Do you remember, back in the day, lining up for concert tickets? You know, back before the Internet? Yeah, you used to get up horrrrrrrendously early and lineup with thousands of other people who didn’t have credit cards and couldn’t call a time zone over to get the tickets? Remember how you bonded with people in line, sang the songs of your artist, and sat around in your sleeping bags and lawn chairs for hours?

Yeah, that’s a little like what yesterday’s H1N1 vaccination clinic was all about. I went into work on Tuesday afternoon, and a number of people said “HEY! Nice to see you! You’re getting the shot before you come back, right? Right?” I gather they’ve had some health issues in the office, which is only to be expected.

Anyway, Holly (best friend, 4 month old Leo and two year old Max) and I knew we both had to get the shot. Me because I have every inflammatory illness known to man and who really needs extra inflammation with the flu, and Hol because she’s primary caregiver to an infant who can’t be immunized. We had decided to go on Friday, cause that’s when Hol didn’t have anything going on. Our grand plan was for her to pick up Max at daycare at 1:30, then me, then we’d boot the 10 minutes to an arena and lineup for the vaccination clinic which opened there at 2:30.

Yeah, that was the plan. However, at 10:30, a clinic in the rural part of Ottawa had already given out all it’s spots, and it was also scheduled to open at 2:30. I saw that on Twitter (very smart of the city to use this for clinic updates, by the way) and immediately called Holly. An urgent round of Leo-feeding and dressing occurred and Holly picked up at just before 11:30. We parked illegally across the street from the arena (their parking lot was closed so the nurses have somewhere to park). I hotfooted it through the parking lot to get a spot in line while Hol strapped on Leo. This is what the line looked like at 11:45.

11:45

That’s about 100 or so people ahead of us. Not so bad, right? They must be giving out around 800 or so doses in a 6 hour clinic, right?

12:06

This is the line at 12:06PM. There’s about another 50 people behind us now, including an incredible number of pregnant women. I guess they heard the WHO advice saying the adjuvanted vaccine is safe for them. So… 50 people joined in just over 20 minutes. At 1PM, the line started moving, and within about 15 minutes we were at the front. At that point, people were lined up through the parking lot, over a grassy knoll, and into the street (on a sidewalk).

Hol and Leo, near the front of the line!

You can tell Holly’s been in line for a long time. Leo was a real champ and slept through the whole lineup endeavour, which was awesome. He’s just started to fuss a bit in this photo. Holly has declined to feed him since we’re now about 10 people from the front.

We snagged our wristbands around 1:20. They started the numbers at 12000, and we were 12237 to 240. Yes, we got more than two wristbands. Holly’s husband John and their two year old, as primary contacts with Leo, are also eligible as high prirority.

me and Leo, post Cambodian food

Hol and I went over to Phonm Penh Noodle House, about 8 short blocks away in the rain, to get dry and warm up. It’s pretty chilly hanging around outside for two and a half hours when it’s only a high of 9C. We called John on the way there so that he could pick up Max and meet us back at the clinic at 3PM, our designated time for registration. We filled out all the forms while we ate and Leo was cooed over appropriately by the most awesome staff at the Noodle House.

It was POURING rain when we got up to go back to the arena/clinic. John and Max were already there, huddled up with a whack of other parents and kids in the heated tents the city has set up for people who are waiting. There were a lot of people in our tent, poor Max had been dragged away from his nap, and he was a little overwhelmed.

a highly dubious Max

See what I’m saying? He’s looking at his mum and he’s not 100% sure he trusts even her. Poor little guy.

Funny thing happened. I’m sitting down with John and Max (Holly can’t sit while she’s wearing Leo or he’ll wake up) and I look at the woman next to us and say “excuse me, I’m sure I know you from somewhere. Did you go to Trent?” (that’s how I know most people). “No,” she says, “but we worked together in Kingston in 1999!”. Uh, yeah. Kingston in 1999. I had that job for exactly six months. I was an intern. Apparently, I’m pretty memorable!

Anyway, I worked on a logic puzzle (with some help from John – I’m terrible at logic puzzles and just got the first one of my whole life right the other night – yes, I’m embracing my mediocrity) and Max ran around a bit and Holly and Leo bounced.

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I like how Max is looking at me with great suspicion. This is particularly funny since I KNOW I’m one of his favourite people. I’m almost as cool to him as raisins. No joke.

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John mocked me silly when I first referred to this as the “vampire sneeze” several months ago. But look! He demonstrated the right way to cough. No casitgation from Health Ministers for him!

We got into the arena’s waiting area around 4:15, and things really started to sort of speed up after that. Our registration forms were checked, we all had a snack, Max and John got to watch some hockey, I turned on the iPod to drown out the screaming sounds of 100 people in a small room, and eventually our registration group was summoned upstairs to the main vaccination area.  The below picture is the staging area, or where you go once you get inside.

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From actual registration to my getting the shot was maybe 15 minutes. It was chaos, but controlled chaos. The most upsetting part was a girl, around 5, who was so upset that she was beyond hysterical. She was arching her back and screaming like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It was… unreal. In the 30 minutes I was in that room, they must have tried three times to give her the shot. No luck. In the meantime, all she did was freak every other kid out.

Every kid but Max. He is really a supertrooper. John and Holly got their shots and then he said “my turn!”. He had one tiny little tear on his cheek when he got to the “wait here so we can see you didn’t go into shock” area. John had given him some smarties, which, along with some judicious spit, turned him into…

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ZOMBIE MAX!!

Anyway, we left the clinic around 5:40 and I at least was home just before 6pm. My arm is rather sore today, but the nurse had warned me that she found it more painful than the normal flu shot, so I was expecting that. Even though it took about 6 hours from start to finish, I have to say that it was much better organized than I thought it would be and the staff were really rather incredible. They’re really patient with people who are by and large agitated and upset, and they have (on the whole) great humour about what is truly a difficult situation.

Thank you very much, City of Ottawa, for making what could have been a bad situation totally bearable. Mad props. It’s too bad there wasn’t some crazy cool concert at the end of it, but I’ll take a longer life and protection from H1N1 as a reward!

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