February 24, 2021

This is What It’s Like To Volunteer at a Vaccine Clinic

This is What It’s Like To Volunteer at a Vaccine Clinic

The air was tense as an older, experienced nurse watched my every move critically, her trained eyes peering over my shoulder just waiting for me to make a mistake. My hand shook violently as I aimed the needle for the vial and prayed it would make it in. Withdrawing exactly .5 ml of the fluid, I then wiped my patient’s arm down with alcohol, counted two fingers down from her acromion  process, held my breath and jabbed the needle into her skin. Success! A feeling of exhilaration and relief flooded my body–I had done it! 

No, I wasn’t back in nursing school and no, this wasn’t the first injection I have ever given. I’m actually a 34-year-old nurse who worked the floor for years, but after taking a long stretch off to stay home with my kids, I admit that I felt brand-new as the last patient in OB I ever worked with. So what exactly brought me out of my self-imposed nursing hiatus and right back into the anxiety-filled observance and training of nursing school?

Our local health department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic. 

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Why I Became a Vaccine Volunteer

As a Registered Nurse through this pandemic, I’ve felt my share of guilt for not being on the frontlines. Hunkering down, safe and warm and cozy in my house with my children, I felt a pang of guilt every time I thought about the feelings of dread I used to get before clocking in for my 7P-7A shift and how much higher those feelings must be for nurses facing COVID patients. I contemplated how much confusion and fear there must have been, especially in the beginning of all of this, when healthcare workers weren’t sure what they were walking into and definitely not certain if they would be walking in properly armed with PPE

I tried to assuage my guilt by convincing myself that I was doing my part by staying home and flattening the curve. I reminded myself that supervising remote learning and being the at-home parent to five children was an important role too. And I rationalized that even if I did return back to work as a nurse, it would be impossible to find childcare for my kids too. I knew all the logical reasons made sense for me to stay out of the frontlines, but the desire to help didn’t go away. 

Fast forward 9 or so months (but who’s counting, right?) and I finally found my opportunity to help. Our small hometown newspaper ran an article asking for volunteer nurses to help dispense the COVID-19 vaccine over the course of the next few months to the community and priority groups. Bingo! Having recovered from a suspected case of COVID myself and with some flexibility in my schedule, I knew I had finally found a way to get involved in the fight against this virus. 

Health Departments Need Our Help

Signing on to become a volunteer nurse was definitely a change of pace for me. For one thing, I haven’t been in a group setting like that in months and months––I’m very much homebound with the kids and my own remote work. So it was surreal to take part in training and adhere to all the socially-distanced guidelines that go along with it. And for another, as I mentioned earlier, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in clinical practice. And admittedly, my skills are rusty. Not to mention, the last patient I ever vaccinated happened to only be hours old, so there’s that too. 

But, I made it through, shaky hands and all, and let me tell you what––it felt great. It felt invigorating to put my nursing skills into practice again. It felt immensely rewarding to administer the vaccine to people who were so grateful and thankful to receive it they insisted on snapping a picture of the moment the injection went in (and yes, that also felt nerve-wracking for me, I won’t lie). It felt empowering to know I was finally taking a proactive step against this awful virus. It felt fascinating to learn the behind-the-scenes about how the vaccine works and how the rollout is being implemented. And it felt incredibly humbling to be a part of history.

I learned so much that day, including the somewhat hard lesson that while the vaccine is a step forward in the fight against COVID-19, the truth is that our local health departments need help. The federal government has ensured that the vaccine will not cost its citizens a penny, but the actual administration and implementation of the vaccine has been left entirely up to each state. That means that each state has to figure out a plan of how and who to get the vaccine out to. And that’s no easy task. Our health department, while full of good, very hardworking people, is being forced to figure out a plan as they go and they are largely relying on the efforts of volunteer nurses to actually administer the vaccines through a series of clinics. 

This is where nurses like me come in. And maybe you? I know I can’t be the only, ahem, semi-retired nurse out there who has wondered where exactly her place in all of this is. So if you’re looking for a way to get involved and give back––shoot your local health department an email and see if they’re looking for volunteer nurses. My guess is they’ll welcome you with open arms. And in turn, you could be slapping a lot of Band-Aids on some freshly-vaccinated arms yourself. 

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