Welcoming 2023

Fog

by Carl Sandburg

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

2022 was a year of achievement. I finished my last exam and clinical rotation of medical school. I applied for residency and got cool interviews. I went to my first medical conference. I got married. I re-combined houses with my husband after he graduated from nursing school and started his first nursing job. I did some of my longest hikes. I feasted frequently.

2023 will be marked by change including finishing medical school and starting residency in a place yet-to-be-determined. I started with Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” because quietness, absorption, and forward movement are the 3 themes I think will get me through the whirlwind of transitions that will unfold in the coming months.

Quietness

Life is loud whether visiting with friends and family, undertaking adventures, or working. In all pursuits, inner quietness can act as a grounding point. This year my primary goal is to cultivate my inner quietness.

Absorption

Residency is a huge leap of responsibility from medical school. It’s the first time I’ll get paid to be a physician, but with more responsibility comes a ton more to learn. In this context, I’m planning to tap my inner sponge and absorb as much knowledge as I can.

Forward Movement

Whether the days are long or short each one is a step forward. This can be difficult to remember in the moment. As I work through the joyful and unpleasant times of 2023, I hope to remember that my efforts are moving me along life’s adventure even if it’s not readily apparent how each piece fits together.

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Battle at the Kitchen Sink

Disclaimer

This is a throwback story from my Peace Corps days. I’ve been thinking a lot about Paraguay lately and decided it was time to share some of the stories I didn’t share when I lived there. I always find myself thinking about Paraguay when the weather gets cold in New England (my current home), because I miss the sun and the mango trees Paraguay reliably had year-round.

Setting

The last quarter of my 27 months in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer. Which is to say, I was very comfortable. At that point, Paraguay was my home.

Battle at the Kitchen Sink

It was grapefruit season. I remember this because we had gone foraging for grapefruits. In Paraguay there’s a citrus season (there’s also a season for every fruit you love… passion fruit, avocadoes, mangos, pineapples…). The Peace Corps volunteers who came before me had shown me how to hunt for grapefruits, so it was one of the first things I showed the new Peace Corps volunteer visiting me that weekend. It was her first time traveling beyond the training community in Paraguay where all Paraguay Peace Corps volunteers in my era spent their first three months learning language, culture, and other skills they might need once they arrived in their sites (where’d they work for 2 years). She was visiting me to learn about what it was like to transition from training to working in Paraguay.

After our lesson on foraging grapefruit, I showed the visiting volunteer (just as the Paraguayans had shown me) how to peel the grapefruit properly. This involved using a knife to carefully cut the peel off in a spiral, leaving a thick layer of that bitter white stuff that hides under the colorful part of the peel. I showed her how to cut a little cone-shaped hole in the top of the grapefruit. Then, how to squeeze the whole thing and suck the juice out until the grapefruit was dry. This is how Paraguayans most frequently eat grapefruit and oranges. It is my preferred method above all methods I’ve tried.

We then had lunch. I took the dishes out to my kitchen sink, which was located outside my apartment in the back under a mango tree. I had running water (which was nice) but my kitchen sink was outside – an unfortunate location on rainy days, but perfectly fine on this day. I set the dishes in the sink and then looked around for my soap and sponge. As with all full sinks, the sponge was hard to find. I went to dig under the dishes to see if it was there. Sitting among the dishes exactly where my hand had just been when I put the dishes in the sink, was a tarantula about the size of my palm.

I don’t know your position on spiders. But, living in Paraguay I developed a set of rules for all home invaders. Spiders were included in that list and my rules for them were as follows: they received the death penalty if they were too big and in my home territory (which included my sink), if they were too close to my bed, and if they were too close to the toilet. If they did not violate any of these rules, I was willing to live peacefully together. The tarantula in my sink resoundingly violated the size rule permissible within my territory.

My heart thumbed. I didn’t know much about tarantulas, but it was the largest spider I’d seen outside of a zoo exhibit. I yelped (sound effects are always part of my life) and then promptly went to find my bottle for fighting invaders (obviously I developed rules for invaders because there were many including ants and roaches). My invader-fighting bottle was a rather short (maybe 10 inches in length) plastic bottle that was square and originally contained my favorite yogurt in Paraguay.

