Fortune favors the brave.
So when I momentarily hesitated about getting a Covid vaccine in mid-March, I lost my slot.
Back to Ro-Vaccinare, the government’s vaccine platform, a fresh round of phone calls and scheduling a new appointment.
There wasn’t any availability in Calugareni which had been my first option.The village was the scene of an epic battle in 1595 where Michael the Brave’s Wallachian troops defeated the Ottoman Army.
I was offered an appointment at Izvoarele football club, also in the green hills of Giurgiu, only farther from Bucharest.
My first vaccine was scheduled for April 15 with a booster on May 6.
My parents and brother who live in the UK had been pushing me to get it, so I thought it best to sign up as soon as possible.
I’d been told that as a journalist I could have qualified for an earlier jab, but it didn’t seem fair as I hadn’t and haven’t been close and up and personal with virus patients or reported from Covid hospitals.
The process was smooth, easy and efficient. I was pleasantly surprised at how cooperative and helpful everyone was when I called the Ro-Vaccinare helpline.
If all customer service could be like this in Romania, we’d be in a happier place. It shows it can be done.
I know people who’ve had jabs, and others who haven’t….. not yet anyway. Some won’t ever have a vaccine for medical or other reasons.
A day before my immunization shot, I took a call from someone at the vaccine center who said I could turn up early for my 5 pm appointment, which suited me.
Off I set. Curse the hour. I zigzagged through the back streets of Bucharest, past the cemetery where Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu are buried, and then on to a long street called “Anti-aircraft.”
There were some new residential buildings on one side of the street, but as I was alone in the car, I didn’t ’t look too closely.
Bucharest, once the most densely populated city in Europe, has been expanding in recent years. Bragadiru, which used to be a village, is now a suburb of Bucharest. Cornetu where my youngest daughter was baptized many years ago, is on the city edge.
Once you get past Mihailesti, which has a sweeping man made dam and lake, you are on the open road: green hills dotted with church spires stretch as far as the eye can see.
Another Mihailesti was the scene of an explosion in 2004 where 18 people died. It was a tragedy. A truck carrying nitrate ammonia rolled over in the early morning and later exploded. The blast was so powerful it left a deep crater several meters wide and deep.
The tragedy led to safety regulations for the transport of chemical substance and ammonium nitrate was classified as a hazardous material.
I arrived at the vaccine center, somewhat apprehensive after a scenic and tranquil journey, the last part anyway.
I needn’t have worried. The staff were efficient and the nurses had a reassuring and cheerful manner. They’d had all manner of people with „white coat syndrome” or people who hated needles that day, they told me. I waited outside for half an hour after the jab in the wan sunshine and then started the 80-kilometer journey home.
It seemed to take an age to get back into the hubbub of Bucharest. All of a sudden I felt a sharp, stabbing pain on my right-hand side. That triggered a state of anxiety and my hands began to tremble. My face looked pale in the car mirror.
I looked up at the apartment buildings in Rahova. A forest of tall residential buildings, far from home. „Was this my fate, to leave the world here in Rahova?”
It sounds absurd now, but my earlier calm had clearly papered over the cracks of a fearful subconscious. I got out of the car and bought a bottle of water. I still had the sharp pain, but it wasn’t any worse, just uncomfortable and unpleasant.
Somehow I figured I had a stitch. I just wanted to get home.
An 8 am appointment on May 6 at in Izvoarele wasn’t the ideal time or place for my second shot. I had an invitation to a small birthday party the evening before, plus there was news to file. The news beast always needs feeding.
Someone at the vaccine center had kindly said that I could turn up an hour or so late. I woke at 6am; the summer light made it easier to be alert.
Much better to start out early. No zigzagging down side roads in Bucharest. A clean cut through the main artery of Bucharest, past the Heroes of the Revolution Cemetery, and I was out of the city.
I remember interpreting in the cemetery during the 1989 revolution for ITV, a British television channel, before I was a journalist. Coffins were turning up for burial. Many had the bodies of young people who’d braved bullets in the name of freedom and dignity to demand an end to the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.
Even now, we don’t know who ordered the shooting.We don’t even know how many people died. Maybe we will find out one day when Ion Iliescu, now 91, passes. The Moscow-educated ex-Communist who fell foul of the Ceausescu couple came to power during the uprising. He was elected president of Romania three times.
I was moved that some mourners were concerned I wasn’t dressed warmly enough. Here they were grieving for their loved-ones, and I was a young foreign woman asking them questions. But that’s Romanians for you; caring for people they don’t know, worried that a stranger will „catch a cold.”
The three weeks made quite a difference. It was warm and sunny, even greener than before and just as tranquil.Fields were carpeted with bright-yellow rapeseed and the sky was a glorious blue. I listened to classical music and Bulgarian radio, trying to pick up some of the words.
They recognized me at the vaccine center and seemed pleased I’d chosen to return for my second jab, rather than going to a drive-through in Bucharest.
I wanted to thank everyone at the center and bought some chocolate in the village after it was done. The petrol station takes bank cards, the grocery store didn’t on that day. Everyone was cutting grass. The doctor looked embarrassed by my token of gratitude. „You really don’t need to,” she said, almost wincing.
I was wrong-footed. Romania is changing.
In the weeks between my inoculations, I’d gotten new identity papers (thanks to Brexit), Orthodox Easter and May 1 had been celebrated in the space of a weekend, and Romania had changed its approach to the vaccine rollout.
Romania has introduced mobile and drive-through vaccination centers or „vaccination marathons” in major cities in a bid to get more people inoculated. The government wants to reach the magic figure of 5 million people vaccinated so life can return to normal. Normal means no masks, restaurants and theaters open and sports events heaving with lively spectators.
If I may offer a rare opinion, I wish them well. In Britain, more than 35 million people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. It’s the biggest inoculation program the country has ever launched. My elder daughter who lives in London has been fighting to get a vaccine, but she’s still too young and vaccine centers and hospitals have turned her away. She needs to have patience and wait for her turn to come around.
More than 3.5 million have received at least one dose in Romania. There is so much scare-mongering and fear and disinformation, it’s probably put off some people. Maybe charging for vaccines would make people more eager? I’m being cynical of course.
Between vaccinations, I went to pay a phone bill in Drumul Taberii and the woman at the till, who was in her 60s, seemed terrified of the virus and asked me to stand back. I am generally respectful of personal space even in non-pandemic times.
But this was almost painful. I gently suggested that she get a vaccine and she looked even more scared. That’s not a way to live.
Is it good to have side effects? What if you don’t? Is that bad too? I had some, mainly tiredness and some muscle ache after my second dose, but they passed within the day. Too much information can be a bad thing, like too much choice.
My partner told me that in the early 1980s, conscripts would roll up their sleeves and get jabs, one after another, humans on a conveyor belt. No fuss. Next one. Back to work.
Back to the news and watering the garden. I may not be brave but I am vaccinated.