A Shot of Hope

John Travers is a GP registrar, in clinical practice in Dublin. He is also leading research on interventions to reverse frailty and build resilience. He studied engineering and medicine at University College Dublin (UCD), a masters in business administration at Harvard and is completing a PhD at UCD. He has worked as a volunteer in East and West Africa, India and Europe.

Ipause to look down the surgery corridor and watch over 90-year-olds arrive on the morning of our first vaccination clinic. Many are stooped and supported by sticks, clothes too big, moving slowly. These women and men have shaped our lives and nation. Where have they been? These elders and their wisdom have been hidden from sight for over a year, cocooning. They have been shielded and sheltered by their younger families for fear of harm. Some have wintered alone. They emerge from safe bubbles. The softened skin of delicate hands is released by their loved ones. They pass through the surgery door into our arms.

We have prepared for this day for months. The complex logistics are in place. Training and dry runs have been completed. The precious vials of vaccine have been handled as carefully as nitro-glycerine. Our practice manager, Anna, has placed balloons and red roses along the corridor in celebration. There is excitement now that we can help end this pandemic. Every doctor, every practice nurse and every practice manager in the entire country listened intently to guidance on a national online call just days before. This was our wartime broadcast. Every single medic was primed and eager for dispatch.

These elders and their wisdom have been hidden from sight for over a year, cocooning.

Younger eyes are brimming with tearful fear and pride. They see their parents or grandparents disappear, out of their care for the first time in a year. The first steps on the corridor are short and tentative. Every move is careful and measured. A man reaches out for air. Anna steps instinctively towards him.

‘Can I link you?’ he asks her.

‘Of course.’

Assurance floods his steps. His feet then start to stray. They cross over and back. They lift and dip. At first it looks like a wild shuffle, or an attempt to empty his trouser legs. Then Anna sees the gleam in his eyes and starts to laugh.

‘Are you dancing?’

‘I am,’ he laughs.

They near the seating area. He offers Anna his other hand and they do a single full turn. Then he bows and takes a seat.

‘I have not been out in a year. This means the world to me.’

People are chatting across the two metre divides. Some are long lost friends or neighbours they met daily in the park or the shops all those months ago and have not seen since.

‘My grandchildren are having a special party today because I told them I was coming here. They are celebrating that they will see me soon. I have missed their hugs more than anything.’

‘I still have my Christmas tree up. It’s wilting a bit. But I’m leaving the presents underneath it for my grandkids until they can come. I want to see the excitement in their eyes.’

‘Is that you Bobby? I’m glad you’re still alive. I was wondering who was going to make it.’

‘As Heaney once said: If we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere. We have everything to look forward to.’

The air sings with celebration.

They have dressed up. Smart jackets and hats. Shining shoes. Carefully applied make up. It is a special occasion. Like theatre or the races or church. Some have gone to town with layers. Overcoat and blazer and cardigan and shirt and vest are all disrobed to reveal an upper arm.

We gain consent and describe rare side effects in reassuring tones. They look up in surprise once the injection is given.

‘Is that it?’ they wonder. ‘I hardly felt a thing.’

We repeat the ritual hundreds of times. That is how a dragon is felled, one tiny jab at a time.

We repeat the ritual hundreds of times. That is how a dragon is felled, one tiny jab at a time.

Goodwill and gratitude spur us on. Eyes are smiling over the brim of their facemasks. Resilience runs deep. This is the currency that will see us through to the pandemic’s end and start of a renewed future.

Our legs and backs ache. We slump into chairs spaced around the emptied waiting room. The last of the older patients are leaving, happy and safe with their vaccines. The first day is done. It is the beginning of the end. We have several thousand older, vulnerable people yet to vaccinate and keep safe in the days ahead at our practice. The task feels daunting.

All weariness is lifted from our shoulders as we hear the last patient, a 92-year-old man, turn to Anna as he leaves.

‘You have given me a shot of hope,’ he says and takes a confident step into the twilight.


Featured photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

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