I banged at the tarantula as hard as I could. Of course, having never fought one before, I was jittery.

I missed.

The tarantula climbed out of the sink, plopped on the ground, and started marching toward me.

I didn’t miss the second, third, and fourth time I tried to hit it.

Luckily, the new volunteer was at the front of the house and did not witness this battle, though I told her about it promptly thereafter. All in good time. She would likely battle her own home invaders during her years in Paraguay.

Reflection

These years since I’ve returned to the US have been challenging as I plodded through pre-med classes and several jobs and now, medical school. I’ve encountered many challenging situations with people who act tough and aren’t particularly nice. Most, if not all, of these tough-acting people have never battled a tarantula. Knowing that they lack tarantula experience has put my interactions with them into perspective. Afterall, toughness is relative, like all attributes.

There are many times in medical school where I’ve thought of my Peace Corps days as reminder that the current challenge is not harder than ones I’ve encountered before. Resilience comes from knowing where you’ve been even if others don’t. It comes from applying skills you learned in the past to new scenarios in the present. Most challenges can’t be overcome with a plastic bottle weapon. But, having a plan and being ready to implement it even when surprised can be applied to almost anything.

Did the Jones Cheat?

I strode along one of my most frequented paths which combines my town’s main street and a side street that parallels it. I like the route because it represents two separate worlds despite their proximity. The main street is scattered with restaurants reflecting the many Central and South American cultures that comprise a large portion of my town’s heritage, hair salons, family-owned gift shops and clothing boutiques with their signs as much in Portuguese and Spanish as English, churches, places to learn English and send money orders, and empty store fronts. The side street is lined with one-family homes so large that if I lived in them, I’d need a map to navigate them and an intercom to find my family members in the far reaches of rooms and floors away from me.

As I crossed a four-way intersection, navigating the streetlights (including their left turn arrows) as I always do because I don’t think the walk signal ever turns on, I came upon the first house in the row of mansions. I slowed my pace. There was a landscaping crew. This was a common sight on this street and in many places in Connecticut – people spend lots of money on their lawns here. You always know a landscaping crew because they have big beaten-up trucks with letters painted on the side and a big trailer behind. What made this crew different was that they didn’t have mowing equipment, pruners, or leaf blowers from what I could tell. They weren’t even looking at the plants in the yard. THE LANDSCAPE CREW WAS HANGING CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND CHRISTMAS WREATHS FOR A PRIVATE HOME.

I thought of that scene in The Grinch where one neighbor is using the Christmas light gun to decorate her house and the other neighbor is blowing electrical fuses to try to get her Christmas light display to just turn on. It never occurred to me that people might pay someone to hang their Christmas decorations at their home. Businesses obviously do that, but a private home having someone else decorate for Christmas?

On a later night, I passed the house of the family who had paid a crew to decorate for Christmas. Their house looked fantastic but in my heart of hearts the decorations were empty. I found myself wondering:

  • Is decorating for Christmas more about the quality of the decorations or is it more about the combination of annoyance and joy of putting them up and then criticizing and loving your own work until you must go through the added chore of taking the decorations down again?
  • Is decorating for Christmas about the quality of your house decorations or the conversations that go into convincing various family members or friends to help you hang decorations or the determination required to hang them all by yourself?

I found myself leaning toward the belief that decorating for Christmas was a lot about the journey and less about the end. Having decorated many a Christmas tree I cut down in the middle of my dad’s woods as a child, which is to say that we had untrimmed trees in all their asymmetrical glory, I find myself solidly believing that what makes home Christmas decorations special is that they were done by amateurs in the spirit of holiday cheer, family fun, and acceptance of an imperfect final product. It’s not that I faulted this family who paid to have their house decorated for Christmas, it’s just that their approached seemed business-like. Much like the Christmas displays on 5th Avenue in NYC, the house with decorations hung by a hired crew was beautiful.

I found myself chuckling about the concept of “keeping up with the Jones.” I found myself glad I grew up in a space and time where lawns were sometimes mowed by teenagers, often not mowed recently, and sometimes mowed by livestock. I’m not sure why the imperfection of unprofessionally maintained homes warms my soul, but it does. And as the holiday season unfolds, I find myself thinking about what exactly is most important in creating holiday spirit.

