At the other end of the needle

By Adam Hooper

The jab takes three seconds, after three minutes of chatting. Photo: Adam Hooper


Vaccinations can be a pain at the best of times, but the process has been even more of a hassle over the past month for Ottawa residents getting the H1N1 shot.

That’s why nurse Juliana Pari makes an extra effort to greet visitors to the Vanier vaccination clinic with a warm smile.

“Hi there! How are you?” she earnestly begins, making eye contact and listening carefully for an answer.

She reads her patient’s consent form and carefully confirms each point. Once she’s sure the patient is at ease, she deftly inserts the needle, squeezes, removes it and resumes the chat.

“You want to give them a good experience and you want them to feel like this is a positive thing and they’re making a positive decision,” Pari explains.

Pari graduated from University of Ottawa’s nursing program this June. She worked for the city just four months before being whisked over to Vanier’s H1N1 vaccination clinic when it opened.

“I always was very interested in public health, so I guess you could say I was fortunate to start working in public health in the pandemic,” she said as she prepared her station Monday.

She laughed and added: “Or unfortunate.” Still, she said, it’s a great experience.

When clinics first opened their doors four weeks ago, they were besieged by unexpected line-ups of hundreds of Ottawa residents. Many were sent home after waiting outside for hours.

“Week one was very intense,” Pari recalled. “We all wished that we had two other arms, to do as many people as we possibly could.”

Juliana Pari sits at her station, ready for a patient. Photo: Adam Hooper


Help has been flowing ever since. Ottawa’s parks and recreation workers started issuing wristbands and the health department’s information technology team updated the software nurses use to track patients. Each morning, Pari’s supervisor announces the city’s H1N1 news and tips to make the nurses’ jobs run a little smoother.

Aside from speeding up the process, these contributions keep visitors more patient, which makes Pari’s job easier.

“It’s a lot more civilized these days,” she remarked.

Pari and her dozen or so fellow nurses at Vanier Richelieu Community Centre inoculate about a thousand people each day. Theirs is one of six full-time H1N1 vaccination clinics Ottawa is running this week. By last Wednesday, Ottawa clinics gave the shot to a total of 190,000 people: roughly 20 per cent of the city’s population.

But nobody is a number to Pari. Each person she invites to her station, young or old, nonchalant or sweating in fear, becomes her sole focus.
Some ambivalent youngsters understand the need for immunity but not the need for needles. The clinic’s stuffed mascot, one-foot-tall Jerry the Giraffe, does his part to help persuade these patients. “He’s a great distraction,” raved Pari.

Pari and her peers agree that stress and working hours have dropped considerably since October. Pari gets half-hour breaks in her eight-hour work day. But she starts at 1 p.m., a leap from the usual nine-to-five.
“I don’t know what it feels like to sit at home for dinner any more,” she said.

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