Yesterday I Got the Second Shot of the COVID-19 Vaccine; Tomorrow I’m Going Skiing

I am 64 and newly retired. I want to stay in shape and have fun. Wish me luck!

Big Bear ski resort on January 26, 2021. Photo by the author.

First shot

As I parked in Lot 8 at UCLA, I was a bit of a nervous wreck. That’s unusual, I am normally a very calm person. However, getting the vaccine so early was an unexpected perk from UCLA and I didn’t want to miss it for anything. So I drove there early to make sure everything would work fine.

When I try to open the Parkmobile app, my iPhone went to download it from the cloud. Weird, I thought I had downloaded it just before I left home. When it finished downloading, I clicked on it again. It started downloading one more time! I ran to the paying machine. Of course, it didn’t accept my debit card. I finally managed to pay for parking with the second credit card I tried.

The UCLA campus was a ghost town. There were no cute college girls running in shorts to make me feel guilty about my male gaze. I felt a pang of nostalgia for the bygone days, the rush and the stress of working at the bench and endlessly writing papers and grants. Maybe I’ll write another grant and open my lab again. Or maybe I’ll just stick to retirement.

I entered the RR building, UCLA’s luxurious new hospital. Don’t ask me what “RR” stands for, it will increase my blood pressure.

A young woman sitting in front of a computer on a desk greeted me.

“Have you filled the survey?”

“Hmm… Yeah.”

“The one asking you if you had any COVID-19 symptoms?”

“No, not that one.”

I had taken another survey asking me if I saw patients, gave classes in person, etc. I had answered “no” to all the questions. Still, I got the appointment to get the vaccine. Weird.

“Please, scan the code on that sign with your phone. It will take you to the survey.”

After some struggle, I managed to open the survey. The first it asked me was my UCLA employee number. I had left my UCLA ID card at home. Starting to panic, I called my wife. I told her to get my ID from a drawer and read me the number.

“Wouldn’t it be better if I sent you a picture of the ID?”

I have a smart wife, don’t I? But, even with the picture of my ID, I got hopelessly stuck in the survey. Maybe my ID was too old? I haven’t renewed it since the 90s. And it was already time for my appointment. I ran back to the desk and told the woman my troubles. Mercifully, she let me through.

They had set up a basement hall for the vaccines. A bunch of people were waiting in chairs arranged in a square pattern, 6 feet apart in every direction. I saw an empty chair and sat on it.

Some generous soul told me that these chairs were to wait for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine. The line to get the vaccine was conveniently hidden behind the booths where they were giving the injections. It had circles with footprints, 6 feet apart.

I didn’t have to wait long. I stood in front of a woman sitting on a desk so tiny it barely held her laptop. She asked me my name and birthdate. She couldn’t get the spelling of my last name (it’s long and weird). In a moment of inspiration, I showed her the picture of my UCLA ID on my phone that my wife had sent me. It had my name in big letters.

“Well, guess what?” She said looking intently at her screen.

Since you are not seen patients or lecturing in person, you can’t get the vaccine. We are onto you, buddy!

The marble floor started to crack under my feet.

“We have the same birthday!” she finally said.

“Oh! Isn’t that funny!” I muttered.

We are lucky my heart is in top-shape, lady!

I was directed to a booth where a very pregnant nurse was waiting for me. I actually teared up when I felt the prickle of the needle.

A mRNA vaccine. Developed in a matter of months against a totally new virus. Ran through clinical trials and everything. I was an achievement more momentous than sending a rocket to Mars. And it had just gone into my arm.

I went back to the chairs and waited the prescribed 15 minutes for the anaphylactic shock to develop. I used the time to text a picture of my vaccine card to everyone I know.

My father’s wife told me she was very worried for me.

“I’ll send you pictures as I turn into a zombie. It’ll fun!” I texted back.

Second shot

At home, I immediately scheduled the second shot for January 28. I had a slight headache and some fatigue that day and the next. I took long naps. Then I went rock-climbing with my buddy.

Yesterday I was a prepared man. I had downloaded a new version of Parkmobile. I had practiced daily at taking the COVID-19 symptom survey. I flashed my certificate at the woman at the entrance.

“Right on!” she said.

I ran downstairs. There was no line in the circles with footprints behind the booths. The reception lady was the same. I handed her my UCLA ID and vaccination card. She didn’t remark that we had the same birthday.

I got the shot and went to sit in the chairs to wait for the anaphylactic shock. I texted pictures of my vaccine ID to my siblings in Spain. I got very few answers.

Mammoth, view of The Minarets from the top. Photo by the author.

I’m going skiing!

I was warned that the reaction to the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was worse than the first. I barely developed a headache. I took a 2 hour nap and then considered whether I should go skiing in Mammoth this weekend.

I know, I know… I will not get full immunity until two weeks after the second shot. Still, you can’t catch the virus from the frigid mountain air. What makes skiing a danger to catch the virus is going into those crowded lodges and waiting in line for the chairlift. In fact, I had gone skiing to Big Bear Mountain last Tuesday and braved the crowds. Plenty of young snowboarding dudes not wearing masks, or making believe that a thin bandana hanging from their noses would do the job. But I spent the day skiing the black diamond runs of Geronimo and Exhibition, which had no lines. I had lunch outside, six feet away from everybody. And I wore my brand-new sport mask all day. It was actually nice; it kept my nose from freezing.

The thing is, Mammoth is very tempting this weekend. I thought it was going to be a poor snow year in California; it being La Niña and all that. There was a moderate storm in December, and then January was warm and dry. Then this Wednesday, this behemoth of a storm hit the Sierra Nevada. It snowed non-stop for three days, dumping 8 feet of powder in Mammoth. And Saturday and Sunday are going to be blue-bird, sunny and cold. How can I resist?

I was not the only one to have that idea. By the time I convinced my buddy to come long, the lift tickets were sold out. But I have an Ikon Pass, which pre-pays my lift tickets. At it was, I could barely grab the last motel room in Bishop for Saturday night. That’s a 45 minutes’ drive to Mammoth. Every lodging in the mountain is sold-out.

It’s not just the fresh snow. You couldn’t get a hotel room (or Airbnb apartment) in California without showing proof that you were an essential worker until this week. So we are seeing a breaking-of-the-damn effect. People are desperate to get outdoors. There is a rebellious mood against COVID-19 restrictions in the air. And it’s not just the Trump voters.

I am starting to think that it wasn’t such a great idea to go skiing this weekend. There are going to be too many people. And so much snow has fallen down that the resort has to dig out the lifts. If they open just a few runs and there are many people, the lines are going to be miserable. It’s freezing cold, and going inside the lodges is unwise. Well, it’ll be an adventure.

Wish me luck!

UCLA professor. Neuroscientist doing research on pain. Writes about science, philosophy, politics and kinky sex.

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