the doses available to start mass vaccination.

Meanwhile, we knew that new variants and a third wave were on their way. It was a race between Covid and getting enough doses, and, for a while, Covid won. We entered a grim third wave. We went into deep lockdown. Everyone's stress levels were through the roof.

I think a lot disabled people like myself chose not to leave their homes at all. I use a walker, or two canes, or my mobility scooter. No matter which mobility device I am using, I can't move as freely, or as nimbly and quickly, as most walking people can. If someone approached me who was refusing to distance or mask, or both, I was a sitting duck. I just could not get away. That happened to me many times. Even wearing my mask, or double masking, I did not feel safe. 

So, when the third wave hit, I just stayed home - for months. I put myself under a kind of house arrest. Yes, it got to me. Badly. I was not doing well. 

Beau gets the AstraZeneca vaccine.

During the third wave, there were concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine causing blood clots. This led our provincial government to decide that it could only be given to people in a narrow age range. (It was eventually banned entirely in Ontario.) This allowed some of us who were a bit younger to jump the queue ahead of our elders, but, because of the problems with AstraZeneca, we were also given the choice to wait and get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines instead.

I agonized over this decision. I needed Ativan, I can tell you that! I was not concerned so much about blood clots as I was about the fact the AZ vaccine was quite a bit less effective after the first shot than Moderna and Pfizer are. 

I'd been so looking forward to feeling protected enough to drop the many extra precautions I've been taking. In other words, I've been looking forward to ending my self-imposed, house arrest, and getting back into the world, if only a little bit. With the lesser protection offered by AstraZeneca, that just would not have felt safe. 

I decided that, since I could stay home and never leave, I would wait a bit longer to get a more effective vaccine.

Beau, however, could not stay home. 

We talked it over. Since Beau does have to go out into the world a bit for work, we decided it was best for him to get as much protection as he could, as quickly as he could. So, even though he's my younger man, he went and got the shot, while I continued to wait.

A burst blood vessel formed above my eye, from stress.

And wait. And wait. As the death tolls rose, I waited. 

I won't lie: It was extremely hard on my mental health. It wasn't just me. Not hardly! I don't know why everyone was struggling the most in that third wave, when we knew that the end was near. But we were.

I got nervous tics, below my eye, in my arm. A blood vessel burst above my eye, leaving that, bruise-like, purple mark in the photo. I felt a constant squeezing on my heart, like I couldn't breathe, even as I knew so many people really couldn't breathe, were dying even, because they couldn't breathe. 

I found a new, Jewish relative from Belarus - a few months after he died of Covid.

It was a very tough time for everyone.

I felt like my entire life was pivoting on that vaccination. I couldn't think about anything else. My whole life was about one thing. I wanted it so much! I felt like my time would never come.

Booking my first vaccination.
And then it did! At 10:45 at night, my phone made a little ping, and I knew it was time. I was so excited, I woke Beau up to tell him about it. I got so fumbly and uncoordinated, Beau had to help me book my appointment. 

Finally, I was going to get vaccinated!

I had about two weeks to plan my outfit. 

Planning the outfit kept my mind off ...

... my fears of leaving the house at all. You can see the fear in my eyes as I left our home on the day of my appointment. Covid was still going strong here, people were breaking lockdown regulations more and more, and I hadn't left the house in months.

Dress: Eloquii; Shoes: Ecco; Belt: I don't know; Face mask: Gabby Style; Necklace: Effy; Cape, earrings, pinkie ring, brooches, and Red Cross pins: vintage

Would I be safe, just getting out into the world to get my vaccination? Would the process be well organized and carefully distanced?

I guess I should have trusted the local health authorities to get it right, but people have done so many stupid, dangerous things through all this, I wasn't sure. I don't think anyone trusts anyone anymore.

But, it was very well organized.

Just before we got in line. Note the greeter behind us, telling everyone where to go.

Clearly I was not the only one who was afraid. Each person getting a vaccine was allowed to bring a companion with them. We all needed a little moral support! I could have done it without Beau, but it was very nice to have him there.

The lines were fast moving, and carefully designed to keep people distanced from one another. There were Xs on the walkway showing us where to stand (or sit). Volunteers and workers checked to make sure we were all getting it right. My heart was still racing, but I felt as safe as it was possible to feel.

We weren't allowed to take photos except for at the moment we got the shot, so this is a photo of an area similar to where I was. It was huge, full of (distanced and masked) people. When I saw all those people, the waiting room, the room for shots, and the room to sit quietly afterwards? Man, I knew I was a part of history.

My heart swelled with emotion. This moment was big. Huge!

My doctor was a nice, rumpled looking man, with Covid hair, who took the time to explain things to me and to make sure any questions I might have were answered. He put me at ease.

I even got a little sticker. My friends in other places were very jealous of that sticker. 