Pike Place Market

I sat and ate a biscuit with a high cheese-to-dough ratio and a heavy pad of butter soaking into flaky perfection. It was my first true meal of the day. I was hungry and still having trouble believing I was on the US West Coast, having started my day on the US East Coast. The time change was confusing – the journey across the country was space and time travel. This biscuit shop was on the ocean edge of Pike Place Market in Seattle. Before arriving, I hadn’t known biscuits were popular in Seattle, but I was glad to find several biscuit shops as I wandered about the city.

The last time I’d been to Pike Place Market was in high school on a family trip. But, as all the places of family lore are, the market was familiar because my mother had told me about it many times. My parents met in Seattle. I’d lived there for several years before our family moved East, back to the coast of my grandparents. Pike Place Market is a place of fish stands and cute cafes. It’s full of people.

As I experienced the market for the first time on my own and as an adult, I was most struck by the maze that was the market and the perfect, stunning flower bouquets wrapped in parchment paper. I also liked the mosaic mural of North American birds. The mosaic bird mural reminded me of the bird murals in Harlem (where my sister lives). Per my sister, the bird murals in Harlem depict all the birds that will go extinct sometime sooner than I’d like. I wondered about the mosaic mural birds, would a day come when those birds (too) would only be found in murals?

I liked that Pike Place Market unfolded as a maze. It reminded me of Mercado Cuatro in Asunción, Paraguay. The markets share a maze layout, haphazard vendor stands, a huge range of goods, and people-filled walkways. Pike Place Market lacked the feral kittens that Mercado Cuatro had, but it had its own large bronze pigs with bronze pig hoofprints throughout the market. I followed the hoofprints for a bit. I decided the pigs were a good addition to the market.

I would later learn that the Starbucks in Pike Place Market was so busy because it was the founding Starbucks and people visited it for that reason. I was familiar with Starbucks because I’d worked there when I lived in Washington, DC. The Starbucks in Pike Place Market was much fancier than the one where I’d worked. However, I wasn’t inspired to stop at the first, ever, Starbucks. There were too many other places to choose from for me to pick a place I already knew.  I found a tea shop that sold crumpets (which I didn’t know existed outside of fairytales) and got an earl gray tea.

I was mildly disconcerted by the neon lights in Pike Place Market; they seemed a little aggressive for an enclosed space with so little wiggle room. I did like the nooks with tables and chairs and the scattered sculptures I stumbled upon when I rounded sharp hallway corners. I followed the hallways, stairwells, and odd steps until I thought I’d explored the whole market. I found the public bathrooms on both sides of the street. They were not striking, except that their stall doors were very short. A tall person could easily see over them.

I spent time looking out over the construction next to the market at the ocean. It was drizzling and cold, so I was glad I had worn my puffy coat. The waterfront was in flux. I’d later learn from a family friend that there used to be a highway between the market and the ocean. But, for many years now, they’d been slowly working toward reclaiming the waterfront. It’s funny how we call progress building roads and buildings, only to realize years later that beautiful park spaces are more important. I was glad that someday I’d be able to walk from the market to the ocean, but not today. This visit, there was no direct way because of the construction.

Once I felt that I had a good mental map of the market and had seen enough, I turned back to the city to explore its streets. Seattle was a home to me, but not a familiar one. It was a home of my distant past and the setting of early family stories. I wouldn’t have time to return to the market in the morning to watch them throw fish during this Seattle visit, but I knew I’d be back again. And I was grateful to have my own memory of the market. Lore-made memory to re-lived experience.

A Palindrome Birthday

The sun sparkles in my windows and alights on the forest of plants I nurture in my apartment. I’m recovering from a whirlwind trip to Oregon to celebrate the wedding of a long-time, dear friend. I stepped away from reading about acid-base disorders, electrolyte abnormalities, and the general unruliness of the kidney to write this post. Residency programs started reviewing applications yesterday; I wait for interview invites to trickle in. By this time next year, I’ll be in the throes of residency and I’m sure medical school will feel like a distant memory. But today, a few days before my 33rd birthday, I’m still in medical school.

