Clinicians around the world have been redeployed to COVID-19 vaccination clinics within their community. I’m no different.

Beth Frechette, a nurse at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, administers the second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Mary Field of Greenwood at a clinic at the Ripley Medical Office Building in Norway last Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

My first shift as a vaccinator, I saw people from my community standing in line, masked, 6 feet apart. It didn’t take much time for me to realize the importance of this work.

Since then, I have learned so much from the hundreds of people I vaccinate. I have come to understand the importance of the vaccination process in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

One cannot underestimate the impact of the COVID vaccination experience. People walk into the vaccine station, shoulders touching their earlobes and deltoids as tight as a ball of rubber bands. They are filled with a gamut of emotions – fear, frustration, relief, anxiety, excitement, happiness, joy, enthusiasm.

And, finally, gratitude.

If I had to one word to express how patients feel for the work vaccination clinics are doing, it’s gratitude. A single patient is filled with enough gratitude to make even the toughest clinician humble – and honored.

It’s not hard work. And while it’s repetitive, it requires intense focus. Every five to seven minutes, another person walks into your station filled with emotion, and you do it all over again until no more people are in line. Toward the end of the shift, mental exhaustion sets in that’s almost sedating. You stare blindly into space like you’ve just completed a marathon. You noticed that the brain chatter you walked into the clinic with a few hours ago is quiet. Sleep comes easy because you’re at peace, knowing your day had profound purpose.

The emotional experience of being vaccinated will be remembered in vivid detail by each patient and shared among families and friends for decades. For the person receiving the vaccine, the memory is like recalling where you were in 1963 when JFK was shot or, more recently, where you were and what you felt on 9/11. These two events were filled with so much emotion, they became part of our collective conscious. Being vaccinated during a pandemic is like that. It’s all the stuff over the past year and then a defining moment that arrives for each of us.

Vaccination day. Patients tell me they’d drive through a blizzard for their vaccination appointment. They wouldn’t miss it for the world. I present them their vaccination card, telling them it’s their passport to freedom.

I will always remember where I was vaccinated – both shots. I will never forget what the weather was that day. What walking into the clinic felt like. What the shot felt like. Even who vaccinated me. Like the rest of humanity, the emotions surrounding the experience will remain with me and shared for generations.

In 1982, at the naïve age of 21, when I stepped inside Mother (now St.) Teresa’s first home for the dying in India, Nirmal Hriday in Kolkata, to work as a volunteer, I noticed a picture hanging to my left. It was a quote from Mother Teresa. I can’t remember the exact wording, but the message was clear. It’s stayed with me for 39 years.

It went something like – “Never look at the many. Look at the individual. We can only help one person at a time. So you begin. Help one person at a time. It all starts with one. One … one … one.”

In 1952 St. Teresa pulled a dying man from a street drain in what was then called Calcutta. Since that day her organization, The Missionaries of Charity, has gently served humanity – children, the homeless, the destitute – the dying across the globe.

How do they do it?

One person at a time.

So what does Mother Teresa have to do with vaccinating humanity?

It all starts with one. One shot at a time. One, one, one.

St. Teresa once said, “Maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up forty-two thousand.” If I asked her how to vaccinate humanity, I’m pretty sure I know what she’d say.

President Biden keeps a card in his pocket to remind him how many people have died from COVID-19. I keep a card in my phone to remind me how many I’ve vaccinated.


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