Elderly and Anxious: Desperate to Get a vaccine

Rajeev sat at the six-drawer wooden desk that he had bought for twenty dollars at a thrift store when he’d moved to California some three decades ago. It was made of oak and at one time had been a sturdy piece of furniture, probably purchased for some fashionable den or office space in someone’s home or workplace. Now it sat on a threadbare Kashmiri silk rug with one of its legs propped up on two old record album covers of Muhammad Rafi—considered one of the greatest Indian film playback singers—that had once belonged to his father.

He took a big sip from the steaming cup of masala chai that his wife had brewed for him and prepared to go into battle.

The 56-year-old father of two and son to one octogenarian former principal of Ganga Ram Charitable School for Girls was fiercely focused on one thing: finding a Covid-19 vaccine for his 92-year-old Amma.

Rajeev picked up his iPhone and started punching in numbers. Between pounding cups of chai and bites of the kaju barfi his wife had made last week, he called twelve grocery stores that had received vaccines. He called pharmacies.

No, No, No. They didn’t have any vaccine. They served only essential workers. They took only current patients. They accepted only long-term care residents.

And still, he kept calling, anywhere he could think of, at one point simultaneously using his landline and cell phone knowing he’d be on hold for a while.

He drank more coffee. He ate more of the barfi, patting his pandemic-fueled belly as he stuffed his mouth to stop the angry words from coming hurtling out.

Maybe they’re not telling me the truth. That brown people, poor people, the gravely ill people are consigned to the bottom of the heap. He could feel the acid churning in his stomach and creeping up his throat; his head was swimming.

There was an angry scrape across the linoleum floor as the door to the backyard was thrown open. He threw a look over his shoulder at the yard where overgrown weeds mixed with gray dirt to resemble the hair of a mangy dog. Amma sat in her recliner, holding her big black rosary beads in her hands, which lay limply in her lap. She didn’t pray. She’d stopped lighting an incense stick in front of the idols in the prayer room—decorated with marigold flowers and kumkum powder every day—as she had customarily done for the past fifteen years she’d lived with them because of fear of catching the virus from his two teenage boys. Even though the children had been quarantined to their rooms and everyone was careful to wear a mask around Amma. The boys hadn’t gone to a high school basketball game in three weeks, nor met any of their friends, and yet Amma’s anxiety had ratcheted to tsunami levels.

Rajeev couldn’t think of the last time his mom had hugged him. Probably February of last year. He missed the warmth of her momma-bear hugs, the way she squeezed her bony fingers around his, and flashed him a wide smile that revealed her poorly fitted American dentures.

As of January 20th, seniors made up 66% of the 2170 people to die of Covid-19 in San Diego county. Despite that, they were not getting the attention they deserved, he’d ranted at the pimple-encrusted eighteen-year-old pharmacy store manager yesterday.

“Your mother has to wait her turn, Mr. Sharma,“ the gawky kid wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt with Kobe Bryant on it said nervously.

Yet, Rajeev knew from the article in the L.A. Times that his sister had forwarded to him that hundreds of people who were not eligible were caught jumping the line to secure a covid vaccine. Here is the article

“I even told them I’m not a frontline worker, but they gave me the dose anyway,” he recalled one woman saying to the interviewer. The woman who asked that her name not be used said she, a single mother in the fashion industry, received an email originally sent to the head of a medical supply company that had been forwarded several times.

Rajeev took a deep gulp of the now lukewarm chai, ran his fingers through his overlong locks—three months since his last haircut, but his wife wasn’t complaining—then sat up straighter.

He smiled, a small weary smile, then picked up the telephone to dial the Governor’s office.

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