Finally exhaling as my father gets his COVID-19 vaccine

As I gradually near what feels like the end of a dark tunnel, I wanted to share my sense of hope.

As I gradually near what feels like the end of a dark tunnel, I wanted to share my sense of hope

The writer’s father at work (left) and getting the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photos submitted by Nasima Fancy; artwork by CBC Life)

Although it seems like a lifetime ago, it's only been a few years since my parents, sister and I laughed when we heard my dad may have to trim his beard to fit in an N95 mask. He'd just started his job at the hospital where he currently works as a phlebotomist and lab assistant. "Well, of course, shorten your beard if they ask you to, but truly, when would you need to wear an N95 mask?" we thought. Now, I laugh at the absurd and frankly unhygienic things we used to do before the pandemic. I used to hug my dad — who we'd later come to identify as a "frontline health-care worker" — still in his scrubs when he came home. Strange, but I remember fondly the smell of sour sweat, body spray, rubbing alcohol and what I've simply identified as hospital smell.

Now I only see these scrubs fresh from the washer and dryer.

Since the pandemic began, my dad has mostly changed out of his scrubs in the garage. This may seem a relatively insignificant adjustment to our routine, but when the whole world changes in a second and one of the people you care for most is suddenly and constantly in a position of great risk, you begin to look back at memories with a new point of view. Who would've thought mundane memories of smelly scrubs would come to symbolize feeling safe? 

Those were the good old days, free of worries over exposure and when the first topic of conversation after I got home from high school would be how our day had gone, not how many patients with COVID-19 my dad had encountered. Those were the days when a call from my dad's work almost exclusively had to do with a shift change, not about having to get tested because of a potential outbreak. 

I remember one of those work calls quite vividly. I was descending the stairs when my dad answered the phone, and I stopped in my tracks, as did the rest of my family. Eavesdropping like I never had before, I heard some of the questions that were being asked — "Did you feel any breach in your PPE?" —  followed by my dad's nervous responses. I felt a growing sense of unease in the pit of my stomach. There was only a staircase between us, but I was drifting off to another world full of panic. The call ended, the house fell silent, and apart from my dad telling us he had to get tested, it stayed that way.

He went for his test the following morning and he returned home to the same silence. No one knew what to say. We were all thinking the same things. Why waste our breath? 

He tested negative, and the outbreak that prompted the concern was later downgraded. Together, we let out a well-earned exhale. Frankly, I didn't think anything could match that relief. However, when my dad got the news he could book his appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I was happily proven wrong. 

My dad is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and things have changed for my family. The relief is truly incomparable. Although my family continues to send a loved one into battle every day, he's equipped with the most effective armour out there. We've slept much more soundly for it. 

I recognize it's also been a messy and confusing time. As my dad was receiving the vaccine, extended family members continued to send deranged conspiracy theories to each other. There has also been much criticism of the rollout itself. Yet I see light at the end. I couldn't see it for a very long time and I still question it frequently, but it's there. People are getting vaccinated, and we're slowly but surely building up to herd immunity. This is a story about my family's journey to our first deep exhale since the pandemic began. As I gradually near what feels like the end of a dark tunnel, I wanted to share my sense of hope. 

As my mom says anytime we ask about when she and her fellow teachers are going to get vaccinated, "We're getting there." 

Nasima Fancy is a high school student in Toronto. She can often be found writing articles about anything and everything ranging from politics and history to comedy and entertainment.

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