Opinion

It seems like a lifetime ago when I was one of the first Manitobans to have a long swab jammed up my nasal cavity because it was suspected I might have COVID-19.

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It seems like a lifetime ago when I was one of the first Manitobans to have a long swab jammed up my nasal cavity because it was suspected I might have COVID-19.

But, more than a year later, the light at the end of the COVID tunnel is finally closer: on Thursday, I received my first jab of vaccine at a doctor's office.

Kevin Rollason with wife Gail MacAulay and daughter Mary Rollason-MacAulay at a Grant Park High School grad dinner in 2018.

Kevin Rollason with wife Gail MacAulay and daughter Mary Rollason-MacAulay at a Grant Park High School grad dinner in 2018.

To say I am relieved doesn't quite explain it, because the relief isn't about me, it is for my youngest daughter, Mary. I am so relieved knowing she is one step closer to being protected from this life-threatening virus.

We are one step closer to ensuring Mary will survive this pandemic.

Back in March 2020, I eventually received a negative diagnosis from that nasal swab on March 13 — yes, Friday the 13th. It was also the last day I was inside this newspaper's newsroom.

For all intents and purposes, it's as if I disappeared. I have been isolating and working exclusively from home since that day. All my interviews have been done by telephone and all my stories have been written on my home computer.

Grocery shopping took place once a week, just before closing when fewer people were around. In recent weeks, we've relied on curbside pickup. My wife hasn't been in a store for a year, my youngest daughter has only been in a pharmacy once — and that was a quick in and out to get a flu shot in the fall.

My hair was last cut in late 2019 and is the longest it has been since my teenage years in the 1970s. The only difference between then and now is I'm a wee bit older and I'm not wearing bell bottoms and platform shoes.

Kevin's vaccine experience was quick and easy

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kevin's vaccine experience was quick and easy

But, if you have a vulnerable family member, you know all of this because you've likely been doing the same.

Many readers have followed Mary's journey since she was born almost 24 years ago. Throughout the years, I've written many articles about her, how she was quickly determined to have Down syndrome and, two days later, major cardiac problems that necessitated her immediate move to intensive care.

The next day, Mary was flown to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children for the first of several heart operations. She didn't get out of hospital for almost a year — something which resulted in me having to launch a constitutional challenge against the federal government and its employment insurance rules. It was successful.

Mary's Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and both past and present cardiac and respiratory issues have put her on the province's vaccine priority list. International studies have shown people with Down syndrome alone have a 10 times higher risk of dying than the general population if they get the coronavirus, and are five times more likely to be hospitalized.

But Mary can't get the vaccine yet because she is only 23 and, besides her high-risk issues, she would also have to be 55 at this time, or living in a group home.

For Mary, and many adults living with special needs, the pandemic has meant the shutdown of day programs since last March — programs where she received stimulation, therapy, care and love. She has been home full-time since then and we have been looking after all of her needs 24/7.

I also know how bad even a so-called mild case of COVID-19 can be on a young person. Mary's older sister, Sarah, recently contracted it — likely on public transit — while volunteering with non-profit organizations in Quebec City.

For Sarah, a minor case meant almost two weeks of blinding headaches, a high fever, nausea, extreme fatigue, and muscle pain so bad that it felt better to sleep on a floor than a mattress.

While Sarah has recovered, her suffering underscored the urgency of us protecting her sister.

For Sarah, a minor case meant almost two weeks of blinding headaches, a high fever, nausea, extreme fatigue, and muscle pain so bad that it felt better to sleep on a floor than a mattress.

Then I got the phone call advising me I could get the vaccine. My wife's appointment at the Winnipeg convention centre super-site is scheduled for later this month.

Having written about people who have endured long lineups at the convention centre, my vaccine experience was quick and easy. I went to a medical clinic, was ushered into a room with a maximum capacity of 12 people. There were nine chairs spaced two metres apart, a sign-in clerk, and a nurse stationed at a table.

After determining if I’m right or left handed, double-checking the questionnaire, and going through the list of possible complications, the nurse told me just to let my arm dangle and not tense up.

Three seconds later, it was done. Fifteen minutes later, I was back outside.

The nurse said if I felt any pain I could take a Tylenol, but I have to wait at least six hours because studies have shown the painkiller can reduce the immune response from the vaccine.

Now that I have my first shot, I know Mary is safer. I also know many, many more people need to get the vaccine before she — and all of us — are protected and can get back to the lives we had before this pandemic.

But, as I said, at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel for my family.

And also yours.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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