(Photo by Kathleen Bortolin)

(Photo by Kathleen Bortolin)

Column: 5-11 year-olds brave Ladysmith vaccine clinic

“All my gratitude to the vaccination practitioners,” writes Kathleen Bortolin

By Kathleen Bortolin (special to the Chronicle),

I had only just added Adele’s new song to my current playlist two days earlier. It was a little unnerving, therefore, when it cued up as I turned onto Parkhill Terrace, making my way to the 5–11-year-old vaccination clinic. “Go easy on me/I was still a child,” the song says.

I had just picked up my six-year-old from school early. Her substitute for the day, Ms. Scott, was remarkable in her kindness as she ushered my wee scared child to the door, reinforced just how brave she was and let her pick two treasures from the treasure box. Even with a mask obscuring her face, my daughter’s big brown eyes betrayed her unease.

As Adele played on, she hugged herself and whimpered gently in the back seat. I changed the song. It was only the second day the clinic was open. We had registered way back, eager to vaccinate our third child, the fifth in our family. We want to travel again and I like science. I recognize the issue of vaccination is a tricky one and our community is somewhat divided on it. I’m not here to judge and I hope no one else is either. Fortunately, I haven’t heard too much around Forrest Field, or the schoolyards, or even social media from either side about who is right and what choice makes sense. I just wanted to tell my story if it’s helpful and celebrate the people on the front lines, including parents and kids, doing their best in this difficult time.

We were greeted at Davis Road School by the cheeriest of check-in staff and even cheerier messages scrawled across the whiteboards. The cheeriness was not lost on me but made little difference to my anxious child. Fresh in her mind was the flu shot from a couple weeks ago; the kindergarten vaccinations from two months ago; an upcoming filling at the dentist and the news that she needed two baby teeth removed at the same time as the filling. The world can be a cruel place.

After a quick check in, we were directed through a labyrinth where children followed arrows and read more cheery signs. One said “You are so brave.” It was meant for the kids. My little one walked the pace of a snail, hunched over and apprehensive. I had expected to go into a gymnasium full of howling children, tears filling puddles of sorrow on the floor. But it was just a classroom with three practitioners all beaming with the energy of your favourite aunt or uncle who gets you when your parents don’t — exactly the vibe we needed.

We went randomly to practitioner three (I cannot name her; Island Health rules). Who is now my favourite aunt (sorry aunt Mac). She was clearly designed for this kind of work, unhurried and gentle. The softest voice and the warmest of smiles. She coaxed my little one to a chair very gently and then to my lap. She talked gently through the whole process and even outlined the swag that was coming. After a quick swab, she told us to look out the window at the ocean. The needle went in and it was done in two seconds. There was relief, zero tears and all manner of congratulations. While we waited our obligatory 15 minutes, the family behind me played I-spy with the practitioners and the kids won.

We will do it all over again in eight weeks, sometime after the filling and the extractions. I am determined to make a new playlist with songs like Eye of the Tiger and I’m Still Standing to play as we tour town for all of these horrible appointments. And then, Hawaii.

All my gratitude to the vaccination practitioners who are softening this blow, showing up with their smiles, their energy and their gentleness to walk all of us through this moment in time. Also thanks to excellent substitute teachers, brave little girls and all the worried caregivers. You are so brave.