On Tuesday, free H1N1 vaccines were offered for the first time in my community at a local church. Admittedly, I was originally planning to just tough out this flu season without any shots as I always do. However, within the past week, at least 11-12 people that I knew of had come down with the flu, some of those cases turning into pneumonia. I have asthma, and the very real risk of such a contagious flu hitting me hard caused me to look into getting the vaccine.
When I showed up to the church Tuesday afternoon, I was very nervous. I was wondering how long I'd have to wait, if there would be enough vaccines, but most of all I was wondering what kind of reaction my body would have. Would I pass out? Would I simply feel sick? Would I be too sick to drive myself home? My system was flowing with adrenaline as I approached the busy church parking lot. Suddenly, a song came on the radio that filled me with peace. (It's the top song on my playlist to the right, "Everlasting God.")
I pulled into the church over 1/2 hour before the shots were scheduled to start. As I approached the line that streamed out the back entrance, down the sidewalk, and wrapped back and forth over the blacktop, I realized just how quickly I needed to move to secure my place in line. When I finally got into place behind the last person, 2 women came by counting. I was in between number 960 and 970!
This is what it looked like when I walked up to the line at 3:30 p.m.
I almost turned around right there and went back to my car.
However, the counting women proceeded to give more information. There were 1500 live nasal mists available and close to 800 shots. I was not able to receive a nasal mist because of my chronic health issues, but I had a chance at receiving a shot. All I had to do was wait and see.
The line started to move in spurts, and I was feeling unusually good that day. The weather was pleasant and dry. I had water with me to remain hydrated. This local church was the only place around that offered H1N1 vaccines, and so I reasoned this was my best chance at preventing the flu as well as the secondary complications that so often occur due to my asthma and chronic illness.
The line moved along, and I began to survey the people around me. Many obviously pregnant women were there to protect themselves and their unborn children. There were also parents there with their kids, trying to keep them occupied, fed, and quiet on blankets and in strollers. There were also people there with chronic health conditions like mine. As more and more people streamed into the parking lot and the line snaked around 3, then 4, then 5 times, I considered what great lengths we were all going through to protect our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
After waiting for over 2 hours in the line, I began to feel very sick, even with breaks to squat down and rest. I had begun to talk with the other people in the line, and the one woman ahead of me could see I was having considerable trouble - swaying back and forth like a tree in a windstorm. She urged me to sit on the sidewalk while she held my place in line. It was the only way I made it through without fainting. I later learned that she had health issues very similar to mine and also was a Christian. I imagine that the chance of us being next to one another in this long line of people was not "chance" but blessing.
It was a mental and physical battle to remain in that line. I was dizzy, exhausted, and pushing far past my physical limitations. So many times we heard discouraging rumors - that they would run out of vaccine early, that they would close before we reached the church, that they wouldn't have enough of the shots, only the mist would be left. Each time, we had to make the choice to stay in the line and not give up and go home. I almost did go home about half-way through. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of being very sick this winter and wishing I had stuck it out to the end.
The restrictions for who could receive a vaccine were fairly strict. We were pre-screened, and each person had to qualify in the 1st tier (or high-risk category) of pregnant women, children, or those with very specific health conditions. The woman behind me must not have qualified because although she had immune system issues, she was screened and told she had to leave after 2 hours of waiting.
What makes people endure a line such as this one without giving up in despair?
The hope of life.
Many times during those long hours, I just looked around marveling at how many people were enduring this Russian-breadline wait in order to get into this church. They literally wanted to save their lives and the lives of their children. That's what made the wait worthwhile. This highly-contagious virus could knock these vulnerable people into the hospital within days. The thoughts of that kept them standing, kept them sitting, kept them inching forward along with me toward that life-protective vaccine.
Seeing the church steeple up ahead, I thought about the hope of eternal life that Christ offers. I thought of how, like the vaccine, his forgiveness is free. It's offered for a limited time while we're alive on earth, and without him, no one is immune from the inevitable effects of sin and death. We all need Jesus. We desperately need him more than any H1N1 vaccine. We need him because we are infected with sin. He is the only one who can save us, not from a temporary virus, but from Hell itself. Jesus is the true hope of life.
After I had endured the total 4 hours of waiting, I finally sat down in the seat at the end and had a quick, simple, anticlimactic shot of vaccine. I stood up and walked out a few seconds later. As I crossed the grass in the back lot, I could hear, and faintly see in the dark, families still in line outside the building. It was cold and well after sunset, but that shot was worth it to them.
When I got home and realized the battle I had won over despair, I thought of the lengths that the devil will go to to discourage us from waiting in faith and receiving the crown of life. Overcoming those potent obstacles of fear, exhaustion, and false ideas, and persevering to the end is what it takes to receive victory in this life and the next.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.