NO LONGER ON THE SIDELINES


I saw the man standing alone in the long line of idling vehicles, between an F-150 and a Ram.  

Waiting to get vaccinated.

Wow, did that look weird. That was a new one for me. I walked towards him and got his attention, signaling for him to follow me to the other side of the first tent, where I kept my personal gear, and to the chairs nearby, where he could sit down.  As he left, the Ram pulled forward.

Once I had him there, I told him to fill out the vaccine administration record (VAR) on the clipboard he carried, and I would return in a few minutes.  I walked back ten vehicles to one I hadn’t yet checked, a blue Camry, behind the Ram. As I walked towards it, I saw two hash marks on the upper windshield. Two people for vaccination.  I approached the vehicle and said good morning, asking for the clipboards where each of the two had filled out information for the vaccination.  I then checked the spelling of the name, confirmed the date of birth, scanned quickly to the bottom to make sure we had a contact number, then turned the paper over.

One person had forgotten to sign and date, so I had him do that; the other had signed it and the seven medical yes-no questions were all answered no.  I filled out two small white CDC vaccination cards with their names, dates of birth, the vaccine (Pfizer) and the lot number, handing the cards back to them.  

“Hand these two pieces of paper (VAR and card) to the vaccinator, and they will keep the big piece and hand the card back to you. Keep the card, bring it to you next time, at least 3 weeks or later, and make the appointment the way you made this one.”  They nodded.

“The vaccinator will give you the shot, and they will write the time on the side of the vehicle when you can leave the observation area, 15 minutes after the shot.  If you have any problem, honk the horn, blink the lights, scream, make yourself noticed.

“Go ahead and pull forward. Thanks for coming out.”

I took the clipboard and the pen we gave them, then turned around to walk back and talk to the person whom had walked in. 

Multiply this by about 100, and that is a day at the max/vax site as a registration person.  There are 14 lanes of traffic, formed after people drive in and are first separated into four lanes, getting a clipboard, a lane assignment, and a mark on the vehicle for how many people need to be vaccinated.  Others direct them to the lane, where they drive up as far as they can. We were told to wait until each vehicle reached the tent before the vaccinator, then screen them.  We’d have gone stir crazy if we did that, and the vaccinators would have been upset as well. They needed to have a steady flow of work.

So, we worked our way back to the last vehicle, checking information, making a new card if it were the first shot, updating their current card if it were their second.  If problems—no clipboard, somebody else in the car wanted to see if they could get a shot—we had to check with one of the staff who floated among the 14 lanes.  For the most part, people were polite and happy to be there.  A few were grumpy, and I mostly ignored them. Occasionally, a dog present was nasty, and I tried to stand clear, but the of the dogs were generally well behaved.  While we screened a vehicle, other vehicles in front of them often moved forward, opening a gap. Sometimes, the staff told us to close the gap.  I didn’t like that. During the screening process, there are natural breaks, and out of the corner of my eye I am aware of the situation. If there are backed up vehicles out to the lane confluence, I will have the vehicle move forward and talk to the driver later, closer to the vaccinator. Otherwise, I waited until I had finished.  I don’t know the overall situation at the vaccination center, but I knew my lane and my situation.  I will work for 2 hours without stopping to even look at my watch.

When lunch time came, we were spelled by staff or others. We could move to other lines easily, in order to help others on break.  While we were told to take breaks frequently, we were short staffed and couldn’t do that. Lunch was a half hour where I could leave, cross the street, and sit by a log in the nearby park and take off my double mask.  Once the half hour was up, I was back in the line again.

We saw all sorts of people and vehicles. We didn’t screen in the traffic line for appropriateness; our job was to move them along and finish the paperwork, including making sure the name was clearly spelled and the birthdate was correct. We now use iPads for confirmation, and at first it was cumbersome, but other than for the vaccinators, it is working out better, and each one of those is one less transcription someone else has to make. I think I convinced the leads that we could write the lot number of the vaccine on the vaccination card. I did that, and the vaccinators loved it. They did not have to handle the card, write anything on it, and hand it back. This sped them up, and they are the rate-limiting process to the whole system.

I make a comment when someone was born in the same month or year as I.  I have seen three with my birthday so far. Some complain about their age; almost invariably, I tell them I have a few years on them.  One woman propositioned me.  A couple of others asked about hiking in town, since I am wearing my Cascade Volunteers name tag.  One vaccinator I knew from past hikes, and I have seen two other people I knew in line.  

Many have thanked me for volunteering.  I tell them that I felt guilty for sitting out the pandemic and not helping out, although what I would have done wasn’t clear.  I wanted to be one less problem for medical personnel, and I succeeded in that.  This job is part of medical treatment, and while it isn’t exciting or life saving, it is needed, and it needs to be done right. I get pleasure out of contributing the eight times so far that I have been out there, seven at Autzen Stadium in the parking lot, and the other at the community college.  It’s a great system, and I have long wanted to be part of a good system of work flow.

I’m fast at checking registration, either paper or iPad. That’s good. We are short handed this weekend, and my wife may be pulled to be a vaccinator.  I could be, too, but I think I am better where I am.  I may be handling a line by myself this weekend, and I know I can. 

We are in a race.

Arrival Saturday morning at Autzen Stadium parking lot. Lane 1, to the left, gets walk-ins, cabs, cyclists, and vans from assisted living centers. I’ve done it twice, and I hope I get it again this weekend.

The far lanes start closing down in early afternoon in order to concentrate the vials of vaccine into fewer lanes. Before they close down, they take only single occupancy vehicles. The idea is to waste no vaccine at all.

4 Responses to “NO LONGER ON THE SIDELINES”

  1. Bryan Lazores Says:

    You helped a random person who emailed you his Probability & Statistics project a few years ago, and I’ve followed this blog ever since because you are truly a gentleman and a scholar.

    I just wanted to thank you again for helping me with my project. I will never forget the kindness you showed me, and I think you are great.

  2. Mike Says:

    Thank you so much for your kind words and I wish you much success.

  3. Kate Hagsten Says:

    Mike, you have been in my thoughts the past few months. I have not kept in contact since you selected me as a recipient for your Ely Community College Scholarship. I wanted to reach out and let you know how much I truly appreciate your support back then. I will never forget our brief time together and hearing all about your stories of chasing down eclipses. I think of you every time I hear that another one is happening. I always wonder if you are there somewhere capturing it first hand. 🙂 I’m happy to have found your blog. Your stories like this one continue to inspire me. Thank you!

    • Mike Says:

      How nice of you to write all that! I am still around, having seen my 18th total solar eclipse in the air north of Easter I. in July 2019. I missed the last one in S. America and will miss this one, too. I’m not sure how many more I have in me, but 2024 will be in the US, and who knows? I look forward to getting back up to the BW this fall.

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