A Vaccine and a Listening Ear: Stories from the Vaccinators
Talk to the nurses who have spent the last few months vaccinating people against COVID-19 at Einstein Healthcare Network, and you’ll quickly learn two things – they’re really happy to be there, and they’re sneaky-skilled at getting that needle in and out before you know it.
“I hear the stories that people come in with, and when they leave, I feel like my life has been enriched,” says Lisa McBride, RN.
Loleatha Jackson, LPN, agrees. She especially loved vaccinating a couple of centenarians at the public vaccination site at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Centenarians and Holocaust Survivors
“One turned 101 in April and another one was 100,” she says. “They both came in, walking by themselves, very sweet and pleasant and had all of their knowledge, their wits.
“I asked them, what did you do to stay looking so young, and one lady told me, ‘I don’t let nothing bother me, and I mind my business.’ The other one said, ‘I don’t say nothing to nobody. I’m just nice and kind to everybody.’ It was just a joy and a pleasure to be able to touch and vaccinate them.”
Harriet Bernstein, RN, came out of retirement in December to vaccinate first staff members, then other groups, a few days a week at Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park. She was thrilled on the day when her patients included a group of Holocaust survivors.
“These people, every single one of them, had been heroes in my mind,” Bernstein says. “I didn’t get their personal stories, but they were all about the same age – 98, 92, 88 – so I know they were there.”
Her own family emigrated to the United States before World War I, but the Holocaust “is part of my heritage,” Bernstein says. “It was an honor to vaccinate them. It was a good deed to do for people of my faith. And they were very appreciative, like I was giving them a new lease on life.”
Comfort and Protection Amid Tragedy
McBride remembers one patient who was very emotional. “Her sister had died, to the day, the prior year from COVID. She was sad because she was still mourning her sister, but she was just so grateful after she got the vaccine. She said, ‘You know, I already feel safer. I already feel like my life can begin again.'”
Jackson, who also works at Einstein’s Tuesday vaccine clinic at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, had a patient who was upset because her mother got COVID before making it to her vaccine appointment.
“Her mother was in the hospital,” Jackson says, “and just a week prior to that, her husband passed away from COVID. So when she sat in my chair, she started crying. I just held her hand and I started praying with her. She got her vaccine, and hugged me and told me, ‘Thank you for helping me.'”
Bernstein also has appreciated being able to vaccinate essential workers. “I loved the SEPTA guys,” she says, “and I really enjoyed the firefighters. There was a father and his two sons who were firefighters. I was so proud that they’re all doing something for their community.”
Firefighters “were thrilled to get the vaccine because you can’t socially distance a firefight,” Bernstein says. “They were glad to do whatever they could to continue doing their jobs and protect their families.”
Einstein has been vaccinating SEPTA workers in a separate process on Saturdays.
Soothing Fears, Making It Easy
Of course, not everyone was eager to stick out their arms for a shot. Even as they walked into the vaccination site, Bernstein says, “a lot of people were petrified of needles.”
“They’d say, ‘Every time I turn on the TV, I see this big, long needle, and I don’t want that going in my arm,'” Jackson says.
“And many more than one person has referred to it as a horse needle,” McBride adds.
But the nurses know how to calm those fears and get the job done.
It often starts with reassurance and then that old reliable technique, distraction. “I would say, ‘Listen, I’m going to give you the shot. You’re not going to hurt. It’s the littlest, skinniest needle,'” Bernstein says. “And as I’m talking to them, they get the shot and I say, ‘It’s done.’ And they don’t even know they got it.”
Jackson recalls chatting with one nervous patient who wanted to travel again to Italy.
“So I said, ‘What kind of wine do you like?’ And she started telling me and I was like, ‘Oh, is that good?’ And she said yes, and I put the Band-Aid on. And she said, ‘Girl, are you done? Oh, you’re good.’ And she was horrified by the needle.”
Some people are also “hyperfocused” on possible side effects like fever or chills, which usually are gone in a day or two, McBride says. “I tell them that those side effects show you have a robust immune system that’s working to build protection against the deadly virus. They’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.'”
For these nurses, it’s all worthwhile to help the world move past the pandemic and help patients return to what they miss in their lives, especially traveling and hugging family members.
As McBride says, “This is way more than just a job or just putting needles into people’s arms for us. We are here because we truly want to help vaccinate as many people as we possibly can.”
Learn how to get the COVID-19 vaccine at Einstein.