Yesterday I went for my second dose of AstraZeneca. So, I’m left with this relaxed feeling of having lowered my chances of giving Covid to someone else, and of myself getting sick and thus adding to the work of overworked hospital staff. It is indeed a lovely feeling.
But as lovely, was the whole experience, the whole Mauritian culture of universal health care, and its public health component in action. Thus this short report on the experience, to both put on record this rich culture and to pay homage to the health sector workers who constantly enrich it.
I had my first dose at Jeetoo Hospital on 8 March. At first we were due to go back there for the second dose, but with the “second wave” restrictions, we were informed that we would get it at Taher Bagh. Then the official site BeSafeMoris.mu informed us that this, too, had had to be changed. We were to go to Plaine Verte Youth Centre. Those with surnames in the alphabet range A to F (this break-off point is a long tradition for pensions and vaccines!) from 9:00 to 11:00 am.
Given that I live some distance away from the venue – Bambous – and was not sure where it is, exactly, I decided to go early. I duly arrived at 8:00 a.m. bearing my blue Vaccine Card, ID Card and a flask of cold water. And just in case, a home-made little sandwich.
When I got there, everything was already in operation. There was a calm atmosphere. Everyone was relaxed and patient, chatting to the person next to them – a metre away in all directions.
There was one of the health workers with a fantastic big voice who was explaining who was supposed to be in the queue, where people with a disability should go for a fast-track, and how masks were not much use under the chin, and should, at all times, cover both nose and mouth. He explained how everything would work.
All the health workers present, a big enthusiastic team, worked solidly, both hard and in really good spirits, thus making the day a real pleasure for us all. Together we all lived a collective experience – everyone co-operating together, being kind and considerate to our neighbours, so that we can, together, come to contain this infectious illness. I felt a sense of sadness and loss for those few people who have fallen victim to the really evil anti-vaccination propaganda that has beset the social media. They will not get to experience this rich cultural shared event of all getting vaccinated together, for the benefit of all.
Our waiting room was a huge white tent, with red plastic chairs at social distancing of one metre from each other in rows of 8, and each of the 13 or so rows were a metre apart. So we were like a chess board, with space between on all sides, all lined up neatly. I was in the 9th row, making me about the 70-th person. And that was at 8:00 am for 9:00 am. So, some of the others had arrived before me by, I guess, quite a bit. The atmosphere, as I say, was cool, and warm – both. Within minutes of my arrival, all the red plastic chairs were filled up. A queue, standing, then began to wind its way outside, around the gymnasium next to our tent, the gymnasium where we would get the jab.
A good half-an-hour before 9:00, the health workers had begun to collect the blue Vaccine cards from all 8 people in the first row in the front. They, then put their hands on those 8 dossiers (from the First dose) from amongst the dossiers laid out in alphabetical order on the tables in the front. They then gave those 8 people in the first row their dossiers, and got them all to stand up at the same time (more or less), turn sharp right, and walk up a couple of steps into the gymnasium, one after the other, freeing up the first row.
Then there was the best bit. With much explanation and theatrics from a staff member acting as the orchestra conductor, he got all 8 people in the second row to stand up together, and move into Row 1, and sit down. Then, more theatrics, he got everyone in Row 3 to stand up, and together move forward into Row 2. And so on, for 12 rows. All day long, I was guessing.
Truly remarkable. And fun. In-between, anyone who wanted to, could leave their bag on their chair, go to the loo inside, and when they came back, their colleagues would have moved their bag up one row. A Rs100 note fell out of my bag (when I had taken out my flask), and it was picked up and put next to my bag, when I took my turn to go to the loo.
When our row of 8 people got to the very front (in no time at all), and we had all got our dossiers in our hands, we went inside. At the door, two workers welcomed us – one taking the temperature on one wrist, while the other put hand sanitizer into the other hand. Then we were directed to two tables, where, one after the other, our dossiers for the second dose were completed. And then to the medical staff, who checked if you’d had any side-effects from Dose One, and then gave the jab with one of those miniscule needles that you don’t even feel going in.
Then, once vaccinated, you sit in another square of red chairs, and are given various tips on how to prevent Covid spreading, and how to deal with any side-effects (wise advise to just take a couple of paracetamol). When someone called me by name, I was given back my blue vaccine card, now fully vaccinated – for now anyway. “Don’t lose this,” a staff member announced to us, “It is one of a kind!” he boomed. I have duly filed mine in the correct place at home – along with other hospital cards. Part of our culture, all this, I realize.
I left the Plaine Verte Youth Centre, vaccination completed and do you know what time it was? It was about 9:20. Talk about efficient. It was truly wonderful. Hats off to the entire government health team at the Plaine Verte Youth Centre. Well done, doctors, nurses, the entire staff.
I must add that every time, over the course of the years, that I have gone to the Dispensary, to Casualty, or been admitted to the universal, free hospital system, I have appreciated the service the staff provide. So, I am not saying that the vaccination process was that unusual. Perhaps there was a complete absence of the odd bureaucratic mess-up that sometimes becomes the “five cents missing from a round Rupee” to do a literal translation of the Kreol expression. There seemed to be no lost files, or anything like that.
The staff at Plaine Verte Youth Centre were a model of how to give a social service. At one moment, one woman of a certain age with her father who looked near 100, realized that she should be in the queue for the disabled for him, left her seat, and went to the front, as she should have, with her father. What then happened was the two empty chairs were too much for two opportunists who were at the door to bear to look at. And when they tried to sneak in and take the two places, thus jumping the queue, one very angry – and not unjustly so – young man, came and denounced them. Hospital staff came over, and seeing it looked complicated, went and found two very new, young police officers – a man and a woman – who managed to re-instate order by negotiation. All this to say, that the hospital workers were fantastic. And conditions were not easy – in a tent, in a gymnasium, and with far too many people keen to get their second dose. And creating such a pleasant, cultured, highly civilized atmosphere was quite a feat.
That team of health care workers really were a living lesson of the meaning of “labour” and of its relationship to “work”. That it is “labour” and “work” that makes the world go round, not “capital”, not “the State”, much less “the government”. People co-operate together, organize themselves, and do what needs to be done. The job gets done. And it is a pleasure at the same time. This is life. And the service provided is free. This universal, free health care service, plus its public health component including the Biro Saniter, is really a rich cultural heritage. Intangible. But we must always nurture it, develop it. Specially the social-part-of-work, the way the staff maintain this culture of health care. It is a rich inheritance that we maybe do not appreciate enough, it is the culture of our country as a whole – Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega, and Chagos. We have all known, and still know, this culture around health care. The epidemic reminds us of its importance. As we eliminated malaria, so we must, together, contain Covid.