Looking at the blue sky and the trees with leaves that are turning red, orange, and yellow, I’m reminded of the mountains that are hidden beyond the horizon of buildings that I see. The mountains are quiet from a distance, but hum with streams, wind, and birds when I embark on their paths. I’ve done 57 hikes (not all in the mountains and some trotting more than walking) since my last birthday.

This has been a long year filled with joy and determination. The number of hikes I’ve done reflects finding a balance between those two forces. Medicine consumes. Yet, since starting my last academic year of medical school, the harrowing nature of academia has dampened and the delight of caring for patients, solving medical mysteries, and contriving medical plans have returned to my lived experience. As I begin my residency interview season, I find myself thinking about life beyond school again. It’s a relief to be nearing graduation.

This year marked a big change; I got married. It’s interesting to shift from plotting my activities and setting goals to stepping back and thinking about sharing my life’s journey with another person who has their own activities and goals. To balance the individuals and the team who form a marriage is a daily endeavor. Of course, my partner and I have been unified for some time now, but something about making our union official and forever makes our collaboration seem more central to daily life.

Birthdays are my favorite time for reflection because they mark my personal new year. I looked back at the previous birthdays I’ve written about – 30 (happy and grateful), 28 (excited), 26 (seize the moment), and 25 (goal oriented). Thinking about their themes, what’s this birthday about?

When I walk along a ridge gazing out at the sky on either side or down a woodland path, I find myself quiet. Quiet in the sense of calm and content and, also, in the literal sense that there is less noise in the natural world than in the cityscape. I hope to hold the quiet I find on the hiking trail in my soul no matter what activity I’m undertaking. The hospital bustles with a din and the street outside my window screams with activity. Yet, I believe coexistence of noise without and quiet within can always be achieved; the way, however, seems as varied as the trails I’ve explored this year. Varied by person and varied by situation.

It’s fitting to focus on quiet movement as I wait to start a new life chapter, the chapter where I close the door to official school (potentially and likely forever) and open the door to learning from a new job. I love new chapters with that accentuated first letter, hopefully a quote, the foreshadowing of the chapter that just ended, and the delights hidden behind crisp pages. I can’t wait to see what this palindrome year brings. At the very least, I know it will bring change, for which, I’m grateful.

Joy

I most remember his rosy cheeks. The humidity and mosquitos hummed around us. We held hands under the shade of widely spaced trees in ferns as tall as our waists beside a beaver pond. There would be many moments I’d attempt to remember from our wedding day – etching them into my memory, writing them down play-by-play in my Spanish journal, and waiting giddily for our photographer to finally send us our photos. But, in those moments between words, I thought about how warm my cheeks felt and how rosy his cheeks were and how it was likely that my cheeks were rosy too.

I was joyful. Some cry when they’re overwhelmed with happiness, but that’s never been me. Happiness spreads across my skin like sinking into a warm swimming hole. The warmth then soaks into my core whereby settling my heart and obscuring all the things that normally zoom through my mind. Happiness is quiet. Contentment. Nothing but his rosy cheeks and my rosy cheeks on our wedding day.

The bright sunlight flickered through the canopy above alighting on my sister, who was our officiant, and our guests. The guests sat amongst the ferns as you might imagine in a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It seemed fitting that the cupcake shelves hanging from a birdfeeder hook and the brightly colored attire of the wedding guests would float across my mind like a scene from a play. As I gazed at the ferns, I realized that this was my midsummer dream. To make official what my partner and I already knew. These moments would give our relationship a label society understood. But despite the label, he and I knew that no one could truly understand what we meant because every relationship is its own unique product of its unique makers.

Which brings me back to his rosy cheeks. He was wearing his finest suit and the fanciest shoes you’ve possibly ever seen.  The paisley on his shoes and the paisley on his tie had nothing but their name in common, but they each worked well with the stripes of his suit. His tufty blond hair curled above his sparkling eyes and his cheeks were flushed because we were outside, because we had walked through the forest to get here, and because it was a hot midsummer day.

