by Rick Boettger…
As if COVID couldn’t get worse.
Signing up for a COVID vaccine is proving absurdly difficult, even abusive of us, the public, for no good reason I can see. A big Hooray for the rapid development and approval of what we hope to be our literally life-saving Salvation. A remarkably safe and effective COVID vaccine exists, and is being shipped out in large quantities to the states.
I don’t know how it’s going elsewhere, but here in Monroe county it has been hell for people like me and my wife Cynthia, ages 72 and 76. We have done everything, and here’s our list:
- Turn down an offer a month ago from Jackson Memorial to drive up twice for Cynthia to get the shots, because she had major surgery there in September. (More on this blunder later.)
- Wait patiently for the “Still waiting for the vaccine” sign-up on the County’s COVID website to change.
- Try eagerly and hopefully, twice, for the Florida Publix website to let us sign on at 6 in the morning (much more on this, later).
- Respond to a robo-call from the VA for me to press “1” to get a call-back to arrange the shots with them. In true VA healthcare fashion, I indeed got a callback the next day (I’ve gotten the best healthcare in the world from them, especially after I got run over and pretty much killed crossing Roosevelt on my bike). I could get the shots same day in Miami, but I have to wait until March to get them in our Key West clinic.
- Hope that our “boutique doctor” Beysolow could get us some early, as a rich-folk step to the front of the line. They wrote us down some time ago. No news to date. Where’s my $$$ privilege?
- Sign up Friday, the first day that the County website allowed us to under their new system.
The by-far worst part of this to date has been the Publix sign-up website. Everyone I know has done at least as much as I have, and failed. One friend tried the new and now widely known technique of having himself and four of his friends open up a total of 40 browsers to try to get a shot for his 82-year-old Mother. Zilch! Another friend actually got to fill out the form, but then had to answer a Captcha, the worst kind, with pictures in his case of railroad crossings–he got it wrong, and IT DUMPED HIM OUT COMPLETELY. Really, getting one of the idiot Captchas wrong could cost my friend his life.
The only people I know who actually got onto the Publix website I never met until I happened to be at my Key Plaza Publix picking up one of my multitudinous prescriptions on Saturday after the latest Friday sign-up, and these two strangers were there for their shots. It was a couple my age who’d gotten in on their second try, the day before. The wife first advised me to have Cynthia’s Medicare card at hand to enter the number, because if you wasted time getting it, you’d be dumped off. She also told me her ‘secret’ was using her cell phone instead of a real desktop (like my iMac). Third, maybe having Dr. Whitelside helped her. Finally, she also told me that while her husband had signed up only her and himself when he got the chance, she’d heard of people using the new, sign up your spouse too option, to sign up as many as ten of their friends and family. I contacted Bob Eadie’s office to find out if this is true, but no response.
I doubt the eminent Dr. Whiteside connection had anything to do with it. Cynthia’s decades-long MD is Doctor Norris, and no one is more eminent in Monroe than his dedicated self. I not only have good doctor connections, I am perhaps Publix’ biggest customer, buying tons of opioids to keep me from suicide for the first two years after I got run down. But begging one of my long-time pharmacists there for at least a tip if not special treatment (I was not looking for fairness any more), she told me that she herself could not get in to sign up her grandma for the very shots she was giving strangers. I’ve also run into two active nurses who cannot get their Moms vaccinated. I have even been in daily contact with other wise-guy civic activists like myself, all with significant connections, and none of us have gotten anything but tales of either inexplicable luck (infrequently) or woe (too many to count).
Back to the blunder. When Cynthia got her email offer in December from Jackson, we thought driving back and forth to Miami, twice, a total of 1400 miles and 16 hours on the narrow and busy highways, was more dangerous than getting COVID, in what surely would be the fair wait to get it here in Key West. Still sounds like a reasonable decision to have made, then. But if I had known what I know now, I’d say I’ve spent way more than 16 hours worrying, causing more stress-related health dangers to myself than even from drunk SUV drivers on US 1.
