Scheduling My Kids' COVID Shots Led To An Emotional Breakdown

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

I started calling as soon as the FDA ACIP vote began to allow COVID shots for children ages 5-12. “Are you booking for COVID shots for under-12s?” I asked everyone: Walgreens, CVS, local pharmacies. I called the state health department — twice. When they claimed they didn’t know when they’d offer my kids COVID shots, I retorted, “I read that you’re sitting on 150,000 doses right now. So you tell me your distribution plans.”

The woman got tongue-tied. The man I managed to snag later offered to take my number.

I called hospitals up to three hours away. My husband came home and told me to calm down. “We’re not driving three hours tonight, and the FDA director has to sign off on the vote, anyway,” he said. “You won’t know anything until tomorrow.”

My sister-in-law texted from another state at 6:30am. CVS was booking online appointments for under-12s starting Sunday. Armed with insurance cards and prescription drug coverage numbers, I booked all my kids COVID shots — one, two, three, in order of age — for Monday.

Then I broke down.

It Wasn’t About Getting My Kids COVID Shots

Okay, it was sort of about getting my kids COVID shots. But it wasn’t, not really.

My therapist explained it like this: sometimes you don’t realize how bad everything’s been until it’s almost over. You’ve been living in the middle of something, in survival mode, and you haven’t had a chance to look around and take stock of what you’ve dealt with. You couldn’t. You were too damn busy getting things done. When I booked those shots, I took the first steps toward true normalcy.

For the first time in a year and a half, I could see a light at the end of a tunnel. I could name a name: on this day, my children will be fully immunized against COVID-19, and the chances of them being hospitalized, even by the Delta variant, are slim to none. For the first time in a year and a half, my daily life will not revolve around a subconscious, “How do we keep the kids alive today?”

How do we keep the kids alive today.

Until booking my kids COVID shots, I hadn’t realized exactly how bad it had become.

I’ve Spent A Year And A Half In Mama Bear Mode

Since March 6th, 2020, give or take a few days, every decision I make has been motivated by one question: could this make the kids sick? They’ve spent a year almost totally isolated from other children; their former friends’ parents haven’t taken COVID seriously, and were inviting us to pool parties, unmasked, in June 2020, so they’ve been unsafe to see even outdoors. I’ve kept my kids out of nearly all indoor public spaces. Translation: I’ve been isolated from almost everyone, and I’ve avoided nearly all indoor public spaces, for a year and a half. Getting my kids COVID shots couldn’t happen fast enough.

We live in a very red state. No one masks. So we don’t go out. We’ve tried. Atlanta has super-strict mask laws, so we went to the Georgia Aquarium. People ignoring said mask laws sent me into gasping panic attacks among the whale sharks. I had to will myself not to cry so my kids could have fun on their first outing in… a year and a half? The thoughts wouldn’t stop: Somebody in here has COVID. Somebody will give them COVID. They are masked but they will get COVID and they are about to get vaccinated, it’s about to go through, and they will get COVID at the very, very end.

Every day was a new battle. Every day, if I lost that battle, everything that came before would have been for nothing. The weight became greater and greater. Finally, when I booked my kids COVID shots, I could face it: I have been living in stomach-clenching terror for a year and a half, every decision I make secondary to keeping my children alive, every activity a mere distraction from it.

I’d Suppressed So Much Anxiety

Early on in the pandemic, I was able to grieve: I was sad that my kids were missing their friends, upset by the high death tolls. I’d write about COVID and fall apart. But something shifted as I moved into survival mode. I simply couldn’t look at it any more. I think it happened sometime around June 2020, when my husband and I were casually discussing our state’s skyrocketing percent positive numbers. They didn’t… mean anything. We watched our kids splash in the above-ground pool we’d bought early on in the pandemic and talked casually about death.

And when I booked my kids COVID shots, I remembered those terrifying what-if scenarios, early in the pandemic, that slammed me awake: my youngest has COVID and he is intubated alone because they will not let me in. He is terrified. My husband, an asthmatic, is dying of COVID and I cannot see him because I can’t make the kids sick. How do I tell them their father is dead? If I have three children with COVID and I can only be in one room, who do I pick? Who is the bravest?

I shut my computer after booking my kids COVID shots and felt as if I were vomiting up a year and a half’s worth of fear at once. I could finally stand back, take a breath, and say: oh my God, look how awful this has been. It’s about to end, so I can fall apart now.

I am falling apart now.

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