Family & Education

At last — vaccination hope for people like me

The latest news on Covid-19 vaccinations could mean that Stephen Pollard can see his beloved children very soon


Coronavirus Covid-19 Protection and Vaccine. Doctor drawing up solution from vaccine bottle and filling syringe injection for patient vaccination in medical clinic, Coronavirus in background

I cried on Sunday night. Just as I have for much of the past few weeks.

But these tears were different. These were not the self-pitying tears that have made me feel ashamed even as I blubbed, which have been my stock in trade since the latest lockdown earlier this month. These were tears of relief.

On Sunday night it emerged that the vaccine is being rolled out this week to the “clinically extremely vulnerable”. Because I have leukaemia and I am being treated for it, I am in the first of the priority groups not based on age or working in healthcare. Only last week the government confirmed that it planned to make sure we were done by February 15. And I have been counting down the days ever since.

But while a general promise for some time in the near future was still very welcome (to put it mildly), it doesn’t quite have the impact of being told that the vaccine is being offered to people like me NOW. Hence the blubbing of relief.

The first two lockdowns were, for me, relatively easy — I am by nature stoic and accept what life throws at me. Stuck in the same small room for months shielding, unable to hug the kids, unable — until the end of the first lockdown — even to step outside for a walk; all objectively rubbish but so much better than the alternative of being on a ventilator, I kept telling myself. I had my moments but basically got through 2020 pretty much unscathed, even managing a three week stint in hospital over the summer without picking up the virus.

But this third time round it’s been very different.

They say the five most stressful life events are divorce, moving, major illness, the death of a loved one and losing your job. In the past few months I’ve managed four out of the five — pretty good going, eh?

Any one of those is traumatic but let me tell you that four on top of each other is as tough as you’d imagine. I am very grateful for my stoicism because it has genuinely made things so much more bearable.

Here’s the kicker, though. I knew it would be difficult to adjust, post-divorce, to not seeing my two wonderful children every day. But we had worked out an access plan that I was content with and which both my ex-wife and I thought had the children’s happiness at its heart. And we were just beginning to roll with it — I was very proud of my Sunday lunch steak pie — when the lockdown was imposed and, with it, the return of shielding.

I rang the team treating me at the Macmillan Cancer Centre: “This shielding… is it as severe as last time?”

Stupid question really, because I knew the answer. “I’m afraid it’s more severe. The mutant virus is so much more infectious and you can’t afford to take any chances.” Then they spelled out what that meant. By “take any chances” they meant “see your children”. The “one household” and “bubble” rules couldn’t apply because the risk of picking something up was simply too great.

So for the past two weeks, I’ve not seen either of them. And I have adjusted as well as I can to the idea that I won’t be able to see them for many weeks. (And, I hope above all else, they have in their own way adjusted to the same thing.)

The problem with blood cancer is that — even without the impact of treatment — our immune system is suppressed, so there is no telling yet how effective the vaccine will be for us. We will only find out once vaccinated. So even if I am done this week, there will be no sudden lifting of the barriers.

Stoicism only gets you so far. Telling yourself how lucky you really are — my first cousin died of Covid on Christmas Eve — helps, but self-pity is never far away.

Work is a great help, and the more there is to do the better. So is Louie, my cat. And if the vaccine is a medical miracle, so too is FaceTime. I have no idea how I would have coped without the sight of my kids and my friends, albeit digitally. Meanwhile, I am now sitting by the door waiting for that letter…

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