The Long and Winding Road

First, of course, starting in January were the Facebook posts from the U.S., a trickle, then a flood: vaccinated! (I was such a late FB adopter that my friends list is more curated than most, which allows me to avoid both the fray and anti-vaccine posts.)

Then one friend here went home to England; another was able to get vaccinated at the military base in Cadiz. Then another, who assists in a school, suddenly got her summons. The rest of us told ourselves we weren’t envious. It wasn’t like getting a vaccine was going change anything. We’d still be wearing masks, we’d still be being careful. Until this week, we couldn’t even drive out of Madrid, whether we were vaccinated or not.

El Pais has been very thorough in totting up the vaccinated: first, first-responders and those in the nursing homes; then those eighty and above, which seemed to take months. Then those above 70; then those above 60. Use of AstraZeneca was halted; then it was restarted. Maybe. Honestly, I stopped keeping track.

Then, this past Monday, I was floored to read that people under 50 would start getting vaccinated in June. June? June was only two weeks away! Forget patience. I wanted my shot.

The instructions were that we’d receive a text from Salud Madrid when our time came. I was comfortable with this — in theory. But public health itself is a foreign-enough concept for an American (sadly) without factoring in the (mindblowing) idea that every single person in Spain was going to get a text — and an appointment, and a covid vaccine — from a governmental agency. I’d only gone to my assigned health center once, a year and a half ago. Was I really in the system? And did I really understand what I thought I understood? (I ask myself this multiple times a day, and even in my sleep.) No one we knew under 75 had gotten a text yet, but then again, at 56, I was the oldest of my small sample of Madrid.

Oh ye of little faith!

Only two hours of doubt — and, then, just like that, the text summoning me for my first dose was in my inbox.

The mass-vaccination site I’d been called to was in the auditorium of the hospital just north of us. Brand-new in 1936, Hospital Cliníco San Carlos was the front lines in the fighting for Madrid during the Civil War, when opposing forces fought hall-to-hall inside the building. The hospital was rebuilt after the war; the land just northwest of it is still scarred by mine craters.

My way there took me past the churros stand in front of the hospital; past lottery ticket and Kleenex vendors; past the hospital morgue; past smokers, both hospital staff and visitors, standing beneath the no smoking allowed sign.

My view, after I walked out of the building, was of the far off mountains.


Spain’s numbers:

According to the latest Health Ministry report, 38.6% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, representing 15.5 million people.