I thought briefly about our guests, the witnesses to the words we were saying. They were the people who had played the biggest roles in our lives since we became a couple. I listened to the words my sister said, then he said, and then I said. We had all thought about, written down, and practiced what we were going to say. Yet, it seemed more improv than rehearsed lines. How could any of us have imagined exactly how this moment would be? We couldn’t. There’s delight in comfortable spontaneity. As I replay those moments now, the rosiness returns. The memory is one of the clearest definitions I have of joy.

Learning to See

Before I moved to me latest city, the people I talked to about the city during my travels through medical school rotations didn’t have anything good to say about it. One person said there weren’t any good food. Others said there wasn’t much to do. When I moved here, someone went as far as to tell me it was dangerous. And, while I listened carefully because I knew little about the city myself, I had a suspicion they were wrong.

When I was a child, I learned to see the trees and birds around me. I learned to name them. I could tell a white pine from a red pine or a sugar maple from a red maple. I could tell you the sound of the chickadee and the hermit thrush. I knew the difference between a red wing blackbird and an oriole or a bluebird and an indigo bunting. This type of seeing was the outcome of growing up in the middle of nowhere while surrounded by women who knew these things and shared them with me.

Early on, I learned to tell the difference between real wood and fake wood. I could identify sloppy joints and beautifully joined boards. I judged furniture and house finishings based on their joints. I could tell you how sheetrock differed from plaster. I understood these things because my father had taught me to notice them. My mom taught me to see colors and how they might be paired. I still notice boldly paired colors and they bring me joy regardless of if I find them in a painting or on someone’s clothes.

As a I grew, I learned to name the flowers in people’s gardens because I worked in a greenhouse. I was trained to tell the difference between a rose and a lily, for example. My parents taught me to notice architecture. What makes a classic New England home look as such and how that differs from an adobe house. I came to understand what a well-built house is.

When I moved to DC, I learned how to see a street for what it was. A pathway to somewhere. I learned how to chart my course and tell if I was safe on a particular path within moments. I learned to see the places, like underpasses, I should avoid at night and the places that were filled with architecture, trees, and flowers. I learned this out of necessity and because I have a savage passion for walking and walking and walking.

When I moved to Paraguay, I learned to see what someone was trying to say because I couldn’t always understand their words. I learned to see if they were lying, or friendly, or joking. I learned to see why some people might follow God. I started to understand why life in Paraguay is different from life in the United States. And I learned to see that difference as both beautiful and challenging.

In medical school I’ve spent years learning to see exactly what a normal breath is and how stretchy skin should be. I’ve learned to see how the heart and abdomen are when all is well and what an infection looks like. I’ve learned to understand almost every part of the body and to see when it is healthy.

All this learning about how to see I carry with me always. And, when I moved to my latest home, I applied my seeing to understand what this city was. I learned that there is a lot to say about Danbury. I found the trails (there are numerous) where I can run and walk among the trees, birds, and flowers. I’ve noted the buildings with outstanding architecture. I found half a dozen murals with beautifully blended colors. I’m mapping out the good eateries—so far, I have a recommendation for every meal of the day plus elevenses and snacks. Much like Paraguay, Danbury is filled with people who don’t look or speak like me. But, when I took the time to observe my neighbors; it became apparent that they are a bunch of people trying to carve out a little space to work, eat, and be merry. I came to understand they were just like me in many ways. And, noticing our similarities, I understood that this city suits me. Seeing is something that takes practice. But once you learn to see you can begin to understand.

Remembering Her This Mother’s Day

This week I lost a kindred spirit. I met her in college, over 10 years ago now, when I visited a college friend’s home over winter break. She was his mom. And in the decade since I graduated, I lost touch with the friend but never his mother. It was her efforts that kept us connected. In my life she was a cheerleader, frequently offering support and sending messages of encouragement.

In the last decade, she was brave – divorcing, taking on new jobs, moving across the country, and entering seminary – all while being a mom and a middle-aged woman with all the challenges that come with those realities. She was a loud advocate for many people including women and people with disabilities. She was a staunch supporter of her sports teams.

Her death was unexpected. This week my thoughts have been with her children who are without her this Mother’s Day. I have also spent the week reflecting on the positive force she was in my life. I admired her for her fiery spirit and her devotion to the people she loved. As she was a dedicated reader of my blog, I wanted to write a post in her honor.

