If U-M had just beaten Ohio State, the thrill couldn’t have been any greater in Michigan Stadium. There we were, U-M alumni, employees, and townies, all lining up on the third and fourth floors in the Jack Roth Stadium Club, but not for a football game. These days, the Big House is serving an even bigger purpose. Since December 2020, it has been a makeshift vaccine clinic. In March, I received both of my Pfizer vaccinations there.
It had been over a year since I’d been inside a room with fellow humans, other than my husband and one of our two sons. My older son had visited with his family a few times last summer, but we’d met in a park. I couldn’t cook dinner for his family or play inside with our grandkids. Now, as I sat down with the nurse, my eyes teared up. This was a passport to freedom.
Several fellow patients recalled bursting into tears, good tears, at the sight of the sign outside: Covid Vaccine Clinic. Finally, they had received an appointment, randomly called up from a list of those eligible at the time for an inoculation. (Now, Michigan Medicine patients can just walk in.) Like me, many felt this was an invitation to reenter society, however cautiously.
“I almost couldn’t believe it,” Jenna Faulk, a senior citizen, recalled. “I wanted to hug the greeter, but I hadn’t had my first inoculation yet!”
Others, like my husband, Greg Napoleon, ’68, (who received his vaccination at the Big House two days before me) said it was amazing to find himself inside a club normally reserved for VIPs to watch the game. “I didn’t know what to expect and was wowed by the space,” said Greg. “I’d never been up there. The view of the field is spectacular.”
While there, I met Lyn Kelly, one of several Meals on Wheels volunteers now giving her time to help out in the vaccination clinic. Her job was to greet people and show them where to sign in. “Many people stop to take a photo of the field,” she told me, pointing out the view through the club’s windows.
From the moment I arrived, I felt safe due to all the precautions in place. Personnel ensured that only two people entered the elevator at one time and that everyone was wearing a mask. Upon arriving in the wide-open spaces of the club, taped Xs on the floor designated where patients should stand to properly social distance. Ropes created lanes, further preventing people from getting too close to one another as they waited, or walked, to and from the nurses providing the shots. As of early May, Michigan Medicine had given some 117,000 doses.
UM-Dearborn graduate Arifa Afzal, ’08, who was working as a receptionist, was in charge of checking the names and birthdates of patients. Afzal said she has appreciated how courteous and cooperative people have been throughout the process. She was also vaccinated at the stadium and now welcomes “the chance to contribute and get us through this.”
According to Lauren Barhitte, ’07, a graduate of U-M’s School of Nursing, everyone giving vaccines at U-M is either a nurse or nurse practitioner. They rotate between inoculating patients and observing those who have just received the shot for 15 minutes in case of a sudden, severe reaction. Epinephrine pens are on hand. Though the nurses are prepared to use the pens and perform CPR, symptoms requiring a professional response are rare. Barhitte said she had not yet seen one reaction, beyond a patient feeling lightheaded and needing to be monitored for a short period.
After receiving the vaccine, patients also describe a feeling of gratitude and relief. So much relief. “I felt I’d made it through most of a minefield,” my husband said. “Now all I had to do was step on a few more Xs, and I’d be safe.”
The nurses share that sentiment. “I can feel the joy and excitement of patients coming in. It’s rewarding to be part of this historic event,” said Barhitte. “We’re just so grateful that patients are trusting science and coming in to get vaccinated. We believe it’s our way out of this.”
Davi Napoleon, ’66, MA’68, is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor.