Reporter reflects on pandemic, hopes for the future

Lake Placid News/Adirondack Daily Enterprise Staff Writer covers the 2019 Ironman Lake Placid triathlon at the Mirror Lake beach during the swim leg of the race. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

Last spring, I remember sitting with the people in my “bubble” and talking about the last things we did before the pandemic — the last big event we attended before the mass cancellations and closures, the last bar we visited, the last movie we saw at the Palace Theatre, our last vacation, the last time we saw our families.

At the time, these were all moments we thought would be inconsequential — yet they became reference points for when this is all over. Like so many other people, talking about what we’re going to do post-pandemic has helped get us through it.

Discussions about these things always seem to end with the same question, though. For me, it’s not about when things will get back to normal; we’ve all gone through too much for that. The question is when we’ll be able to really move forward.

This past year has been hard for a lot of people, perhaps most of all for those who’ve lost loved ones or who’ve tried unsuccessfully to stop that separation.

The mental health impact of the pandemic has been, and will likely continue to be, immense. I’ve felt the impact in my own life. As a reporter, I can’t look away when things get bad. I can’t pull away when things get overwhelming. It feels like I’m letting the community down if I do.

St. Agnes School in Lake Placid had this sign up on March 18, 2020 during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

It was on Dec. 15, 2020 that, for me, things started to feel like they were looking up. I can remember precisely what I was doing.

The day prior, an intensive care nurse in Queens, Sandra Lindsay, had become the first New Yorker — and first American — to receive the new Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. But on Dec. 15, I watched from my living room as a nurse from Chazy, Karen O’Connor, became the first North Country resident to get a dose of the vaccine. She didn’t flinch. She broke the tension with a joke. O’Connor told reporters that as Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Nursing Director Carly Haag readied the first vaccine, she’d said, “Carly, is that vaccine thought out?”

That was a momentous “first.” We’ve seen thousands more of those moments since then in the North Country, and millions across the U.S. and the world.

I was there — two days before Christmas, as it turned out — when Saranac Lake’s Adirondack Medical Center received its first shipment of vaccine doses and hospital staff started getting vaccinated in-house. The atmosphere in that room was so joyful. Soon enough, pictures of our elderly neighbors in nursing homes getting their vaccine doses started rolling into the newsroom.

In late February, when I got my first shot of the Moderna vaccine, I felt nervous. I’ve reported on the vaccines for the newspaper, read countless articles about them, watched as others got vaccinated and took their photos. I’ve interviewed doctors, immunologists and scientists. I’m grateful for the opportunity to write a small piece of the first draft of history, but getting vaccinated myself made me realize how much I can’t wait for this all to be over.

I want to watch the Lawn Chair Ladies perform in the 2022 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival parade. I want to watch world-class figure skaters glide past me on the ice of the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena. I want to see a show at the Waterhole and have a drink with my friends at Grizle T’s without worrying about how many people might be there. I want to see a movie at the Palace. I want to write at the counter of Old Mountain Coffee in Keene Valley. I want to see my parents again.

Getting vaccinated wasn’t so easy for me. After getting my first shot, I experienced swollen lymph nodes, a side effect that, according to the New York Times, 11.6% of people who received the vaccine in Moderna’s trials also experienced. The arm where I got my shot was in pain for several days, and the injection site was red and swollen.

The side effects after my second shot last week were much worse. The day after getting the shot, I had a fever so intense that it kept me from sleeping. I had chills, fatigue, pain and swelling in the arm where I was injected.

It got me thinking. Given the choice — with all I know now about my body’s reaction to the drug — would I get vaccinated again if I could go back in time? My answer is “yes.” Of course.

As more people get vaccinated each day, I hope that eventually all those last things we did before the pandemic can be replaced with new memories in a post-pandemic world.