The book The Doctor Will See You Now by Dr Amir Khan on an ombre blue background, next to a photo of him in the hospital.

‘Patients would be able to see loved ones again’: a doctor’s tale from the vaccine frontline

In this extract from The Doctor Will See You Now, Amir Khan describes trudging through snow at the start of the vaccination rollout early this year to deliver jabs to the elderly – and the hope they brought.

Amir Khan

With vaccinations at the surgery going well, it was now time to turn our efforts to vaccinating those who couldn’t come to us: our elderly housebound patients.

I volunteered to vaccinate our nursing home patients on one of my days off. Truth be told, lockdown meant there was little else to do, and I thought I may as well make myself useful.

Monica, the lady coordinating all of our vaccine efforts, told me the vaccines had to travel in a cool bag which was to be kept between -2 and -8 degrees Celsius.

‘It is very important, Amir,’ she said to me. ‘Don’t leave it open for too long or the temperature will rise.’

‘Don’t worry, Monica,’ I said. I didn’t know why Monica was talking to me like some sort of child; I had completed my online training and knew what temperature the bag had to be. Besides, I had been put in charge of many a cool bag whenever we had family picnics.

Monica also prepared a trolley for me which contained face-masks, hand sanitiser and anything else I might need while vaccinating nursing home residents.

‘The snow is coming down pretty thick,’ Monica said, looking out of the window. ‘You sure you want to do this today?’

'If I didn’t do it today it would have to wait another week and these patients had waited long enough'

I peered out of the window. There was heavy snow coming down and it had begun to settle on the roads. Cars were crawling along, trying desperately not to slide into one another. I had no choice; this was my only day off this week. If I didn’t do it today it would have to wait another week and these poor patients had waited long enough.

I slung the cool bag over my shoulder, grabbed the trolley and made my way outside. Cars were already getting stuck just leaving the car park, and the exit was blocked by a van that was desperately revving its engine and not moving forwards. I assessed my options. The nursing home was less than a mile away – taking the car would likely mean getting stuck somewhere, so walking was the most sensible mode of transport. I set off on foot. The cool bag, it transpired, was heavier than I had expected.

The snow was coming down hard, and with only a flimsy set of scrubs and a leather jacket that was more style than substance to protect me against the elements, the cold started to seep in. My trainers were not waterproof and with each step I felt my feet get soggier. I could hear my mum’s voice in my head: ‘You knew it was going to snow, you should have been better prepared.’

She was right, but there was nothing I could do about it now.

I got to the home, feeling a bit sorry for myself. I was buzzed in by the nurse in charge. He looked at me.

‘Jesus, did you walk?’ he asked.

'That family member visits had been severely restricted meant they were not getting the mental stimulation and love that those with dementia need'

‘Yes, the roads are at a complete standstill,’ I said. ‘Shall we get started? We’ve got over eighty patients to get through.’ He nodded and took me to the treatment room.

‘Most of the residents can be brought in here for their vaccines, then once we’ve done them we will go the rooms of the ones who are bedbound and vaccinate them,’ the nurse said.

‘Sounds like a plan, Batman!’ I said, taking out my things. ‘My name is Adeola, not Batman,’ he said curtly.

‘Sounds like a plan, Adeola,’ I said quickly.

The care home specifically catered for those living with dementia. Some were at an early stage of the disease, while some were in the more advanced stages. Either way, they had suffered from isolation during the lockdowns. The carers were doing as good a job as possible keeping them entertained, but the fact that family member visits had been severely restricted meant they were not getting the mental stimulation and love that those with dementia desperately need.

The consent for these patients getting their vaccine had come from family members who had Power of Attorney for any medical decisions and most of the residents were quite happy to receive the jabs. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. A few became quite upset and confused as I approached them with the syringe and on more than one occasion I was hit, but at the other end of the spectrum one lady pinched my bottom while I administered her dose. I took the rough with the smooth.

'That newfound resilience and determination to succeed can help us to climb higher than ever before'

It took the whole day to vaccinate the residents and many of the staff members. I was tired at the end of it, but I still had the walk back to the surgery to do.

The snow had eased a little and the traffic was moving again. It was dark as I made my way back, and I had that weary feeling of exhaustion you have after a hard but worthwhile day. The vaccines were a huge step forward in ending the lockdowns, meaning patients like the ones I had just seen would eventually be able to see loved ones again. A little walk in the snow was more than worth that.

I got back to the surgery after 6 p.m. to find it mostly empty. I now had the very unexciting task of documenting all the vaccines I had given that day. I went over to the fancy coffee machine and pondered my choices for a moment. A macchiato sounded perfect. I pressed the button and watched the machine come to life as it mixed coffee and chocolate. I needed both.

Over the following weeks, we vaccinated thousands of patients. The vaccine delivery service wasn’t particularly reliable; one week we would have nothing, while other weeks we were given huge batches. It was feast or famine. But whenever a new batch arrived, Monica put on vaccination clinics and we all played our parts in doling out the jabs.

As the weeks went on, millions of people across the country got vaccinated. It was the first time in over a year that the nation had something to celebrate. The first time in a long time we could hope.

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Photo credit: Knickerbockerglory

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