On Monday, my husband, Justin, and I had an experience that I can only describe as the equivalent of what passes for a spa day during Covid.
No, it wasn’t an elegant meal, or a show. It was simply a teenaged boy getting his first vaccination in Atlantic City.
And it was fabulous.
My son Justin is almost 18 (!) years old, and is non-verbal and severely autistic. He is absolutely amazing with the medical community at large, patiently sitting through vaccines and blood draws, even overnight EEGs with aplomb. When we scheduled his appointment after my husband and I had had our shots and been impressed with how well-run the entire operation was, I wasn’t actually worried about how he’d handle the shot itself. I was more concerned as to how he’d handle waiting at the various checkpoints; if he’d see something that interested him in the large room where vaccines were dispensed and that he’d make a run for it; how I’d handle him alone if they only allowed one person in with him; and how on earth I’d contain him for fifteen minutes afterwards on a folding chair.
It turns out I kvetched for nothing.
While Justin is non-verbal, with his tic disorder, he is really, really loud. After we parked our car we headed over to the entrance and saw a long, albeit spaced-out line to get into the facility, and my husband and I girded our loins. As we approached, each with a hand on one of Justin’s arms, we got to about ten feet away from the entrance and a lovely man in a national guard uniform made eye contact with us and waved us over to him at the front of the line. We walked over with no idea what he would say, figuring we’d have to choose who would accompany him, and he simply said “Come with me,” while moving the barrier for us to get through.
The merest trickle of elation began to course through me.
We followed our vaccine angel past two checkpoints (got the side-eye from one woman but it failed to phase me), and after giving his information quickly at the third were escorted up the elevator, and I figured we were about to enter the massive room where me and my husband had received our shots.
Happily, I was totally wrong.
Instead we were ushered into a large tent strewn with comfy chairs, sensory toys, and a psychedelic light I knew would capture Justin’s attention. Our personal national guard stepped out and a new one came in, telling us the nurse would be in to see to us shortly.
Yes, our own personal nurse.
Within a minute or two she came in and told us right off the bat that she and her co-workers who were working this shift all had experience with autistic patients, and not to worry. She asked the requisite questions about his health, and then asked if we needed more guards to help him get his shot, and if I were comfortable with that. I knew if we could get Justin to sit down, which we did, he’d comply beautifully (clutching one of the sensory toys as if it was a newfound friend).
It was all over in five minutes.
He didn’t get too antsy during the fifteen minute wait, and it gave us time to talk to our lovely escort and nurse. She told us to just ask for the sensory room when we came back in three weeks, and we would get the same treatment. Very quickly our waiting time was up, and we gathered our things, managed to pry a sensory toy out of Justin’s eager hands so it would be there for the next child, and left our personal tent.
The entire experience from parking to exiting was concluded in under half an hour.
If we’d had to wait like my husband and I did, do I think Justin could have handled it? Yes, I do. The fifteen minute wait would have been dicey, but I’d brought some favorite toys with me and I think I could have pulled it off. However, was it nirvana not to have to worry about any of it? Absolutely. It was amazing to know that our second trip back would be the same, that helping our son not to get sick and to stay alive would not be stressful in the least. To be honest with you I almost had tears in my eyes when they led us to that tent, and I’m really only a “This is Us” crier these days.
I teared up because autism is hard. Severe autism is really, really hard. I got emotional because for once, finally, the playing field was leveled and my son had the experience he needed, not the one the other 98% of the population needed to get vaccinated. I felt my eyes well up because some unknown individuals had planned this, had gotten it, had understood our lives.
It felt amazing. And I wish this happened all the time- and I don’t mean that my son would get special treatment. It would just be incredible if the world around him could accommodate to him once in a while, instead of it always being the other way around.
We head back to Atlantic City (the other bonus is, it brings back fun childless days to me and Jeff) in three weeks, and this time I won’t be headed down with any expectations other than non-stressful success.
It will definitely be another Covid spa-day equivalent.
And I am so eternally grateful to the powers that be for coming up with this.
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