Healing Reflections: "Vaccination Release" by Blythe Rinaldi
Story by: Blythe Rinaldi | Mayo Clinic Health System
In my past life as vice president of Human Resources and Administration, one of my responsibilities was employee health and wellbeing, which included flu shots, safety and health screenings, physical fitness, emotional wellbeing and psychological safety. Once the COVID 19 pandemic struck, I could not keep from worrying about the safety and welfare of staff although I had been retired for nearly four years. My heart ached for my former colleagues; for the doctors and nurses, housekeepers, security staff, food service workers and many others, it ached for both those I knew and those I had never met.
When I heard the happy news that healthcare workers were beginning to receive the first COVID-19 vaccinations, I called Volunteer Services to see what I could do to be of help. “I’m even willing to give vaccines, I was a nurse once you know.” Even though it had been many years since I had held a nursing license as a. R.N.Lisa, the supervisor for Volunteer Services said she would do some checking and get back to me. Lisa called back in less than 24 hours and said, “Good news, they can absolutely use your help. What is needed, is someone to direct traffic, making sure employees socially distance, and to help with overall flow in the waiting area. You can start tomorrow if you like and be there by 6:30 a.m., if possible.”
It was the week of Christmas when I started my new job as a volunteer in the vaccination clinic. Coming in before daylight, I donned a double mask, goggles and gloves. I greeted employees, ushering them through the process and cleaned kiosks; it was a simple job but not necessarily an easy one. Although I recognized many former friends and co-workers, there were many more that I did not. Most of them likely did not know me and that was fine. I just wanted to be there for the courageous healthcare staff and do whatever I possibly could as my quiet way of saying “thank you” regardless of whether we had ever known each other. It was completely humbling to me to be among those who had risked their lives and even their family‘s well-being day after day. I just knew that I wanted to be there for them.
Day after day I’d hear, “I’m running late for my vaccine appointment, I was busy taking care of a patient this morning or, “I know it’s early, but I’ve been up all night and I need to go home and get some rest before I come back to work. Can I get my vaccine now, so I don’t have to return later?” While checking in on the kiosks was easy for most employees, many did have requests I could help facilitate and if not, I was just happy to listen to their stories as they patiently waited their turn for vaccination. “I have a new baby at home, I have young children that cannot yet go back to school, I'm taking care of my elderly parents.” Most everyone had burdens and responsibilities outside of the hospital and clinic walls.
After four weeks or so of serving primarily internal staff, the state opened up vaccine availability to those 83 and up. I’ll never forget how that population arrived in the middle of a snowy week at the employee vaccine clinic on the main campus. As soon as they were able to make appointments these older community members showed up in droves. They came with walkers, canes, and wheelchairs, some even carrying oxygen. Spouses came in together and the stronger ones tried to help the other. Some brought adult children to help them navigate.
I greeted each one saying, “Welcome to the vaccination clinic. We are so glad you are here.” “I am going to need your help” they told me, “I can’t see very well to operate the machine (kiosk)” or “I am hard of hearing and I am going to need help.” As patiently as I could, I helped each one move through the screens on the kiosk, showed them where to wait and reminded them that before they left they would be setting up an appointment for their second vaccine. Most expressed their gratitude.
It may have been the second day of this when a nice-looking older gentleman came in. With no apparent impairment, he approached the kiosk and I asked if he might need any help. He nodded vigorously in the affirmative. Not saying much, I helped him get through each screen as I did many times a day. I noticed his first name was Donald and asked, “Is it alright if I call you Donald?” and again he nodded yes. Once we were finished on the kiosk, I walked him over to a seat in the waiting area, gave him the reminders I normally did and assured him that a nurse or pharmacist would be with him soon. Donald then looked at me with an incredible warmth in his eyes and almost whispering said, “I... I am soooo... so glad you are here today, I have aphasia and it… it is hard for me to do things like this on my own.” This touched my heart as I could have never imagined.
The first few weeks helping the public and the older crowd was in certain ways, much more intense than the employees and healthcare workers. Each has different needs and if nothing else it just demonstrated to me how human each of us are and how much we depend on each other regardless of the stage we are in life.
In those busy times at the vaccination clinic I even called in for reinforcements and my husband Emilio, once a regular STEP FORCE volunteer, happily stepped up to the plate and would often relieve me at the clinic, coming in to work for the afternoon. One evening at home, he talked about how incredibly busy it had been that day. “They were five wheelchairs deep lined up all the way from the elevator to the kiosks,'' he said.
We both agreed that it was a complete honor and privilege just to be there for people during this unprecedented time.
Art by: Suzanne Vergin | Barron, WI
Suzanne Vergin has been an art instructor at the Barron High School for 24 years. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree at UW-Stout and her Masters of Professional Development from UW-LaCrosse. She specializes in ceramics, pastel and watercolor. She is always amazed by the talent of her students and the artwork that they create.
My painting is a combination of Blythe Ann Rinaldi’s healing story about giving the vaccinations and my own experience with COVID. I found the experience to be quite isolating from my family, friends and students. Due to my husband having an autoimmune condition from having Gullian Barre Syndrome, we were especially cautious when venturing out and limited our contact with family and friends. Our parents are older and we have a son in the medical field so we did not want to give them COVID either. Although we phoned often, it was not the same as being able to share time together and give hugs. Last spring school went virtual in March through the end of the year. It was a challenge to teach art with limited materials and over zoom. This entire school year we were in attendance with social distancing, cleaning protocols and mask wearing. I feel the students worked hard but it was a mental struggle and challenge for many.
My painting represents our past year’s struggle and isolation by the shot going into the heart and ice cube. The butterflies represent joy and hope that we can again return to our families, friends and lives that were put on hold this last year.
For more information about the Healing Reflections gallery or to get involved with the project, contact Sara Martinek.