Thursday, October 29, 2009


In general, I don't worry too much about standing in line for things. I keep a sock-in-progress in my purse at all times, and while others grumble and fret about wasted time and the inefficiency of (insert name of institution here), I knit away happily, in the knowledge that at least I'm doing something productive, and that I'll end up with a nice pair of socks to show for my time.

Yesterday stretched my Pollyanna approach to its limits, however.

I knew going into yesterday's marathon wait for the H1N1 vaccination that it'd be a long one, but I couldn't have imagined exactly how long -- or how bleedin' COLD -- it would be. For starters, I relied on the Ottawa Health Twitter feed to tell me which clinic might be the best bet. This was a bad move. When I checked at noon, Fred Barrett Arena looked promising, as they were claiming a line-up of only 50 people; by contrast, Walter Baker was claiming 400 already there, and more to come.

So Rachel (the vaccinnee in question, who's on the priority list due to severe asthma that's triggered by -- guess what? Viruses!) -- and I headed out to Fred Barrett. At first glance, the line didn't look too bad. It was about 12:30, and the place opened at 2:30, so we took our place between a middle-aged couple and a guy with an audible wheeze. We perched on a window-ledge, I took out my sock, Rachel her book, and we waited. At about 2, a disembodied voice on a loudspeaker informed us that someone was handing out numbers, and that they'd try to accommodate everyone they could, up to a limit of 350 people. By 2:15, they'd handed out all the numbers. We weren't even close to the cut-off point.

So we headed back home, a bit out of sorts, and regrouped. We stopped at home just long enough to check Twitter again, and this time our best bet looked like the clinic at Constellation Drive, way the heck out in the west end. The clinic wouldn't open till 5, but if we got there soon, we figured we'd stand a chance. Off we went again.

This time, we didn't even get a place in the indoor line-up. We stood, teeth chattering against a raw, damp wind, about five people from the doorway. Within an hour, the line extended past where we could see. I couldn't knit, because knitting requires a certain amount of manual dexterity, which is a bit tricky when your fingers are freezing. So we stood. This time our neighbours were a mum and her three-year-old daughter, Ada; another middle-aged couple; and a sweet-faced former schoolteacher, who had been pushed ahead in the line from somewhere behind us. Apparently her line-mates felt she should be closer to the potential warmth of the building's doorway.

After about an hour and a half, the line ahead still wasn't moving, but they'd squished even closer to one another, enough to allow a few of us through the door. We were pitifully grateful for the warmth, and pulled a few people in behind us. We took turns standing next to the radiator to warm up, and eventually my fingers thawed enough that I could pull out my knitting. Huzzah.

My back started to ache from standing so long. I told it to shut up, that we were here for a reason. It ignored me, and just went on aching.

By 5, the line had begun to move, like a giant anaconda awakening; we inched forward, through the inner doors, and eventually we started to pick up speed, moving one or two steps every 10 minutes or so. By 6, we were halfway through the lobby, and by 7, someone handed me a form to fill out -- the usual medical questionnaire, along with written permission to give my kid the vaccine. We got a number: 307. Rachel told me that if I lost the number slip, she would cry. I put it in my pocket, and checked its whereabouts obsessively every five minutes or so. My back started sending ominous twinges down my leg.

By 7:30, we had a seat (a seat! in a chair!) in the large common waiting area, where we watched one of those "Next Serving..." signs tally up the vaccinated. 8, they called our number, and I followed Rachel into the vaccination area. A pair of cheerful paramedics administered the shot, told us to wait (!) another 15 minutes just in case Rachel sprouted horns or anything odd, and we were done.

Oh, except for our vaccination certificate, which took another 20 minutes to arrange. We staggered out of there at about 8:45, Rachel with an aching arm, me with an aching back.

Was it worth it? Well, let's just say this: having had the experience of watching Rachel turn blue and pass out as her airways seized up, I can definitely say that I prefer standing in line for eight hours, getting chilled in the October wind, and enduring a bit of physical discomfort, to the experience of sitting in the Emergency room at CHEO while my kid struggles for breath. So yeah. It was definitely worth it.


Geek Knitter said...

If she sprouts horns I want pictures.

Lots of them!

Stacy said...

You get a Mom Award. I'm glad you didn't end up getting turned away at the 2nd place!

Nicole said...

I guess I was lucky that I didn't get turned away when I went for my shot on Monday (the first day they were available). I had to wait quite a while, too, but like you, I feel fortunate that we were able to get our shots. I'm still amazed at how everyone, inoculators and inoculees both, remained in good spirits in spite of the endless lineups. A little cold, a little sore back and feet, a little time that I could have used to do something else -- small price to pay, really.