“It’s only going to get worse.”
I’ve got the first Moderna dose in my arm. It should be a cause for celebration. In some ways, it feels like a relief to be halfway there. On the other hand, my experience makes me wary about our ability, as a nation, to get this vaccine in a majority of arms in the most effective way and get the spread of infection under control. I have little faith in us after what I saw, which makes me angry. Because on the flip side, I know of three people who received their first Covid-19 vaccination doses and had a positive experience; no long wait times, and most importantly, organized and informed staff. These patients were in and out of the vaccine center within 30 minutes. On the other hand, my vaccine experience was the worst and most humiliating hospital-related experience I’ve had in my entire life.
First, just getting an appointment online requires you to refresh a link for hours until you find an appointment that works for you. It took several days to find one that didn’t require me to travel to another borough in New York City. Upon making the appointment, I was taken to the New York Health and Hospitals website; I completed all the necessary forms on the site and was sent a confirmation of my appointment.
I arrived at Elmhurst Hospital at 3:45 pm for a 4:00 pm appointment on Friday, January 15th, 2021, as my confirmation paper suggested I should. I was told to arrive at Annex 0. I noticed there are no guards, no police officers, no high-level admins directing patients, or even stopping anyone from entering the hospital. I walked right into the vaccination center, and the staff was so busy that no one even noticed I was lost. There is no one and no signage that directs patients to the waiting area, which is actually outside of the hospital. The only reason I figured out I had to go outside was that I noticed a line of people at the exit door. I had to ask someone waiting in line if I was in the right spot. There were at least fifty people ahead of me, and my appointment was apparently in 15 minutes. I have never seen anything quite like this before in any hospital. This is also the same hospital that was the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in March of 2020.
It was 41 degrees that night. Had I known I would be standing outside for close to 3.5 hours, I would’ve been better prepared. At times, the line felt like it hadn’t moved for 30 minutes to an hour. It wasn’t until 4:45 pm that a staff member came out and told us it would be another 90-minute wait. I wish it had been, but that wasn’t true at all.
After two hours of standing in line, another staff member begins to distribute paper forms (good thing it hadn’t rained) to fill out. Why are they not accessing the information on the NYC Health and Hospital websites? Unbelievable waste of resources and time is what I was witnessing.
Two hours and 30 minutes into my wait time, yet another staff member arrived with two pages that contained a scannable barcode that we had to use to, once again, enter information into another online form. Two pages for 50 plus people to scan on their phones? Whose idea was it to make two copies of a barcode that could have been copied at least 100 times? I asked multiple times why I had to fill out this additional form when all my information was on the NYC Health and Hospitals website. No one knew. After I filled out the form, it turned out it was the same information I had entered into the NYC Health and Hospitals website. What is even more infuriating is that no one asked me for online confirmation throughout the entire process—a complete waste of time.
During these three and a half exhausting hours, I was standing behind, let’s call her Karen, a woman who complained to every staff member that walked by. At one point, she told staff that she needed to get inside because she had hypothermia. It was 41 degrees. Someone gave her a pair of thermal gloves, and that shut her up for 10 minutes. I mention this woman because after standing online for close to 3.5 hours, it turned out she didn’t have an appointment. The first, second, and third staff members told her she could not get a vaccine because she didn’t have an appointment. I watched her slowly enter the vaccination center, where a fourth staff member let her in. I want you to know this woman was sitting in front of me during the 15 minute observation period after receiving the shot. Why did the hospital let this woman in without an appointment?
Another staff member began playing favorites and plucked people off the line to let them warm up inside the vaccination center. Explain to me how this is organized and fair? This is a clear violation of social distancing rules as well. The line was filled with older adults, teachers, NYC employees, and, to my surprise, Elmhurst Hospital staff who had no choice but to wait in the cold. Selecting people at random like this causes chaos and errors. So what do you think happened? Just that, chaos and confusion, people forgetting where they were standing in line, and so those people were given VIP treatment because of one staff member’s savior complex.
During this time, I watched three staff members doing the same job terribly. One would leave for a few minutes, and the next one would come in and not know where the last left off. There was no handing off the job responsibilities in an orderly fashion. And why were they using paper reports to track the appointments when there was clearly one staff member using a laptop? At this point, I was beyond frustrated and was afraid of being administered the vaccine by yet another incompetent staff member.
Three and a half hours into my wait, I finally got in to register. I waited 15 minutes in the same room that I so easily walked into when I had first arrived. It was overcrowded. I sat down and gave my driver’s license and insurance card to the person in charge of registering patients. She asked if I had filled out the form given to me outside. I showed her the form, she said, no, not that one. She left and came back with another staff member whose tone was aggressive and impatient. That person asked me why I hadn’t filled out the form. I threw the form on the desk, and she confirmed that it was, in fact, the form needed to register. Not only is this behavior unacceptable, but it also shows how untrained these so-called professionals are.
The one highlight, during that entire nightmare, was the nurse that administered the vaccination shot. He was calm, encouraging, and in control. After the shot, I went into an observation room. That’s where I saw Karen, who was calm, cool, and vaccinated. Maddening. Next to me sat a 72-year-old man who wanted to talk politics. Thankfully he was one of the good ones who voted with a conscience. We talked about what we both experienced that evening and about Trump and what he’s done to all of us. I couldn’t help but feel as though we were characters in a dystopian novel, sharing our experiences and information if we run into more of our kind.
I texted my family at 7:30 pm to tell them I was on my way home. They couldn’t believe how long the entire process took, and I hadn’t even shared all the details. I vented to my husband once I got home and urged him to change his appointment location anywhere but Elmhurst Hospital.
On top of all that I’ve witnessed in the last four years, this experience has made me unsure about our future as a nation. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this afraid to trust doctors, nurses, or anyone that I need to depend on for health services or anything else for that matter.
Before I left the hospital, I asked one of the nurses in the observation room if the wait would be the same for the second dose—her words: It’s only going to get worse.