United in Immunity. United for Our Future.July 27, 2021
By Ruth Johnston, CNA
Vaccines are the way forward, so let’s roll up our sleeves.
I’ll be honest: There have been more than a few moments during the pandemic where I wasn’t sure we’d ever be able to hug our loved ones again. I’d look at my residents, wondering if they’d ever be able to hold hands with a family member or coo over a grandchild. Even as I was reassuring them, I wasn’t sure if real life wasn’t now forever on the other side of a window or behind a FaceTime screen. I’d smile and quietly hide my tears as family members held signs outside and pressed their palms to the windows of our institution.
In addition to my job in long-term care, I also worked at St. Joseph’s here in Buffalo, NY, which had been converted to a COVID-19 hospital. There were nights I’d go home, and in my head, I could not turn off the sound of machines or gasping patients, or the unmistakable sound of a body bag zipper. There were times I’d be speaking to a lively and animated patient as I left a room, only to walk back in a few minutes later to find they’d passed away. I grew afraid to turn my back on anyone. Would they be gone when I turned back around?
“I’m doing everything I can to encourage my co-workers to get vaccinated. As we always say, we 1199ers can lead the way back. We can be united for immunity and united in a safe and healthy future.”
My teenage daughter was one of my only sources of solace in those dark days of the pandemic. As always, she was my light and my reason to keep going. I was also petrified for her. Though I knew she was young enough to be among the least vulnerable to COVID-19, I still lived in fear of bringing the virus home to her. It’s a fear all of us in health care lived with day after day. I hadn’t even seen my 85-year-old mother. As much as I missed her, I could never risk infecting her.
But things are changing since my mother, my daughter, and I have all been vaccinated. Large numbers of my co-workers and almost all the residents at Autumnview have been vaccinated. It’s a moment that was hard to imagine a few months ago. Though we were continuously reassured by our Union, Dr. Fauci, and other officials, it seemed last spring that a safer day would never come. The death. The trauma. The unknown. There was so much darkness. On many days, the vaccine seemed like a sci-fi dream.
But here we are. Hundreds of thousands lining up and rolling up our sleeves. We believe in the science for sure, but more importantly we believe in our lives and the lives of our loved ones and friends. We believe in the future. We believe in things we used to do that gave our lives meaning and reasons to get up in the morning. We believe in sitting around tables with our families and friends. We believe in the powdery, sweet smell of the new grandbabies we’re snuggling for the first time. We believe in holding the soft, workworn hands our elders. We believe in the proud parents who this year are watching their grads walk down the aisle. We believe in sitting together on soft cool grass at family picnics and reunions. We believe in hugs without a nervous second thought and the feeling of a soft, warm cheek of a loved one against ours.
So, if we want to get back to that, even more of us must get in line and roll up our sleeves. We don’t want to go back to pandemic times. We can’t. I never again want to sit in my car before work and cry, pray and beg God for protection from something I didn’t even understand. I don’t want that for any of my healthcare family. I’m doing everything I can to encourage my co-workers to get vaccinated. As we always said, we 1199ers can lead the way back. We can be united for immunity and united in a safe and healthy future.
Ruth Johnston is an 1199 delegate and a CNA at Autumnview Healthcare and Rehab in Hamburg, NY.