On the smoking patio of the rest home — which is also the communication center, social hall, and, when residents light up, forum for earnest warnings about the hazards of cigarette smoking — apprehension was high, and understandable. Most had not stepped beyond the patio in a year. There had been no visiting family, and only modest involvement with the outside world.
We were the lucky ones, though; the vaccination period had just begun and vaccines were coming to residents and staff, concierge treatment courtesy of CVS. The smokers were simultaneously motivated and concerned. There were worries about side effects, worries about long-term effects, and the general worries that always precede the sight of a needle. There was time for second thoughts, wavering, and resolution. For staff, there was a different worry: Any resident’s poor response to a first shot — pain, fever, nausea, fatigue — might preclude their permission for a second. Each of us worried to ourselves on the patio.
The pharmacist arrived alone; due to some logistical misstep, he came without the expected team that would check patients in and out, register insurance, and complete the paperwork. He was going to have to do the work of three — a burden under normal circumstances, a major traffic hold-up under these.
He set up in an empty bedroom. The curtains matched the spreads and, by stylish chance, both matched the color of his pharmacist jacket. He wore a name tag, which no one read, with little else to see behind the goggles and beneath the mask. His foreign accent was of unclear origin — perhaps Middle Eastern. Residents waiting in the TV room grew anxious. The mid-morning talk show with its customary sordid topic was no help.
Here is what happened next: As if there were all the time in the world and it was his greatest pleasure to drop in for a visit, the pharmacist began to address body and soul. How is your day, dear? he asked nervous women who were three times his age, and then, solicitously, warmly, listeningly, he paused for the answer. No topic was not of interest to him: the weather, where someone was from, what they were watching on TV. His needles slid in invisibly. Special time was given to the most phobic, and to the few people who would not sit.
When he applied the Band-Aids, it was as if he were conferring medals of honor. He did the paperwork without complaint.
Then, he wished everyone a good day and left. This odd catastrophic year has been filled with researchers, doctors, educators, administrators, politicians, and endless others, all doing their parts, and none (if they’re doing it right) claiming particular glory.
No one learned his name.
Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.