On Tuesday, March 10th, 2020, Kevin and I did what we do every March.  We flew into New York City to celebrate our anniversary.  The plan?  To eat tons of great pizza (NYC's is the absolute best), to see eleven different Broadway shows, to get massages at our favorite spa in Chinatown, to visit Bow Bridge in Central Park, where we got married a few years ago.  We knew all the things we wanted to do.  However, that entire trip was changed, in an instant almost, by something none of us really knew about or expected.  See, COVID-19 was ravaging New York City.  While the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York City were announcing lock down plans to help curb the spread, it was clearly too late.  This novel coronavirus had already taken hold of the city, more than anyone could comprehend, and Kevin and I knew we had to get out.

On the morning of Friday, March 13th, our anniversary, we packed up our suitcases, walked through a nearly abandoned and eerie Times Square to the Subway station, took a train to Newark and flew home six days early.  We knew we were flying away from something, but were unaware of the completely different life we were flying into.

Look, I don't have to explain the last twelve months to anyone.  We all have our COVID-19 stories and we have all had our share of related struggles.  I have certainly had mine.  Some I have shared with you.  Others I have not.

I work in a business where the show must go on.  And the show went on- even when I was repeatedly quarantined at home.  The show went on even on those days when I felt like COVID-19 had stripped me of all the things that I enjoy most in life- friends, hugs, community, charity, travel.  The show went on even when I was battling COVID-19 myself.  And, if you read my stories about my personal war with SARS-COV-2, you know that, for some reason, my DNA and that virus do not mix.  There's no other way to say it but this.  COVID kicked my ass and, nine weeks later, I am still having residual effects from the disease.

The truth is- I haven't really felt like myself since Tuesday, March 10th of 2020.  That was the last truly good, normal day I remember.  We had a great flight to New York, checked into the hotel, went to Chinatown to get massages, had lunch at our favorite deli in Hell's Kitchen, went to see Jagged Little Pill on Broadway, had pizza at John's on 44th for dinner.  It was a great day and I remember it like it was yesterday.  Quite frankly, I remember it so well because every single day since has been tainted in some way by our "new" normal.

And, look!  I am the first to admit that elements of the "new normal" have been eye-opening and wonderful.  By spending so much time at home, I was awakened to how little time I spent at home before COVID.  I love my job, but it's exhausting.  It frequently pulls me away from home and away from the things I love the most- Kevin, our dogs, our life at home, my mom, my closest friends.  When things are back to "normal" I am going to be more protective of my time at home and more selective of the things I agree to that pull me away from it.  For me, that newly-found awareness has been a positive effect of the "new" normal.

But, for me, and some many others, the negatives of the last twelve months have been so devastating and far outweigh any positive impacts.  I have close personal friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.  I have watched other friends chronicle their own experiences in ICU. I have other friends who, like me, got stricken with COVID and are still dealing with side effects from it.  I have friends with loved ones so vulnerable to COVID that they had to isolate themselves from the entire world- including their own families.  I have witnessed that heartbreak and desperation. It's real.  It's awful.  I have other friends who've lost their jobs and who have struggled to maintain their livelihoods.  I have friends who have had to close their businesses- businesses they worked, and struggled, for years to build and maintain.  And, I'll be honest, I have lost friends who, in a time of an international health crisis, displayed an ignorance and lack of empathy so appalling that there's simply no way I can remain friends with them.  COVID-19 has been a crucible.  It has shown the inspiring rally cry in some; the disturbing and revolting true colors of others.  Frankly, it has put all of us to the test in ways we never conceived.  I, like so many of you, just want it to be over.

That's precisely why I went to Poole's Pharmacy Care on Friday afternoon to get vaccinated.  Scientists and doctors believe that we keep COVID-19 antibodies for up to ninety days post-infection, but there was absolutely no way I was going to risk getting COVID again.  It was the night of December 30th that I was sitting in the middle of the floor of our half bath unable to stand.  I sat there, for a half hour, telling myself over and over, "Chad, get up.  Get up.  You have to GET UP!"  It's one of the only times in my life that I can remember when my will couldn't pave the way.

It was the following day, New Year's Eve, that I couldn't move because I was experiencing "fizzing"- the sensation that your body is basically on fire.  That COVID symptom lasted for 36 grueling, seemingly endless hours and it was, hands down, the most agonizing experience of my entire life.  I could not touch my own skin because it felt like I was being stabbed with a dagger if I did.  I can't, won't go through that again.

So, Friday afternoon at 2pm, my friend Matt, who runs the pharmacy at Poole's Owensboro location, sat down with me and reviewed the details of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.  He detailed the possible side effects and explained that I would need to wait in the office at least fifteen minutes after receiving the vaccine in case I had an allergic reaction.  And, then, he gave me the vaccine.  In the muscle of my left arm.  I felt a slight pinch, a little pressure, then immense amounts of joy and relief.

See, I had joked that I couldn't get a needle in my arm fast enough, but that was the truth.  I know there are folks who have concerns about the vaccine, but to them I would say this.  If it weren't for vaccines all of our family trees would look vastly different.  The human race relies on vaccines for survival. They are to protect us from some of nature's most deadly plagues.  Many of those we have identified.  Scarily, there are plenty out there that have yet to surface.  As SARS-COV-2 proved, we never know when the next "spillover" will happen and what the effects will be when it does.

I got a shot in my arm on Friday and felt instantly liberated.  Liberated from the nightmare of the last twelve months.  Sure, there's much we still don't know about COVID-19.  We still don't know exactly when and where it emerged.  We don't know the extent to which the virus has mutated and the effect those variants will ultimately have on our population.  But we do know that, in clinical trials, these vaccines have shown tremendous efficacy in preventing severe COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death.  For me, that's plenty because it's signaling that we, through science and innovation, can and will win this particular war.  The vaccine, for me, was a big dose of hope that tomorrow will be better than today and eventually life will be back to "normal."

After getting the vaccine, I started to tell Matt just how much it meant to me that I was able to get it.  I told him about flying into New York City last March 10th and how we didn't have a clue what we were flying into or what we would be flying away from just a few days later.  As I shared that story with him, much like I have shared it with you, my eyes filled with tears and my voice started to break.

I think I somewhat understand the effects that the last twelve months have had on me psychologically.  The show has gone on, but I have been struggling behind the scenes.  I anticipated the possibility I would cry when I finally got the vaccine.  And I ultimately did.  I cried tears for my friends we've lost.  I shed tears for my friends still waging war against the disease.  And I cried tears for the promise of tomorrow. I know what COVID-19 has personally taken from me and I know what the vaccine has the capability of returning.

I can't tell you how many times in the last twelve months I have said the words, "I want my life back."  I think I may have just gotten it.

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LOOK: Answers to 30 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

While much is still unknown about the coronavirus and the future, what is known is that the currently available vaccines have gone through all three trial phases and are safe and effective. It will be necessary for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated in order to finally return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, and hopefully these 30 answers provided here will help readers get vaccinated as soon they are able.