My second Covid vaccine shot delivered in more ways than one.
I am just settling into my new home in rainy Texas, but I received both of my Covid vaccination shots in sunny California. Back in my old neighborhood, I was surrounded by anxious humans scrambling to get this vaccine. People cleverly and unabashedly figuring out ways to hop to the front of the vaccination queue. As someone diagnosed with a serious disease who was patiently waiting her turn, this bothered me at the time. But in hindsight, I am proud that my fellow Angelinos were so determined to do their part in slowing the pandemic’s progress. California’s numbers were looking pretty positive when I left and I too got to count myself as one of the fully vaccinated lucky ones.
Over time, as many of us did, I found myself comparing notes with colleagues and friends. Phone and Zoom conversations with family and fellow MS support group members discussing the side effects of both doses and how everyone was feeling well after the fact. Not surprisingly, much like Covid itself, these vaccinations seemed to affect everyone differently. My dad barely noticed and practically forgot about his shot while my young work colleague felt sure she was going to die. The vaccine felt like a roulette wheel of possible symptoms, all in an attempt to avoid the much scarier Russian version of the game.
My personal experience was… crappy. When my friends asked me how I fared after my first dose, I described a day of head pain and body aches, numbness and fatigue, exhaustion beyond comprehension, and a fogginess in my brain.
I realized I was describing something oddly familiar. Something already experienced and an answer to a question I have been asked time and time again since my diagnosis. I was describing a day in the life of someone who has MS.
Since being diagnosed in 2017, almost everyone I meet wants to know what MS feels like. It is the connector, the invisible string that I have at times desperately wanted to explain without anyone having to actually experience it. The “thing” that makes everyone different from me, and from all of my Multiple Sclerosis cohorts. The imperceptible but acute internal workings of a disease that I am always searching for a way to illustrate.
And here it was… the Covid vaccine handing me a picture-perfect painting to show the world. Maybe not the whole world. But certainly those who had experienced the same vaccine side effects I had. And for those beyond the vaccine whom had contracted the virus and suffered through those particular symptoms. There was a found connection.
The woman in front of me began to cry after she received her second shot. Most everyone in that room was smiling or looking incredibly relieved or at the very least unequivocally grateful. And so was I. And now, months later, I am also grateful for more than what those shots were even originally intended.
Two gifts in one. A chance to brave the world again. And a chance to finally, truly, fully explain.
This is what MS feels like.