We are now entering the second year of the 15-day to slow the spread of the WuFlu, and somehow the decision of whether or not to get the Covid vaccine has, like few other times in recent history, become a major source of acrimony and social strife. At times it feels as though this decision has become the modern equivalent of burning the pinch of incense for the emperor. For as it is clear that as the pandemic is waning, the continued public pressure to get vaccinated shows that this whole medical muddle was never really about health but compliance.

Given the contentious tenor of our times- what I sardonically refer to as our current fight-geist- I have made it a point to avoid or remain silent in almost all discussions about my health, since the majority of them inevitably lead to some busy-body trying to infer my “vaccination status.” However, up until recently, all of these discussions have been in the abstract or based on principle, but now I can speak from experience. It has now been two weeks since I was discharged from the hospital after having contracted Covid that turned into a grave case of pneumonia, and from which I am still recovering.

Although extreme pressure was put on me to get the jab during my stay at the hospital, I was able to (at least from my perspective) rationally discuss with the doctor with no ill-will why I refused the vaccine. What follows, is a recounting and reflections of my experience.

Getting Sick and Struggling to Breathe

On the Saturday before Christmas, I was at work and began to feel a little under the weather. Since my day job is in retail I knew that the week before Christmas was going to be very busy, so I told my manger that I was going to take a few days off so that, what I thought was just a cold, would pass on before we really got busy. However, by Wednesday I was not sleeping well and it was getting harder and harder to talk or get around without a lot of coughing. After two sleepless nights, I couldn’t take it anymore and on Christmas morning I checked myself into the ER at a local hospital.

By examining me and using an oximeter they could see that I was having trouble breathing and not getting enough air into my lungs, so they put me in a room and put a cannula into my nose to give me oxygen. They told me that normal oxygen flow during breathing was 2-3 liters per minute, but they had me at 8 liters, and by the end of the day I was up to 11. After awhile they told me they were moving me to a separate room because I had Covid Pneumonia: a viral form of pneumonia (as opposed to bacterial) caused by the Covid virus.

And so for the next two weeks I was under quarantine in a wing that held around 30 beds, but with only 12 other people due to a shortage of nurses. I couldn’t have any visitors. The first three nights in the hospital were the worse, as any movement I made, whether getting up to use the restroom or just shifting in my bed expended energy and of course, oxygen. I would be gasping for air in short rapid breaths and break into coughing fits, which would in turn expel even more air and leave me even more out of breath.

If you want to know what it was like, imagine this. When I was a teen, my family had a cabin on a lake that had once been the site of a sawmill in the early 1900’s and I used to go free diving in the lake to look for and retrieve items left over from the mill that were scattered on the bottom of the lake. There were times when I misjudged the depth of the water and as I was making my way back to the top, I realized that I was running out of air. So I would swim faster, which would in turn use up more of the air in my lungs, and that’s when I began to panic, as the faster I swam the more air I used. It was a frightening feeling, but somehow I always made it to the surface.

The fear I remember having that I would drown when diving, was similar to what it was like to have Covid pneumonia. For even though I had oxygen coming in, my lungs were not working properly, so it felt like I was trying to quickly cross a short distance with a bike on its lowest gear. I expended so much effort to take in the oxygen but only a small portion of it was able to be used by my lungs, while at the same time I was wearing myself out by coughing and breathing. This was especially so in the wee hours of the night, when I would wake up in a panic gasping for air and felt a sense of dread come over me at times. Eventually though, the nights became better by using the breathing exercises the nurses taught me, learned to move slowly, and lying on my stomach.

A Civil Discussion About Getting Vaccinated

Although I couldn’t have any visitors, I was able to text or call people from the hospital when I was feeling better. Some of them worried that the standard hospital protocols they had read were being commonly used, would harm me. However, because the Covid had caused pneumonia, the standard protocols did not work, and furthermore thanks to the supply chain shortages, they were short of certain drugs and completely out of monoclonal antibodies (which I had some reservations about anyways). So they ended up using two steroids to treat the Covid symptoms, first one, which didn’t work, and then a second which only marginally worked.

After a few days I was able to talk to the doctor (there was a shortage of those too), and she said to me, “I understand you have some reservations about getting vaccinated, well my job is to help you understand everything about them.” She didn’t say much but listened patiently as I explained my three main reasons for not getting vaccinated.

1. I had a serious problem with the credibility of vaccine proponents who over the last two years could not separate health care from public policy. Whether it was the issue of "cases vs. infections" or the entire "from Covid vs. with Covid" kerfuffle, it is hard to shake the feeling that the public is not being leveled with about the trued severity of this pandemic. Of course this credibility gap is only widened when so many of these vax and mask advocates violate their their own mandates, or when the George Floyd protests were given an impramatur by “health officials” while at the same time saying that anti-mask, vax-mandate, or lockdown protests were dangerous. You can’t have it both ways without undermining your whole case.

2. While I understand holding pharmaceutical companies liable for every single ill-effect of their products tends to stifle research and innovation, three of the vaccine makers have awful track records when it comes to product safety. According to the government-funded National Center for Biotechnology and Information (NCBI), as recently as 2019 Pfizer, Moderna, and Astrazenecaa have all settled out of court (without admitting fault of course) to the tune of billions of dollars for essentially lying about the intended or side effects of their drugs. And these are the same companies advertising on the news shows that tow the pro-vaccine line, as well endlessly lobbying on K Street? Again, there's an issue of credibility.

