Where have I found peace in the pandemic? Taking part in a Covid vaccine trial

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a vaccine triallist. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on the Novavax trial. When I look back on this past year, I’ll remember my visits to the hospital with fondness. I’ve found them to be pleasant little diversions from the rhythm of my locked-down life. I just bowl in and everyone seems vaguely glad I’ve made the effort.

I’m pleased to see them, too, although I know them only by their eyes, hair arrangements and voices. It’s an odd thing that I’ll probably never get to see their faces; once it’s over, I’ll be able to walk past them in the street, or at a pub, a gig or a football match, or wherever unmasked top trial types hang out, and not know them from Adam or Eve. And vice versa, I suppose.

Yesterday, after removing my mask for a vigorous poking about the throat and nostrils by a nice nurse with a long name from Murcia, I forgot to put it back on. This earned me a stern ticking off from one of the doctors, which I took on my exposed chin. No, they don’t do faces around there. And there was plainly no great appetite to see mine.

Oddly, given that the trial is the closest I’ve come to the eye of the Covid storm, what I’ve found most enjoyable about being there is the sense of switching off from the whole business; actually, switching off from everything. I leave any doubts, distrust or concerns outside the door to dissipate in the air of south-west London.

Having committed to taking part in the trial, I took the view that there was no point worrying about it. I’ve had a good bash at reading the paperwork and understand most of it, if only in flashes. But paperwork isn’t my strong point and I’ve got enough to worry about in my life outside the strange little haven of that ward. It’s like I hand my 54-year-old body over to them and tell them to do what they will with it. I don’t mind; I trust them.

And, importantly, in the unlikely event of anything going wrong, it won’t be my fault. This is critical; nearly everything else, big or small, that goes wrong around me in my life I have to take at least a little bit of blame for. Not here. It’s so liberating. I don’t suppose this is what psychologists are getting at when they encourage you to “let go”, but it feels like it to me.

I suppose I must be a model triallist, because I just sit there, a study in mildness, shrugging in acquiescence at their every command or request. May I feel your glands? Of course. Take some blood? Knock yourself out. Prod you? Poke you? Stick this needle in you? Yes, yes, yes and yes to more besides. Don’t even ask; be my guest. I’m in full, heavenly, submission mode here; please don’t disturb my reverie. For my remaining visits, I’m going to hang a sign around my neck reading: QUIET PLEASE. THE ANSWER IS YES!

My favourite bit is when someone has trouble drawing blood from my arm. After several apologies – don’t be silly, no problem, I protest – someone says: “Better get Serge.” I think that’s his name; he’s a great big French bloke and obviously the go-to man in difficult vein-finding situations. I don’t know whether he has an extra-long needle or something, but the Gallic extractor man has the claret flowing out the crook of my arm in no time at all.

The only issue with my laissez-faire approach is that, because I don’t pay enough attention to what I’m told, I’ve only ever had a sketchy idea of what is going on. It turns out that I originally had either the vaccine or the placebo. Now, if I had the vaccine before, they have given me the placebo; if I had the placebo before, now I get the vaccine. So, in the end, I’ve been vaccinated, which is nice. But I wasn’t really that bothered whether I was or not: I’ve just been too pleased to be there. It’s a funny place to have found peace, to be sure, but a bit of peace it has been.

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