From Groundhog Day to Christmas morning: Getting vaccine a real shot in the arm for the COVID-19 blues

Of course, I could do 1:30 p.m. in Tinley Park. I could do 1:30 a.m. if they wanted, not that I offered. For minutes afterward, I was stunned. What was this strange feeling I was experiencing? Relief? Happiness? Yes, happiness. It had been a while.

SHARE From Groundhog Day to Christmas morning: Getting vaccine a real shot in the arm for the COVID-19 blues
Mark Brown after getting his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday.

Mark Brown after getting his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday. For confidentiality reasons, recipients are prohibited from taking photos inside the vaccination site at the Tinley Park Convention Center. Instead, they are encouraged to take their selfies in front of this poster in the lobby.

Mark Brown/Chicago Sun-Times

I’d been on hold a while, but probably no longer than 15 minutes, before a woman from the Cook County Public Health vaccination scheduling helpline answered the phone.

It had required dozens of calls and trips to the website to get through this far, but I’d made it to the same stage two previous times in the past week, so my expectations were low.

The two previous occasions I’d been politely told they didn’t have any more vaccine appointments “at this time” and was advised to try back later.

Opinion bug

Opinion

So, when the woman answered the phone Monday, and I asked if she had any openings, I’m sure my tone of voice sounded more defeatist than hopeful.

But then she said: “Could you do 1:30 p.m. tomorrow in Tinley Park?’’

I almost jumped out of my chair.

Of course, I could do 1:30 p.m. in Tinley Park.I could do 1:30 a.m. if they wanted, not that I offered.

For minutes afterward, I was stunned. What was this strange feeling I was experiencing? Relief? Happiness? Yes, happiness. It had been a while.

Sure, another part of me felt guilty, knowing there are so many 70- and 80-year-olds in worse health still looking for the vaccine, but nobody consulted me when they set up the system and opened Phase 1B to anyone age 65 and older. I’ll be 66 in a few weeks.

A short while after the call, an email arrived with a bar code confirming the appointment. The bar code really made it feel official.

I woke up Tuesday as excited as a kid on Christmas Day. I’d never thought a person could be so excited about driving to Tinley Park.

Then I realized it really was like a kid on Christmas because it was only 3:30 a.m., so I answered the call of nature that calls more often when you get to be my age and headed back to bed.

I fretted all morning that something would still go wrong, that I’d somehow made a mistake, but I needn’t have worried.

The vaccination site was the Tinley Park Convention Center at 183rd and Harlem.

Don’t tell Dr. Rick from the Progressive Insurance “we can’t keep you from becoming your parents” commercials, but I printed out my confirmation email.

This proved handy when it came time to prove to a Tinley Park police officer that I had an appointment before I could enter the parking lot.

The lot was full, but not too full. I double-masked and headed inside with a steady flow of other gray hairs.

The email advised me to arrive 15 minutes early for check-in, so naturally I got there 30 minutes early because that’s what old people do. Otherwise, they cancel our AARP membership and revoke our price discount at the movie theater.

I was greeted at the front door by a uniformed member of the Illinois National Guard, which reminded me they were assigned to staff the facility.

The Cook County vaccination site in the Tinley Park Convention Center last month. 

The Cook County vaccination site in the Tinley Park Convention Center last month.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times file

What I hadn’t realized is that the Guard is basically running the whole show, from handling registrations to giving the shots and everything in between.

Allow me to attest they did an excellent job of it. Everything went smoothly.

After a few preliminaries that included taking my temperature, I was led to a young Guardsman from downstate Mount Vernon at one of the check-in desks.

He told me he’s been working at the vaccine site three weeks now, 12 hours a day, six days a week.He didn’t complain, but I could tell it was getting to him.

He checked my driver’s license and insurance card, then led me to another desk where a female member of the Guard administered the vaccine.

I asked if I could take a selfie, but she explained photos are not allowed inside the room. She said I’d feel a pinch, but I barely noticed.

Sgt. Alex Dunn of the Illinois Air National Guard administers a COVID-19 vaccine at the Tinley Park Convention Center on January 26.

Sgt. Alex Dunn of the Illinois Air National Guard administers a COVID-19 vaccine at the mass vaccination center established at the Tinley Park Convention Center on January 26.

Scott Olson/Getty Images file

Then she sent me to the waiting area where you’re supposed to stay 15 minutes to make sure you’re OK.

During that time, they schedule your follow-up appointment for the second dose. I’m due back in a month.

As another nice woman explained, you really don’t want to leave before you get that second appointment, otherwise it’s back to the phones and the websites.

I feel bad for everyone still caught in that particular hell, with millions of people chasing open appointments that only number in the thousands as vaccine slowly becomes available.

All I can say is don’t give up hope. Some people are getting appointments, and eventually something should open up. The rest is easy.

Editor’s note: The county vaccine helpline phone number is (833) 308-1988


The Latest
The 29-year-old was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, police said.
Cubs catcher Yan Gomes, who is opposed to an automated strike zone, says the “best thing in baseball” is the human element.
Jackson, a federal judge since 2013, on Thursday became the first Black woman elevated to the nation’s highest court. Mayor Lori Lightfoot tweeted that her “ascension to the bench now tells the world that the seemingly impossible is possible. So proud!”