3. And last but not least, I have religious objections to how the vaccines are produced.

The doctor was surprised that I listed the religions objection last, but I did that intentionally so as to try and present a rational case where I took the time to memorize not talking points, but sources for what I was saying and thereby cutting off the possibility of any canned responses from her. Our conversation was cordial, but in the end she admitted that she did not know much about the first two objections and could only end with, “Well my job is to help you get well.”  I said I understood that and she and the nurses were already doing a wonderful job taking care of me, but I would respectfully refuse the vaccine.

The Dubious Care of the Soul and Discharge

When it came to spiritual solace, well...the hospital was rather in short supply of that as well. The one visitor I was able to see was “Fr. Bob” the hospital’s “Church of Nice” elderly Catholic chaplain who, in full HAZMAT attire, would offer to pray with me and perform the anointing of the sick. While I was respectful of his priestly office, the fact is that while the form of the sacrament was correct, the matter and intent was not, since he did not use oil to anoint me and just crossed me on my forehead and hands while wearing latex gloves. He asked if I wanted communion, but when I found out it the host would have to be given to me through the nurse- standard Covid protocols after all- I declined. While I appreciated Fr. Bob’s visits, I am glad that I was not deemed in need of last rites given how he anointed me. I mused afterwards that had my health taken a turn for the worst, I hoped that like baptism, there was such a thing as last rites of desire.

At long last, by the second week the amount of oxygen I needed continued to drop to around 4 liters, where they deemed me fit enough to be discharged. So after losing 45 lbs and being covered in bruises from all of the needles they poked me with for my steroid injections, drawing blood, and IV’s my middle son came and took me home. Three days before I left they did a CT scan on my lungs- the first time I was able to leave my room since I had been admitted- and I was told that there had been some severe damage to my lungs, but not necessarily permanent- depending on how well I take care of myself in the future- but it left me weak and easily winded.

As an epilogue to this whole account, when I got home and went through my mail, I found my “doctor’s note” from the hospital- the one I would submit to my insurance- and under “Diagnosis” it said, “Pneumonia and Unspecified Organism.” During a follow-up phone meeting with my regular doctor, I asked him to explain the “Unspecified Organism.” His told me that they finally got around to testing what strain of Covid I had (for their stats) and mysteriously it came back as “Unknown." So in the end they weren't really sure what I had. I joked with the doctor that perhaps that it was one of those “missing” variants, the ones with the Greek letters that got skipped over between Delta and Omicron. I quipped, “Hmm...maybe it was the ‘Xi” strain, you know the ‘Pooh’ variant.” He didn’t get it, but I was glad that after everything I had gone through, I was able to laugh at it.

A Clear Conscience and Being Fully Informed

Unlike someone who is in an accident and sees their whole life flash before them, I took a longer and more pensive route. But I certainly had a lot of time to look over my life and re-examine what I was doing with it. However, during all that time, despite worrying about my health and what would happen to me and my family if I ever got this sick again, not once did I question my decision to not burn the pinch of...oops I mean to get the jab.

However, after going through what I did, I could totally understand why someone would get the vaccine, either out of fear of being socially ostracized or from hearing from people like me what it’s like to have Covid (and pneumonia in my case). I would not condone their decision and would certainly not condemn them, but I would understand why they would make it. After all, as you have probably guessed from my account, it was truly awful and I would not wish it upon anyone.

Perhaps I was lucky in that, since the doctor was unprepared for my reasons to not get vaccinated as well as her aloof and dismissive attitude, it made it easier to resist the pressure that was put on me. Nonetheless, there were times when I had thoughts and feelings about how refusing to get vaccinated was a “stumbling block” to my long-tern health and “foolishness” in the eyes of popular opinion; especially, when it came to my thoughts about me dying.

But in the end, I would always come back to St. Thomas Aquinas’ assertion that “grace perfects nature” and St. Paul’s words that our Lord’s grace is “sufficient” and “made perfect in weakness”, and if malingering in a hospital bed for two weeks is not an example of weakness, then I don’t know what is. Ultimately though, I could see that even if others (especially other Christians) could not appreciate it, I knew that there are worse things in life than death, as our Lord warned us that we should “not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

As I mentioned once in a eulogy to a friend of mine who did not survive his bout with Covid, there is a silly superstition running amok in our culture that if we do, think, and say all the “right” things, that somehow we will escape all discomfort, suffering, and maybe even death. But aside from being a rather puerile point of view, it is the logical outcome of a culture that has lost its sense of the supernatural and of God. Thus, in case anyone needs a reminder, death and taxes are still the two inevitable realities of life on this side of the veil and the belief that this life is all there is, and there is nothing else to come, seems to me to be the real stumbling block and foolishness in leading a sane life.

In the end, while living according to the whims and ways of the world may make you popular or accepted, it is only for a time. For the the life within you, your very soul, is immortal and what you do in this life matters in the life to come, even if it means accepting a life (like our Lord) with a crown of thorns to wear and a cross to bear.

Besides, as a final note, who’s to say that holding fast to our faith and our Lord, will not in time cause the medical-industrial-complex to rethink the way it makes its medicines and the God-jeering politicians to ease up on their one size fits all dictats that alienates a sizable portion of the nation’s citizens. Instead, perhaps they might see more profit in actually investing in discovering life saving medicines and therapeutics that preserve and enrich life, rather than consume it in order to make them. And if not, then perhaps, this pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for all of us, that we should do all we can to raise our kids to be the ones who will! Just a thought.

Photo Credit- standard.co.uk