The people in the water were elderly; they were overweight and most of them weren’t swimming, just floating on their backs. But they were happy. They chatted to each other in Russian and looked like they would stay in the water forever if they could. They were that content. That was what I saw as I swam in the warm Mediterranean in Ashkelon several years ago.

Those old Russian Jews, many with health problems, were being cared for in Israel. Today, they, like two million other Israelis, have already been vaccinated against COVID, but I’m stuck here in California, where even though I’m in the eligible group, I can’t get the shot.

As I rode to the hospital in an uber car, we passed a traffic jam on the off ramp of the freeway.

“They’re lined up for the COVID shot,” the driver said.  The only place in the area where the vaccine is being given to the public is the baseball stadium where people line up for hours.

My problem is I don’t have a car and even if I did, I couldn’t manage sitting in it for four or five hours. You can stand in line for hours too but I wouldn’t do that; it’s a great way to get infected. Even if I were willing to wait, I don’t have an appointment!  You must do it online, and all the slots are taken. “Check back next week,” the site says.

This system, if you could call it that, is absurd; it’s inefficient to the point of incompetent. California is way behind all other states in its vaccination roll-out. Only Alabama is worse.

At the hospital, the nurse said: “Sorry, it’s not available yet and we don’t know when it will be.”

I asked a few questions but was stone-walled. “Take a chill pill,” she said.

Throughout this pandemic, there is little regard for the elderly. “ Stay in your house and don’t go out,” is the common advice, but it’s been close to a year now and it’s especially hard for the elderly who live alone. At least 6,000 died in nursing homes after New York Governor Cuomo allowed patients with COVID to be brought there to be treated. Old people suffered and died alone, no family members were allowed.

When will I get my shot?  Even my doctor doesn’t know!

Yet, if I were in Israel, I would already be inoculated.

I’d be floating in the Mediterranean, practicing my Hebrew and picking up a few words of Russian.

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Helen Applebaum
Helen Applebaum is an artist, writer, and teacher who has lived in New York City for most of her life. Her artwork is in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York. Her articles have appeared in Women in the Arts newsletters, Art Times Journal, and Salt Magazine. She has visited Australia six times and plans to relocate there soon.

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