As soon as I got that shot, I felt an overwhelming sensation of relief! Finally, finally, the end was in sight. I had the shot. I could breathe again!

My natural posture of relief looked like those coyotes (who do actually thrive in this part of the city). But I wasn't howling. I was exhaling.

Yes, I was still exhaling through a mask ... 

... but the days of masks were almost over. The end was coming. And I had done my bit to make that happen.

I was very emotional, but in a positive way. Beyond relief, I also felt so much gratitude

I felt intense, tearful gratitude toward healthcare professionals. Remember, they'd already saved my life once in the past year. Now, they were doing it again.

I also felt extremely glad to be living in Canada, where we have universal healthcare. Not only did it mean we were all getting the care we needed, but it also meant that the vaccination process was better organized than what I've been hearing about the American vaccination process.

I felt grateful to live in my beautiful city ... 

... where my tax dollars pay not just for what is necessary, like this rapid transit system ... 

... but also for what is unnecessary but wonderful, like this beautiful walkway and bike route on what was once an industrial thoroughfare. 

I was tired when I got home, of course. 

Disability does that to me. So do intense emotions, even positive ones.

And it felt awfully good to take off my mask.

But I was still happy. Very happy.

We decided to have a celebratory meal that night: smoked salmon pizza. But my happiness was mostly about the vaccine.

Beau surprised me with one of my favourite desserts: tiramisu. I enjoyed every bit of it. 

But my happiness was still mostly about the vaccine.

As for after effects, I won't lie: They weren't fun. I was coming off a bad, week long, pain flare on the day of my appointment. The shot definitely prolonged my recovery from that. I ached pretty badly all over the next day, like I had the flu. The worst pain was in my lower back, where my old injury is. I always hurt there, but this was worse. I was also really tired for a few days.

And my mouth was full up with canker sores! I had not expected that one! I asked around on social media and it seems I wasn't the only one to get canker sores from the shot. It hurt even to talk, let alone eat. For my next shot, I'm stocking up on pudding.

I talked to Beau, saying, "If the after effects of the cure hurt this much, can you imagine how bad Covid itself is?"

But none of the pain bothered me much. I knew it was temporary. And I knew I was vaccinated! That was all that mattered. I just felt so lucky

Polio sufferers being kept alive in iron lungs.

Vaccines are a great and wonderful privilege. In this past year and a half, I've thought a lot about polio.

Children with polio in iron lungs

I grew up hearing stories about polio, and the terrible suffering it inflicted on children ...

A little girl receiving the polio vaccine.

... and the overwhelming relief when the vaccine was invented and available. 

Now I have a sense of what that felt like.

Pointing to both my new, Covid vaccine, and my scar from my smallpox vaccine.

I thought too about smallpox. I'd seen photos of it when I was a kid. I'd learned how it had been used as a genocidal weapon against Indigenous people, and, again, how it had been eradicated by vaccination.

I remember getting my smallpox vaccination as a little kid. I remember that it tingled. Lately, I've been looking at my smallpox vaccination scar with great joy and gratitude. I'm so lucky! I'm proud of that scar.

Victims of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

And, of course, I've been thinking a lot about the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. A lot.

My great uncle, who died in Manhattan, in the Influenza Outbreak of 1918.

My handsome, promising, great uncle Chaz died in that epidemic. He left behind his beloved, young wife, and their infant daughter. His sister, my grandmother, never got over that loss.

My great-grandmother, who died in upstate New York, in the Influenza Outbreak, in January 1920

During Covid, before we had a vaccine, I learned that my great-grandmother Jennie had also died in the epidemic - in January, 1920! My grandpa was now a little boy with no mother. 

Grandma Jennie's tale is a cautionary tale for us all: just because an epidemic is almost over, doesn't mean it's actually over. Do not let your guard down until it's safe, really, truly safe.

Wounded soldiers in World War One

People talk about this period in history as the time when the world's innocence was lost. Mostly, they're talking about World War One.

Victims of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

But this was also the time of that great, Influeza Epidemic (which the war helped to spread), so very similar to our own, Covid Pandemic. That too must have wiped away innocence. Hasn't Covid done that to all of us? It surely has for me.

Red Cross volunteers making masks in 1918.

Then, as now, medical professionals, and volunteers stepped up, to help with both the epidemic ...

Nurses and their patients wearing gas masks in World War One to protect them from the weapon, Mustard Gas.

... and the care of those in the war. It is the women who stepped up at this time ... 

Masked and ready to help during the Influenza Epidemic

... especially the nurses ... 

... who were my main inspiration for my outfit the day I got vaccinated. 

(Now seems a good time to mention that my own grandmother, born in 1910, was herself a nurse, and, later in life, taught nursing. She was handy person to have around when I was a kid!)

Although my outfit does also echo Regency fashion ...

... most of all ...