She believed strongly in God. If the world is what we believe it to be, then she is with her God watching over her children and the others she took under her wing from a new vantage point. May she rest in peace.

Home

And the last of three orchids I’d nurtured was sending up new flower shoots. It was the second of two my fiancé had given me when I finished my first medical board exam (about a year ago now). Ironically, I was sliding into studying for my second board exam as these orchids sent vigorous spikes forth with flowers that erupted like fireworks. It seemed my exam schedule was on orchid time.

The orchids weren’t the only plants I’d lugged from one state and town to the next. But, in that moment, their colors overshadowed the perfect leaves of the plants around them. Their colors were competing with the new rug I’d bought when I moved into my fourth (and hopefully last) home of medical school only a week or so ago.

I called it the sunny-side-up rug as it was bright yellow and white like a perfectly cooked egg. Somehow the plants looked greener next to the yellow. The yellow beside the purple African violets and remaining orange blossoms of the Christmas cactus and the orange-salmon ever-blooming crown of thorns was representative of the contrasts in my life. And the complementary colors of the yellow rug and purple flowers reminded me of my roots and my newest stethoscope which I’d decorated with colored zip ties representing the rainbow but paired by complementary color. The stethoscope decoration was an attempt to ward off stethoscope theft and, more importantly, a personal reminder of the same roots for which the contrasting colors in my apartment were a metaphor.

My roots are in the arts and carpentry and the outdoors which is a mix of dirt, water features, plants, trees, and rocks. And my new home reflected my foundation in these things. My time in the clinic and hospital often reminded me from where I’d come. Not so much because anyone I worked with or spoke to in these settings knew my history but because their ignorance of my history was so glaring and central to my relationship with them. It is easy to get lost in the world that is healthcare especially when that world is not even in the universe where you grew up. 

They say home is where the heart is. And when you’re a doctor in training you know that the heart is in the chest. Which complicates things when trying to find your home because your chest is wherever you happen to be. While I don’t think wherever I am is home, my idea of home is not so far off from knowing the heart is in the chest. I’ve had many homes. My tendency toward multiple homes may be a complication of split custody and two homes as a child – though, more likely, the shiftiness of where I call home stems from my personality-defining feature of being a wandering soul. Not wandering in the sense of a gypsy who is constantly moving, but in the sense that one place has never been the only place I called home. My life leading to medical school and through medical school has reflected that. Depending on what you count as moving, I’ve moved over 10 times in the past 10 years spanning two countries, three US states, and several towns in most of those regions and called each location to which I moved home.

When you’ve moved as much as I have, you develop a keen sense for what kinds of places can be called home. And you also learn that some places are easier to call home than others. My new apartment that contains the re-blossoming orchids and the sunny-side-up rug is one of those places that was instantly home. As soon as I opened the front door for the first time, I knew I was home. Home for now and home until I leave. The homy feeling might have something to do with the expansive windows. As a green thumb, the bigger question is not how or why I grow plants but rather if I seek places where my plants will thrive or if seek places where I will thrive. It’s easy growing plants when you need the same thing as they do. Sun. We need lots of sun and sunny days or else we get irritable and fade.

The new apartment was also home because I’d picked it from multiple options. I’d lived in the area for a while and surveyed the land. I’d used the knowledge gathered from my surveying to decide that this new town was the town in which I wanted to live. At least for now. The new apartment was also home because it was the first lease my soon-to-be-husband and I had signed together. It was a new place for us to both start new phases. He, his nursing career. I, my last year of medical school.

Seeing the flowers, the yellow rug, and the ñanduti (colorful Paraguayan lace) I’d placed on every empty surface in the apartment and thinking about the art that could fit on the broad walls made me feel happy in my new place. As I sat drinking my mate in the morning sun, I felt peaceful. As I looked out the windows; thought about how close I was to finishing the third year of medical school, a hard year to say it shortly; and considered all the wonderful things that would unfold in the coming months I felt at home. My literal heart was in my chest and my memories of past homes were in my metaphorical heart and both hearts were here in this apartment. Here, life followed the rhythm of the orchid flower cycle. Here was home because of the colors and sun and feelings that filled the place.

