I am washing my hands like a surgeon. Every chance I get to stand in front of a sink, I’m saying a little prayer of gratitude to the patron saint of running water, and giving myself a good little hand scrub and cleanse.
This is my only defense against H1N1. Not that this particular flu is any more of a threat to me than any other flu, but my reality is that I am a diabetic and vulnerable to colds. If I get a cold or flu it will last three times longer than for nondiabetics. So H1N1 is just another threat in the environment for me.
I thought maybe diabetics would be able to get the vaccine given how vulnerable we are. Though the vaccine is in short supply — and that’s an understatement — I thought that maybe we would be one of the priority groups.
Thankfully teachers, health care workers and kids are getting the vaccine.
My daughter sent me a notice from her college saying that the college kids with asthma and diabetes would be prioritized for the vaccine. I called my medical clinic and asked if I would be on the list for the vaccine since a college seemed to think that people with diabetes should be vaccinated.
My clinic gave me a response that I find far more alarming than H1N1.
First, they asked for my name, and the receptionist said she would review my medical file and let me know. The receptionist called me back after this audit of my medical file and said it seems that I should be getting vaccine, but she can’t say for sure because she’s not actually a nurse.
She let me know, in bureaucratic style, that she would hand my file to a nurse and have her make a determination about my status.
The nurse called back and said “if” they were keeping a list for the vaccine, I would be on it. She explained that they didn’t have any vaccine left and would be getting some in the “next few weeks.”
I asked if I would be on the list at the that point. She said, “No, we are not keeping a list.”
I asked how I would get the vaccine. She said I could call and make an appointment when they have the vaccine in and, if there is any left, I will receive it.
I asked how I would divine the information to know when to make an appointment? She said she didn’t know. I explained that if they were keeping a list of who should get the vaccine, they could just call us and let us know that it was in.
She explained that their policy was to not keep a list.
I thought about the people with very suppressed immune systems, people who are recovering from cancer, people who have respiratory illness and others.
Thank goodness this H1N1 is not life threatening for all of us. We don’t actually know for sure who it is deadly to, we just have a vague sense that the odds of it killing us is low; low enough to not be in a panic.
Something about the H1N1 shortage of vaccine is reminding me of the levies in Louisiana. This is a test of our emergency response system. Snohomish County has done an amazing job having drive-through vaccines on weekends. I applaud this organized response.
I live in Island County, and the local response has me feeling like I’m standing in New Orleans. My clinic doesn’t have a list of who should get the vaccine, and they are hoping I will divine the information from the clouds to make an appointment at just the right moment when they have the vaccine on hand.
What if this was something even more serious? How prepared are we to deal with an outbreak that is deadly? We are all dependent on this fragmented health-care system to be able to deliver in the face of a pandemic, and I’m thinking we have along way to go.
Sarri Gilman is a freelance writer living on Whidbey Island and director of Leadership Snohomish County. Her column on living with meaning and purpose runs every other Tuesday in The Herald. You can e-mail her at email@example.com.