... I wanted it to echo those nurses in 1918. 

And so I wore my beautiful, woolen cape. 

It's not identical to theirs ... 

... but ... 

... it's similar.

That photo of Influenza patients I showed you above? Look closely and you can see two of the nurses wearing their nurses' capes.

My cape, then, is the most obvious allusion to the nurses of 1918.

Also, it's just really cool, bits of cat fur not withstanding.

Check out that lining! (I believe nurses' capes were lined in red, but I'm not positive.)

It's also pretty practical ... 

World War II era nurses

... setting arms and hands free ...

A nurse during World War II
... for nurses' work. 

Some of these capes were shorter ... 

... and some were longer ...  

... like mine.

A nurse in the 1960s

And there were still worn at least into the 1960s.

A nurse during the 1918 Influenza Epidemic

You've probably already noticed the use of the Red Cross in the nurses' garb.

I wore my vintage and antique, Red Cross pins in honour of them. The hand painted, floral brooch was probably made about 20 years before the Influenza Epidemic, so I felt it kind of symbolized the innocence that preceded all that death from war and sickness. Innocence lost.

A nurse wearing her Red Cross pin.

I believe nurses first began wearing Red Cross pins like mine were in the very early 1900s. This example looks to me to be from the 1930s. 

I started collecting these Red Cross pins after my surgery last year.

I actually made a video about it. 

Leaving the hospital with a nurse's help. The first time I'd been allowed to see Beau in a week.

Starting this collection of Red Cross pins was my little way to show my respect and gratitude to the many nurses who helped save my life. They took such good care of me. It is also in honour of all healthcare workers, past and present.

This nurse is actually a friend of mine who went out of her way to find and comfort me as I came out of surgery. You can read about her kindness here.

During my whole hospital stay, all the nurses were masked because of our horrible, global pandemic ...

Nurses during the Influenza Outbreak of 1918

... just as nurses were masked during the Influenza Epidemic.

If they can wear masks to save lives, surely I can too.

And so can you! 

Now, moving on to my dress. It was actually the length of my dress that first gave me the idea to allude to the nurses of 1918. On a shorty like me, today's midi length styles are almost as long ...

Ready to treat victims of the Influenza Epidemic

... as the dresses were in 1918. 

Nurses, circa 1918

This length was much more practical than the floor length dresses and skirts that had preceded them just a few years earlier. And the boots and lace-up shoes nurses wore with them were practical too.

I too wore practical shoes. I get so many compliments on these shoes, though, that ...

... I decided to tell you a bit more about them. The brand is Ecco, but many "comfort shoe" brands carry similar, maryjane style shoes. The great thing about them is that, though they look quite feminine, their sole and foot support is identical to very comfortable runners. Okay, that's what we call them in Canada. I think people call them sneakers in the States? Let's all agree to call them walking shoes. 

Anyway, my point is that shoes like these are identical to lace-up, walking shoes in comfort and practicality. They're just prettier. They also often have that velcro tab closure for those of us who have trouble fastening buckles on shoes.

So, yes, just like those nurses' shoes, they're very practical. You can even see that I've worn them in mud. Why not?

Okay, now for the belt.

I initially added it to this dress because I've lost weight, and I wanted a more waist-defined look than the empire waist of this dress afforded me.

Gallbladder disease led to the disappearance of my waist. I'm happy to see its return, so why not let it show? No reason at all!

Nurses, circa 1918. I love the look of the older woman's face. She looks so strong and capable.

But I quickly noticed that the addition of my belt made me look a bit more like a nurse. It really does resemble the nurses' belts that were worn at least as early as World War One ... 

... through World War Two ... 

... through the 1950s ...

... into the 1970s. And beyond?

(I first became aware of nurses' belts and capes watching the wonderful show, Call the Midwife, which Beau insists on calling "Baby Doctors.")

So. The belt worked. And, it matched my 1930s purse, which, I kid you not, I only noticed when I was looking at these photos.

And then there's the colour. Green. Emerald green. I knew that, for the day of my first vaccination, I wanted to wear either green, or a floral pattern, because I wanted to wear something suggestive of growth, promise, and life itself.

Green is the colour of rejuvenation.

And, my God, we could all use a bit of that these days. These green, art glass earrings are probably from the 1960s.

I also wore a bird earring because, well, you'll almost always find me wearing bird jewelry when I want to remind myself of hope. Perhaps birds symbolize hope for me because of the Noah's ark story in the Bible, when the dove brings Noah a twig, to show him that the flood is receding, and life is returning. Or perhaps birds symbolize hope for me simply because they can fly free, while I cannot. I don't know.

But I do know that feeding wild birds at my window, and especially feeding my local crow family, has taught me ...

