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Robin Clifford Wood of Hampden is a writer and former Bangor Daily News columnist.
I confess. When I started volunteering in January at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Bangor, my primary motivation was to get vaccinated. Sure enough, after my four-hour shift I lined up with other volunteers to get my first dose of Pfizer. By then, however, the impetus to volunteer had grown far beyond self-preservation.
My job that day (fully decked out in mask and face shield) was to direct post-vaccine visitors to their 15-minute observation area through the maze of hallways and stairways of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Stationed by the only exit, I saw virtually every one of the 400 visitors on their way out.
Two things struck me. First, engaging with so many people after a year of isolation made me giddy with joy. I basked in my re-immersion into humanity. Second, it wasn’t just me. The overarching atmosphere, in spite of long lines and paperwork, was a celebratory glow of eye-smiles and relieved inhalations.
I volunteered again the following week, got my second vaccine three weeks later after a third shift, and my debt was paid. No one expected me or twisted my arm to continue volunteering. But what a tantalizing lure it was to return, to share my part in something historic, hopeful and helpful, even more so after the operation was moved to the vast conference center downtown.
My contribution has been minimal compared to many, who show up nearly every clinic day, often for double shifts. But my seven half-day shifts have been illuminating. I understand the allure for the daily crowd.
The clinics are fertile soil for volunteer camaraderie, nourished by laughter, support, gentle humor, cooperation. Everything that’s best about humans working together is at play. Visitors — almost universally patient and cooperative — effuse gratitude. One offered coffee to his vaccinator. One passed out Mardi Gras beads. It’s a big party.
But festivity masks a more serious truth that I found myself forgetting in the celebratory air. On my most recent morning shift I was witness to a quietly profound reminder of what we are doing here, and why we must continue.
I was on traffic and line control in Pod One. Just before the public began to arrive I watched a pharmacy technician organize and orient the day’s vaccinators. Once they were all seated, he distributed his box full of bagged, pre-loaded syringes, 10 per bag, amongst the 15- to 20 vaccine stations in our pod. I heard him repeating a phrase as he did his rounds. At each table he said “Good morning…” and something else I couldn’t quite decipher. He spoke the phrase every time, even at tables where the vaccinator wasn’t yet seated, like a prayer, or a blessing as he administered his packages. As he neared my end of the room, I was able to hear his voice more clearly, on repeat, like a pastor giving communion:
“Good morning. Save some lives. Good morning. Save some lives. Good morning. Save some lives.”