Barbara Jacobs, Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center’s vice president of nursing and chief nursing officer, reflects on her family’s history as she shares why she will be getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Like many of you, I have been thinking about whether or not to take the new vaccines. Lots of people have asked me what I will do. I would like to say that I made my decision solely on the basis of reviewing detailed medical literature and thinking of the 2000+ people dying daily in American hospitals. However, for me it all became really clear as I was getting ready for Thanksgiving. For those of you interested, I will share my decision-making process.
As I prepared a small turkey breast for our very different dinner this year, memories of previous Thanksgivings came to me. In cleaning up that day I had for a moment focused on the cabinet that holds a 100-year-old treadle Singer sewing machine. This came to me from my grandmother and it once belonged to her mother, Minnie. Standing in the kitchen cooking that turkey breast and thinking of the sewing machine brought back a particular memory.
My grandmother Balletto was a personality. As a treat she let my siblings and me all squeeze in her bed to hear stories when we stayed with her in the Bronx (made especially nice since the landlord turned the heat and hot water off at 8 pm!). While telling those stories, she really made her childhood come alive for us. We often heard about her parents and siblings. Her family lived in Washington Heights in Manhattan in an area where a lot of working people lived in apartments and row houses. Several of my oldest relatives still lived there when I was young. In 1920, my grandmother’s family consisted of her parents and her younger brother. Her mother, Minnie, had recently obtained the beautiful Singer sewing machine that I now own.
New York City in 1920 had endured two terrible spikes in the Spanish flu pandemic, one in 1918 and another in 1919. Up to 500 people a day were dying in its peak. This flu spared the young and the old, but not the middle, and left thousands of children orphans. By January 1920, things had started to improve and in the middle of that month, my great-grandparents went to the Veterans Fireman Association of New York Vaudeville Show. It was held in the Palm Room, in Hells Kitchen in Manhattan, which had a theater/ballroom large enough to have a show and dancing. My grandmother kept the program from that event and inside the front cover she wrote “the last ball mama went to, she died on 22, 9 days later.”
We kids heard about how my great-grandfather hired a nurse (how brave she must have been) who stayed at my my great grandmothers side until she died of Spanish influenza. Like some of our patients with positive COVID-19, my great grandmother went from health to death in a remarkably short time.
On the first Thanksgiving after her mother’s death, my grandmother was 13. We kids heard the story many times of how she was in charge of preparing the dinner. She told us how she cooked a turkey that looked beautiful on the outside but, when the family sat down to eat, was raw inside. My grandmother was embarrassed, but mostly felt incredible sadness for the loss of her mother. Her mother’s death changed her life and by 16, she had left school to work to bring in additional money. My grandmother, in memory of her mother, kept the Singer sewing machine that she later gave me.
As I thought of my grandmother on Thanksgiving, I asked myself what decision would she have made if she were presented with a vaccine that might have helped save the life of her mother. I remembered the terrible loss she still felt many years later as she told us stories. In addition, my 91-year-old father also told me, “we have a choice, we either get the vaccine or we get the virus.” I thought of the thousands of U.S. deaths and the many families enduring loss and remembered my grandmother, the turkey and sewing machine — and the advice of my sage father.
My decision became clear. By getting the vaccine, I might help my own family or others not suffer the loss of a loved one. As soon as it is my turn, I will be vaccinated.
Each of you will make your own decision about vaccination, but I wanted to share how I made mine.