... that I am very much a part of nature myself, a mortal, fragile, flawed, wonderful creature just like all the other creatures. We're meant to live in harmony. If we harm one, we harm us all. If the Covid Pandemic hasn't taught us that, we haven't been paying attention. 

Look, see? There's my grey!

In keeping with the theme of nature, life, and hope, I wore a face mask of spring flowers. Spring flowers are, I think, a universal symbol of new life, and the end of hard times. Praise that!

I added a pink bra that I knew would show when I got my shot. Pink like pink flowers! More signs of life.

But I also added a mourning pin to my mask. It was made during or just before the time of the 1918 Epidemic. 

The black of it was meant to symbolize grief, mourning for a lost loved one. I felt it was only right to wear it because, even as we celebrate the end of Covid, our new beginnings, and the promise of sustained life, we must not forget the over 3.5 million lives lost to Covid so far. 3.5 million. Just sit with that for a minute.

3.5 million.

Celebrate the promise of sustained life, yes. And mourn the loss of those who didn't live to see this day. This is a time of intense, mixed emotions. I'm focusing on the joy here, but I am not unaware of the pain.

To my outfit, I added more, tiny bursts of hope in darkness, in the form of these Edwardian (1901-1910), art glass brooches, which perfectly match my face mask.

(The diamond necklace was a present from Beau for surviving my battle with my insurance company, but it has no special meaning in this outfit. It's just pretty. There's a place for that too.)

These brooches are so beautiful,  they made me cry when I put them on. It has been so long since I've had such beauty and promise in my life. 
They are like small tastes of the vibrant life to come ...

... which I imagine looks like one of Monet's water lily paintings. 

The brooches are so beautiful, I just had to make a video about them.

Okay, so that's the joy and meaning in my outfit. Because this is a post about joy, and because women are so often down on ourselves about our appearance, I'm going to be immodest and tell you some things I like I about the way I look when I see these photos of myself. Sure I can find things I don't like, but that's not what this post is about.

Beau snapped this photo when I was having a good hair day, not the same day of my vaccination.

I like that my long, Covid hair, isn't so bad after all. I'd gotten it into my head that my hair no longer has the body and thickness to look good long. I'm wondering now if that's true, and I plan to try to keep it as long as possible ...

... though I very much look forward to getting a trim, to get rid of split ends and improve shaping.

I also like that my hair is still mostly red, or brown, or auburn, or whatever it is. I do have some grey now, but not much.

I'm having fun with the fact that, at 50, my body hair has virtually disappeared. I haven't shaved my legs in a few years. Look how hairy they are! Keep looking. Try harder. There really is some hair there. I swear.

I'm extremely happy with my improved health since getting my diseased gallbladder out, and I'm happy with the way it's altered my appearance. My digestion is better. I no longer feel poisoned. My limbs feel less leaden. My skin has improved. My eyes are brighter.

And, of course, I've lost weight. This dress is a size 14. I was almost a size 20 when I was rushed into the Emergency Room a year ago. Not only that, but my shape has altered too. My belly was unnaturally bloated and large, my wrists and fingers were swollen. I'm me-shaped again, and I love that. I don't know where my size and shape will settle with my returned health, but I'm sure it will be more naturally where my body is supposed to be.

Despite my weight loss, I think my breasts are looking quite lovely. Tee hee. I had relatively small breasts till my 40s, so I'm still enjoying these DD+s.

But my eyes are up here, darlings. I like the way they are aging. I like how expressive they are, how much they show both the suffering I've endured, and the humour and intelligence I've somehow managed to maintain within that suffering. 

To me, they are extremely Jewish eyes, and, given the odds against my family having survived into the 21st Century at all, I'm proud to wear my ethnicity in my appearance.  

I like the lines that are forming. I kind of like the lightening of my eyelashes with age. They're more red again, like they were when I was a little girl, like my father's always were. My eyes are now identical to my father's. He wasn't so great, but I'm still strangely pleased to look just like him.

But, man oh man oh man, am I ever looking forward to getting graduated glasses! I can't see well at any distance anymore. I've been switching between four different prescriptions for different distances, and they all suck. I was going to get that all sorted and then Covid hit.

There are SO many appointments I need to catch up on. I'm sure it's the same for you. I've literally postponed menopause because of Covid! (Complicated, boring story about meds for endometriosis vs meds for perimenopause.)

I won't have to wait much longer to make those appointments. The British Columbia government has announced that we only have to wait eight weeks between shots (we'd initially been told it would be 16 weeks). That's so soon! 

Okay, I know you've already seen this photo, but let's see this elation again, shall we?


After all this time, it is utterly surreal to me that soon, really quite soon, I'll have my freedom again. We all will. 

You know what I'm looking forward to the most? Just wheeling along our main strip, going down to "my" cafe, and seeing friends I haven't seen in over a year. That's it. That's all. It's so simple, but it's so much.


So tell me, friends. What are you looking forward to the most?