Jess Chartier
Jess Chartier • Jul 29


by Jess Chartier

Jess Chartier is a full-time mom and part-time writer living in the southern United States. She has over 20 years experience working with various nonprofits serving women and children and calls herself a “professional volunteer”.  Find her online on Instagram @AlabamaMansion. Here, she tells us about her experience in a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Maryland. 

I wake up early, a little tired and a little anxious.  It’s been ages since I was up and out the door this early, but it’s a thirty-minute drive to the vaccination site—an old high school a few towns over—and I need to jump on the expressway for part of the trip.  Who knows what the traffic is like now that things are opening up? Best to leave a little early.  

It doesn’t take me long to get ready for my day. I don’t know which volunteer role I’ll be filling, so I dress for contingencies: skinny jeans, three-quarter-length casual blouse, vest, and slip-on walkers. Presentable. Comfortable. I forgo a full face of makeup, quickly smoothing on a tinted moisturizer and a swipe or two of mascara instead. Brushed and braided hair and I’m ready to go. I stop by my 9-year-old son’s room to wish him a good day at school and give him a quick smooch before popping into the office to say goodbye to my husband, who is already diving into work emails. He wishes me luck and sends me on my way with a kiss and a pat. I’ll miss having him home when his team ends telework.

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Time is ticking, so I decide to skip breakfast and hope I’ll have a few minutes to grab a coffee on the way in. I head out the door into the garage and am met with a wall of warm, damp air. I didn’t realize it was going to rain today; this vest isn’t going to cut it if I’m stationed outside. I better grab my raincoat.  I hop into my car, and recall I’ve been in three car accidents since choosing this sportier car, the last one occurring a few weeks ago on the first day of in-person school in over a year. A woman, now unaccustomed to sudden school bus stops in the road, rear-ended me as I waited behind the bus’s flashing lights.  

I enter the address I’m looking for into my GPS app. 27 minutes. I pull out of my driveway and my commute begins. After a quick detour to pick up my Starbucks order, I hop on the expressway and spend the next 20 minutes wondering what my day is going to be like. 

I arrive at the vaccination site five minutes early, park, and begin gathering my things. There are no signs to guide me, but a somewhat steady flow of women in medical scrubs and white lab coats leads me to believe I’m headed in the right direction. I follow the line to the main entrance of the building, through the double doors, and into a makeshift reception area.  

There are tables and rope lines and arrows indicating traffic direction. At the table by the door, I spot disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, a collection of touchless thermometers, and a sign-in sheet.  Although there is no one here to give clear direction, it seems obvious we are meant to temperature check ourselves or each other and then sign in. I stop a moment to wonder if that would have been obvious to me a year ago.  97.6F.  Perfect.  I find my name, sign the line next to it, and note that I am listed as part of the “Check-In” team. This sounds promising and likely to be indoors. I am pleased, both because I hate being damp, and because it sounds like a job where I will have the chance to interact with people.  

I find my assigned table and look over the enormous list of names, all people who have registered to have their vaccine administered today: 1300 in total. My job will be to make sure everyone who comes in is on the list; anyone not on the list will be sent over to the registration table so they can make an appointment.  It’s not advertised, but anyone eligible who shows up at the site today will be offered the vaccine.  In a ritual that seems old hat, the clinic director gives the nod to open the doors and the first rush of people flood the reception area.  They queue up along the rope line, waiting for their turn to check in.  

I am both surprised and impressed by the efficiency of the process they have developed to get people through. 

As the day progresses, I have the chance to chat a little with my fellow clinic workers.  Some are volunteers, like me.  Some are Health Department employees, diverted from their usual jobs to fill in gaps.  There are a lot of gaps.  It seems the early rush of volunteers when the vaccine clinics first opened has dwindled as they’ve gone on.  That seems about right to me; people struggle with long-term commitments.; or maybe they took advantage of the chance to get a vaccine right away by working the clinics.  Regardless, there is plenty of staff here to keep things moving like clockwork.  I am both surprised and impressed by the efficiency of the process they have developed to get people through.  It’s no wonder that we are able to vaccinate almost 1500 people over the course of the next eight hours.  

More interesting to me are the conversations I have with the people coming through my line.  Some are anxious, asking, “Have you gotten the shot yet?  How was it?”  or “Do a lot of people have reactions?”  I try to assure them it will be fine and that they should ask the nurse any questions they have before she gives them their shot.  Some people are excited, sharing plans to see their grandchildren or vacation destinations.  One woman is excited that her bridge club will resume their weekly game once everyone is vaccinated.  Many people notice my volunteer badge and thank me for being there.  I feel awkward accepting this gratitude.  I work through the day, breaking briefly for lunch and for my own journey through the line, but most of my time is spent checking names, offering encouragement, answering questions.  

Ultimately,  the work proves generally mundane.  Ask their name.  Confirm their contact information. Hand them a health screening questionnaire.  Direct them to the next station.  Next!  It makes for a long day, the highlights being those people excited to share their joy and relief at being vaccinated. For them today feels like freedom.  

The last person has checked in and been shuttled back to the nurses to receive their dose.  I pack up my belongings, leave my pen and highlighter with my now thoroughly marked-up list, and head out to my car.  I’m meeting some girlfriends for a Wine on Wednesday's event at our favorite Italian place.  As I drive over, I nurse my sore arm where I got my first dose today.  Despite my fatigue, I find that I’m infected by the mood of all the people who passed through today.  Their permeating sense of gratitude and the tempered hope. I feel moved and more grateful than I expected to be a part of helping Martha get back to the bridge club.  I think of Ron and Carol who are excited to meet their first great grandbaby and Linda who is planning a slumber party at her house for all of her grandkids.  I see one of my girlfriends pull into the parking spot across from mine.  She waves and hops out of her car to meet me.  I pull out my phone and go into my email where I send a quick note to the clinic volunteer coordinator. “I can work a few more shifts”  I grab my purse and exit the car, already looking forward to a glass of Moscato. Just looking forward.  

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Jess Chartier
Jess Chartier

Jess Chartier is a full time mom and part time writer who resides in the Southern United States. She is a self professed “professional volunteer” who has spent more than 20 years giving her time and talents to organizations which serve women, children and families in her community. Find her on Instagram @alabama_mansion.

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