For the unvaccinated but uncertain, an advocacy and a plan
She told how she spent three neck-aching hours bent over him “pulling clot after clot out of his lungs” as pictures of her children sat on his bed. She wrote how she then went to the ICU nurses station, sat down and called her wife. She wrote about the words they exchanged.
Losonczy allowed me to read this personal essay, and I asked if I could share parts of it with you, as it offers powerful and raw insight into what healthcare workers have gone through. It also presents a side of the vaccine issue that has been stifled by politics. The scene detailing this phone call contains the word “please” four times:
“Can you keep trying? Please?” As she pleads, I can hear the faint laughter of a child in the background.
“Of course. I promise I’ll keep trying. But I’m afraid that despite everything we do, and everything we will continue to do, he’s not getting better. I’m so sorry, but he’s going to die. Look, I know you’re worried about the vaccine…”
“We weighed all the options. Both had risks. We made the choice we thought was the right one,” she interrupts.
“Yeah…I know,” I said as calmly and with as much compassion as possible. “Look, you made the best decision possible at that time. But now your children need you. Now you know. You must get vaccinated, if not for you, for your children. Please.”
I heard myself start to crack… Their little faces. The notes hanging on his wall: “Dear dad, I made you a fruit pie. Please come home to eat it. “Dad I love you. Please get better soon. I want a hug. Tell the doctors I said hi. “Dad, come home…”
As the number of covid-19 cases declines and political tensions remain high, efforts to persuade people who have yet to receive one of the coronavirus vaccines may seem futile. The national narrative tells us that lines have been drawn and people have chosen sides. But if we look at the calm scenes that unfolded in area hospitals, a more optimistic picture emerges. It’s one that shows that the divide between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated goes beyond red versus blue, and that many people remain hesitant but not firmly resistant.
Among the reasons people have given DC health workers for not getting vaccinated: They’re worried it might cause them to miss a day or two of work. They don’t have a primary care physician to turn to with questions. They learned from a friend or relative that someone had had a negative reaction to the vaccine.
“I feel like there’s a whole bunch of people getting the wrong information,” says Losonczy, who has two children under 4 and splits his time between George Washington University Hospital and United Medical Center. She says that just by having short conversations with patients at UMC, which is located in Ward 8, a medical wasteland, she was able to get one to three people vaccinated during almost every shift.
Monika Misak, a resident doctor who also works in emergency medicine in DC, says she had the same experience. She says she has met patients who just needed someone to hear their concerns before asking if they could get the shot that day.
These are the people — the unvaccinated but convinced — Losonczy and Misak hope to help with a new vaccine ambassador program at UMC. The two worked together to come up with the program, and in recent days they received approval to launch it. Misak, who will lead the effort, said the idea came to him after seeing too many black and Latino patients die unnecessarily.
“I want to change that. I want to stop seeing what I see,” she recalled thinking.
Misak, who was born in Egypt and raised in New York, says when the vaccine came out she had close friends who were hesitant to get it. To convince them it was safe, she told them that she had given it to her 87-year-old grandmother, which she would never have done if she had any doubts.
“Being able to talk to someone who is non-judgmental, who doesn’t come from a political position, really helps,” she says.
Now that the program has been approved, the plan is to recruit at least three medical students, train them to talk with people about the vaccine, and then schedule them to work shifts at UMC so they can have those conversations with patients. UMC gives the program a unique chance to reach people that other healthcare professionals don’t see. For many residents who live east of the river, it is their main source of medical care.
“It’s not about forcing people,” Misak says of the effort. “It’s just about getting good education or good science-based information out there, so they can have all the information they need to make informed decisions.”
In this personal essay Losonczy wrote for The Things They Carry Project, she described how that conversation with her patient’s wife ended.
Thinking of my own grandchildren, I crack up. “Please,” I beg her, as the tears begin to flow. “Please, please get your shot…” – and I’m suddenly grateful that all we have is the phone, and she can’t see the tears streaming down my face for all the lives that remain to be lost at the hands of misplaced fear and lies.
“I can tell that you are really worried. I will think about it.”
“Thank you” is all I can say, before being called back into the room as her husband begins to bleed again.