Death and Vaxes

A descendant-of-inbred-shtetl-dwellers' lament.

Until this weekend, I was determined to diligently wait my turn for a Covid vaccine. Now I have more complicated feelings about it.

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Forty-eight hours ago, I still held some amount of faith in the government’s vaccine distribution plans, and I still feel strongly that other people—older people, essential workers, people with serious co-morbidities—need to be inoculated sooner than I do, especially given that I’m able to work from home.

I had felt frustrated, though, noticing social media posts made by acquaintances much younger and healthier than me, mostly smiling photos of them getting their jabs. I DMed a few, asking how they managed to cut the line, and they confessed to the ways in which they’d bent the truth, by either a little or a lot. I judged them harshly, and also began losing faith in the system.

Why was it so easy to cut the line? Why weren’t more people conflicted about it? Why had booking vaccinations become a total free-for-all? Were all these people jumping the line pushing me further down it? Were you an idiot if you didn’t try to pull some strings and just get yourself vaccinated?

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Then, on Friday, Carol Zuckerman, my 56-year-old cousin, died of Covid in Florida. Just one year older than me, she was a single mom who leaves behind a 10-year-old daughter, Lacey.

Only three weeks ago, another cousin in Israel had tried to persuade Carol to get vaccinated, but Carol said she felt conflicted about it, for various reason. Then, boom.

While she was sick, Carol tried to receive monoclonal therapy—the treatment our villainous last president and many other VIPs received after they contracted Covid—but was told she was ineligible. Now she’s dead, and her daughter is an orphan. Lacey has now tested positive for Covid and can’t yet travel to her new home in New York, where she’ll live with cousins.

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There is so much more tragedy bound up in this story than I can even begin to grapple with. I am heartbroken for Lacey, and also Carol’s 96-year-old mother, Annie. This all reminds me of my late grandmother, Clarisse, tragically losing her mother, Freida, when she was just three years old, during the Influenza epidemic. I’m angry at the monsters in power who allowed—even encouraged—this deadly virus to spread. I’m also terrified.

It’s astounding to think that someone just a year older than me—someone from my much immunocompromised family—came this far in the pandemic, when vaccines are now becoming available, but ultimately lost her life from the virus. I can’t help but be afraid of this happening to me.

Now I want to get vaccinated, asap. A few different friends have been working to help me find appointments. “You have to lie a little,” one of them said, and that’s where I’m struggling.

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I pride myself on being an honest person. I strive to be aware of my privilege as a white person, and to avoid using it to any kind of advantage. I’m deeply conflicted about the finagling that getting vaccinated right now would require.

It’s been suggested to me that I could say I’m a teacher. But at least these days, I do all of my teaching online. I could say that I’m immunocompromised. And I am, in ways that many people in my extended family are, too. Carol’s late father, Lenny—my mother’s first cousin—theorized that the whole lot of us suffer from eczema, asthma, assorted allergies, and other chronic illnesses because we are descendants of inbred shtetl dwellers.

But I don’t have the right assortment of co-morbidities to qualify for a shot. I have celiac, endometriosis, adenomyosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, eczema, severe allergies, chronic migraine, and other conditions. My upper respiratory system is weak—I’ve had pneumonia six times, starting when I was an 18-month-old baby, and have never had a simple cold that didn’t turn into six to eight weeks of bronchitis.

In my late 30s I was diagnosed with asthma, but at that time I was going through a phase where I was reluctant to get an inhaler or use pharmaceuticals. Having been on a lot of medications in my life, and prone to suffering side-effects, I have always gone back and forth between western and alternative medicine, and experienced a lot of frustration with both. Sometimes, with some of my conditions, I just do nothing, and live with it, because the treatments can be worse than what I’m trying to treat. Or treatment can be too expensive, or too experimental to warrant the investment, or taking chances.

I have no proof of my asthma diagnosis. And there’s no box to tick that’s like “immunocompromised descendant of inbred shtetl dwellers.”

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If I was conflicted about all of this before Carol died, I’m now more conflicted, because I’m extra anxious about if and when I can get my dose. What if there’s another insurrection, or white nationalists stage some other kind of violence that disrupts vaccine distribution? What if anti-vaxxers compromise the supply? I hate thinking my opportunity to be protected from this awful, deadly virus is subject to any kind of chance.

I hope that as vaccine production ramps up, they’ll soon lower the age restriction in New York State to 55. (Another cousin has told me that in Colorado, where she lives, as of March 21st, the minimum age there will be 50. That’s hopeful.)

I’d like to think I can get both get my shot and feel good about how I got it. But maybe that’s too much to ask for at this crazy time.


Oh, while I have you here—some stuff I’ve got coming up:

  1. An new, updated edition of Goodbye to All That landing April 6th with seven new essays by: Leslie Jamison, Emily Raboteau, Lisa Ko, Ada Limon, Carolita Johnson, Danielle A. Jackson, and Rosie Schaap. Please consider preordering from Bookshop!

  1. My long-form essay writing intensive at Catapult May 22nd and 23rd.

  2. My anthology editing workshop at Catapult, four Wednesday evenings in May.

  3. I’ve got an essay in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest about not feeling obligated to write about trauma.

  4. People seem to be enjoying my Skillshare class.