Schafer: I’m hyperfocusing on… couch cushions

Columnist Cameryn Schafer describes her weekend after receiving dose two of the COVID-19 vaccine. The second dose comes with a stronger immune response than the first, but one weekend of discomfort provides you and those around you with a stronger safety net moving forward through the pandemic.

Cameryn Schafer

This column is a part of a series called “I’m hyperfocusing on…”.

I spent every minute of my weekend laying on the couch. It was absolutely awful, and I couldn’t imagine having to do it again this summer. But, if I could go back and change my actions, I wouldn’t.

When I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, I was told by the nurse to prepare for some drowsiness, light nausea and fogginess to settle in after about 18 hours, and to last for six to 10 hours. Sure enough, 18 hours later, I was climbing in the car to go to the State Track Meet to support my younger cousin. It wasn’t much longer before I was completely spaced out, unable to focus on anything other than the yellow line in the middle of the road. At the time, I thought this was because of my new ADHD medication, but in retrospect, I’ve realized the nurses hit the nail on the head with the side effects before my 15 minutes of waiting was done.

By the end of the first two hours that we’d been at the meet, I felt exhausted, seemingly out of nowhere. We still had several hours left before my cousin’s race, and I started dozing off. I’d fall asleep for a couple of races in my seat at the meet, surrounded by spectators screaming for the runners, and then I’d wake up again with no idea what race was being run. This kept on until it started raining and my sister and I left to find rain ponchos for the family. When we came back, I stayed awake for about three races before falling asleep all over again. I felt absurd being unable to stay awake amidst all the action. I was able to cheer for the entirety of my cousin’s race, but the majority of that day was just me knocked out in the stands.

After the drive home, I went straight to bed, and when I woke up in the morning, it was as though I’d never been any different in the first place.

On Friday, I received my second dosage. The nurse told me I should expect a much more intense response to this dosage than the first. This came as no surprise to me because the first dosage is to expose your immune system to the virus’ DNA, while the second dosage puts your immune system on alert to the potential arrival of the virus at any time. Because the immune system has seen it before, the second dosage gets hit with the full intensity of the immune system to keep you safe.

Normally, I do pretty well with getting sick. I might take it easy for part of a day at best when I catch something serious. Migraines used to be my biggest weakness, but in eighth grade, my mother took me to the doctor for a particularly bad migraine, and he “prescribed” me two liters of Mountain Dew, some over the counter meds and a nap. Since that day, a migraine is only debilitating for the hour that I spend sleeping it off with the right blend. I’ve never gone back to Mountain Dew, though; I’d much rather down a triple shot of espresso to get that caffeine. I’m one of those people that “doesn’t have time” to get sick, and I spend as little time admitting to myself that I’m sick as possible.

Before I went to sleep Friday, the headache had started. I pushed through and finished up my homework for the night, watched some TV and then went to sleep on the couch. I woke up at 4 a.m. to get a drink of water, and by the time I got to the kitchen, I was burning up, I couldn’t hear anything, my heart was racing and I couldn’t stand upright. I won’t lie, it was scary. I decided to stop my ADHD medication until my vaccine side effects passed just to be sure that I wasn’t overworking my heart.

I woke up later in the morning with a thundering headache and a fever of over 100 degrees. My sister had a basketball tournament over two hours away, so my grandmother stopped by every couple of hours to check on me. I was achy, I had a headache, I couldn’t eat and, quite possibly the worst of all, I had no energy to sit up for two whole days.

During one of my grandmother’s stops, she said something that put this whole experience into perspective for me: “I’d much rather you be here like this for two days than to be in a hospital with the actual disease for 15 days.”

Yes, the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine suck. Both dosages put me through the wringer, and I couldn’t stand the lack of energy. But going through a collective three days of pain to ensure you aren’t one of the many people seriously affected by the virus is worth it. Three days of exhaustion is worth it to see your grandparents. Three days is all it takes to protect your high-risk friends.

When the school year starts back up in the fall, we won’t have a schedule full of virtual classes. We will, however, be surrounded by friends, old and new. Many people are high risk, and we don’t even know it. By getting the vaccine, you can help guarantee your friends are safe this year. I hated being stuck on the couch for two whole days, but I’m glad I did it.