PS: it turns out I’ve written a post titled “Home” before…back in October 2014 when I lived in Paraguay. If you’re curious how my thoughts then compare to now check it out.

My Experience Getting the COVID Vaccine

Disclaimer: If you’re looking for scientific information about COVID or the COVID vaccines, check out the CDC as a starting place for information. This post doesn’t address science or research surrounding COVID; it is simply a recount of my personal experience getting COVID and the COVID vaccines.

I got COVID almost a year before any vaccine was approved. To be honest, I was one of the luckiest people to catch the virus. I hardly had a fever. I did, however, spend hours lying on the floor too tired and nauseous to get up. I had to force myself to eat because every time I ate, I got sick to my stomach. My brain was foggy. My body drained. I didn’t feel short of breath but, breathing took more energy than usual. I thought about breathing more often than I did normally. I didn’t get diarrhea or lose my taste or gasp for breath like others did when they had COVID. Not once did I think I needed to go to the hospital because of the virus. And, as you can tell because I’m writing this, my case of COVID wasn’t fatal. And, since it was the height of COVID closures when I was sick, I hardly had to change my lifestyle to quarantine because I already wasn’t leaving the house. I was lucky because the subject I was studying in medical school at the time was easy, so I was able to study and pass my exams despite spending hours lying on the floor with my mind floating is some other universe. I was lucky because all the pieces that came together for me resulting in me not getting that sick did not come together for everyone who got COVID.

The first Moderna COVID shot was exciting. Finally, we had something to prevent COVID, that terrible infectious disease that had changed my world and threatened to make it impossible for me to study medicine. Finally, we might be able to prevent people from dying. I think I got a sore arm after that shot, nothing serious.

The second Moderna COVID shot was also exciting because it marked a completion of my duty to prevent COVID from spreading as best I could in addition to wearing a mask and social distancing. I felt like I was contributing to humanity while also protecting myself – how uncommon it is to be able to put yourself first while also helping others.

But, also, the second Moderna COVID shot wiped me out. I passed out the night after getting it. To be honest, I knew I was going to pass out, so I lay on the floor before I fell. I lay on the floor for what seemed like an eternity before the chills and nausea passed enough for me to crawl back to bed from the bathroom. That was a rough night, but I knew it’d be over in 24 hours because I wasn’t sick; my body was just doing exactly what it was supposed to do. My body was making antibodies (those protective proteins that help fight off infections). My body was responding to the vaccine. I felt awful, but still thought science was cool. I mean, we can make our bodies build defenses before we get sick—that’s kind of magic.

Recently, I got my booster Moderna COVID shot. It also hit me hard. I couldn’t sit up without feeling nauseous for at least the first 12 hours the day after I got it. All my joints and muscles ached. The feeling of the blankets against my skin was painful. It was 16 or 20 hours after the shot and two very long, hot showers; a day of maximum recommended Tylenol; and some Ibuprofen later when I finally started to feel like a tired version of my normal self. But, despite how awful I felt, the morning after the shot I was relieved because I knew I wasn’t sick. I was relieved because my reaction showed that I still had COVID antibodies. I was relieved because as bad as I felt, I knew it would pass in 24 hours. When we get sick, we don’t know how long it’s going to last. The uncertainty of illness is part of its trying nature. I’ve always like deadlines and end dates.

Everyone has different reactions to the COVID vaccines. I have a strong reaction, but by no means the strongest reaction. When I work in clinic some patients explain how fearful they are of their COVID vaccine reaction. Fear of feeling sick is valid. It sucks to be confined to bed for any amount of time. But when it comes to the COVID vaccine, it’s nice to know it’ll be short-lived. Just 24 hours, maybe 48 hours. When I had COVID my symptoms were mild, however the fatigue lasted for at least a month after the other symptoms subsided. For me, at least, feeling sick for 24 hours is acceptable knowing that I will decrease my chance of ever getting the real COVID again. I also can’t accept not being part of the group of people willing to try to stop COVID. It’s a legitimate feeling to dislike having a reaction to the COVID vaccine but, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to keep COVID at bay. If it takes getting a COVID booster every year that’s a small price to pay to prevent millions more people from dying from a disease we have a vaccine to help prevent.