The main stress has been the Florida Publix signup process. Some hundreds of thousands of elders across the state have gone through what I have done:
- Get up at 5:45 AM via the resurrected alarm clock that has not been used in years.
- Sit in front of my iMac with a way-too-early cup of coffee, log onto the state website, gratified to see the wonderful numbers pop up at exactly 6 AM, showing, for example 6,398 doses available for Palm Beach and 245 for Monroe Counties.
- Obediently wait patiently, subserviently, as the website refreshes, as advertised, every minute, for a sign-up sheet to pop up so I can save my wife’s life.
- Turn my eyes back a few times every minute while trying to read an easy magazine, unable to take my mind off of the possibly life-saving refresher screen.
- Starting optimistically, as I am a happy sort, I grow increasingly distressed as I see the number of Monroe doses drop slowly at first, 245 to 244 to 242, and then precipitously, 119 to 112, 95 to 82 near the end (the groups of ten being submitted all at once?).
- Devastated when all the doses have been claimed, at exactly 6:42 AM both Wednesday and Friday. Going back to bed, and not able to fall asleep for an hour.
Okay, deep breath. Above has been purely factual journalism. Now comes the investigative opinion portion. And damn, am I pissed, and ready to begin the get-some-of-the-bastards-fired and sue-the-rest kind of opinionating.
Multiply my two hours of pain times the how many hundreds of thousands of other Florida seniors like myself going through the same thing. What on earth were our highly-paid state functionaries thinking when they came up with this heartless scheme? It seems like the only possible benefit to this system is that it could be handled by computers, and the results would be ready for our public servants when they came in at 8 AM. Compare this to having old-fashioned paper sign-up sheets like the one at the Gato building, and assigning the public doses by first-come or by age or by any other conceivable method than randomly by browser at too damn early, and too damn long in the morning, over and over again until we all die of heart attacks from the stress and we don’t need the vaccine any more.
Really, seriously, I’d like to be King just so I could first fire the idiots who came up with this plan, and then fire the bosses who hired those idiots. Fortunately, I don’t have to be King to file a class action lawsuit when even one of us does indeed die of a heart attack while obsessed at our screen after 6 AM–please, dear readers, send up a flag if, sadly, anyone you know drops dead, because if it’s me, I won’t be much good using my pro se expertise.
Until March for myself or whenever for Cynthia, we’re doing what we can to protect ourselves. We take our blood oxygen saturation every morning with a cheap pulse oximeter from Walgreens–if it drops from the normal mid-90’s to say 75, go straight to the hospital, before the shortness of breath strikes. I’ve got some zinc and the maligned ionophore that dare not speak its name, but which I with my extensive science background feel is worth a shot at the beginning stages of an infection. We wear masks. I use alcohol wipes. Cynthia hunkers down all of the time (she’s gotten depressed), I go out minimally. We so wanted a special dinner out for Beef Wellington on Cynthia’s 76th, but just ordered a lesser home delivery again (the Wellington restaurant does not allow take-out).
This last is really stretching for sympathy, but there are many ways for us seniors to feel pain in our Golden Years, and COVID is testing all of them. It has been a medical near-miracle to create these vaccines so quickly. It has been a governmental abomination to keep it from us, the people, so inefficiently. Please, dear leaders, get thine act together. I am helpless to save my wife’s life. We are dying out here.
Rick Boettger had a Top Secret security clearance in the Army and studied nuclear chemistry at MIT and law at Yale before getting a PhD in business at Berkeley. He earned tenure as a business professor at TCU in Fort Worth before going to Moscow as a Fulbright Professor, writing a book on the economy, hosting a semi-national talk radio show, and retiring to Key West in 1996 at the age of 48. Since then he has worked part-time as a tax and financial advisor, and has been doing investigative journalism since he began at the Blue Paper in 2007. He is very happily married to his superb copy-editor Cynthia Edwards, the former long-time PIO for the Key West Police Department.