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Why I’ve Stopped Embroidering

Last year during the lockdown, I found a new hobby.

It was one that surprised me, because I never envisioned myself as having the traits associated with that sort of activity; namely patience, meticulousness, and tenacity. I’m talking, of course, about embroidery.

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Even my loved ones were surprised. Embroidery is, to them, a ‘girly’ thing, and I’ve always been, well… not. But there’s just something so therapeutic about the repeated motions of poking your needle in and out of the fabric, and watching the threads fill up a blank space with colourful patterns and shapes.

Sadly, I’ve stopped embroidering consistently since August last year. And it’s not because I grew bored or anything, or that I don’t have money to buy materials.

It’s because of the COVID vaccine.

How is it related, you ask?

First and foremost, let me clarify – I am NOT an anti-vaxxer. I got my Human Papillovirus (HPV) vaccine when it was still relatively new on the market. I was also one of the first people to sign up for the COVID AstraZeneca vaccine, because I live with my elderly parents, and I wanted to keep them safe. I still hold the belief that there are vaccines that people should get in order to protect themselves from diseases.

But ever since getting my first COVID vaccine shot, my body has been showing undeniable long-term side effects, namely persistent atopic dermatitis and eczema that mainly manifests on my hands (fingers/palm) and my legs.

It’s not exaggeration to say that I’ve not had any relief since August 2021, because these tiny fluid-filled vesicles would pop up all over my hands, causing intense itching (I have on occasions, felt like it would be better to just chop my hands off – that’s how bad it can get). I would inevitably scratch them (doctors always say “don’t scratch” as if it was easy – you ever experience an itch you couldn’t scratch? It drives you insane), which would cause my skin to bleed. It would then be extremely painful, until it crusts over, and my hands would look like Chupacabra’s paws.

Even when I will myself not to scratch, my skin would still get so swollen with fluid underneath, it would literally burst open (I shall not regale you with photos because even they gross me out), and deep cuts would appear as if someone had made small incisions into the surface of my palm and fingers.

Of course, like any person who believes in science and medicine, I’ve gone to several doctors and dermatologists. Is it something I’ve been eating? Something I’ve been touching? Or perhaps, possibly, the vaccine? Because I have a history of eczema, but it has never been this severe nor long lasting, and usually resolves after a week or two. NOT an entire year, with only a few days of break in between at most before a fresh wave of vesicles start popping out again.

But in every scenario and every doctor I’ve gone to, they just wave it off and say “no, it’s not the vaccine, it’s just your immune system being hyperactive” (without telling me what would cause my immune system to be this way. It’s just “one of those things that happens”). They then prescribe me with topical steroids, and send me on my merry way. Long term use of topical steroids is known to cause side effects, but that’s Western medicine for you – treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause – and if you have another symptom resulting from that prolonged use, we’ll treat that instead!

Having vented my frustrations at friends and family, some have also told me about how they’ve had skin problems (mostly in the form of persistent rashes) since they got the vaccine – so I know mine is not an isolated case.

The thing is, unlike very SEVERE side effects from the vaccine (they always say these are ‘rare’, but who tf cares if they’re rare or not if YOU are the one suffering from them? Like hey, look! I won the unlucky lottery!), such as myocarditis or blood clotting, I would say skin problems are considered a ‘minor inconvenience’ in comparison, which is probably why a lot of it goes unreported.

I did not initially make this link – I thought that I was probably eating or doing something that was triggering the condition. So I tested cutting out dairy from my diet, then seafood, then beans, and a variety of other foods, none of which helped. I cleaned all my often-touched surfaces and resorted to wearing gloves around the house to avoid touching stuff. NONE of which worked.

Again, it’s not a life threatening thing – but it certainly is bothersome not being able to do chores involving washing, and having to live with a bothersome, irritating condition that limits your hand movements, is itchy as hell, and causes you pain. Oh, and not being able to embroider is a bummer too, just when I discovered a passion for it.

But you know what the funny thing is? My mom was having a conversation with her doctor about how I was having these symptoms after getting my vaccine, and he, like all the doctors I’ve been to, simply waved it off as “coincidence”.

See, this is the thing I hate about some of our doctors. It’s a classic example of them dismissing your pain and symptoms as being ‘all in your mind’. I’ve seen this bias in action when my mom had her eye surgery and felt like something was terribly wrong during the recovery stage, but her specialist told her “It’s like that, it’s in the recovery stage, you have to expect it”. A month of suffering later, she went back, and the doctor admitted that she was FUCKING RIGHT – there had been a problem with the surgery, and they would need to do a corrective procedure. LISTEN TO YOUR FUCKING PATIENTS WHEN THEY TELL YOU BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THEIR BODIES GODDAMIT

Wow, that turned into quite a lengthy, pointless rant, didn’t it?

Do I regret getting the vaccine? Not really. I had COVID in March this year, and I believe that if I hadn’t, the symptoms would have been much more severe. In retrospect, even with the knowledge that I might suffer these side effects, I would still do it again to protect myself and my loved ones.

But having contracted the virus and gaining natural immunity, I will NOT be getting a fourth booster. Because how many more iterations will there be? With many vaccines, they were developed after years of testing and clinical trials. I just feel that the COVID vaccine has been rushed in order to curb an onslaught of a global pandemic – and these effects, however minor they may be, may only manifest years later – with us as guinea pigs.

PS: This is me sharing my opinion/experiences, and should not be taken as fact or conclusion that vaccines = problems. Do not take this as medical advice or what not.

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Covid-19 and Life Updates: Getting The AstraZeneca Vaccine

Malaysia has come a long way from last year – and I don’t mean that in a good way. From being lauded as a ‘model’ for other Southeast Asian countries for its quick response to curbing the coronavirus pandemic, we now have the highest cases of coronavirus per million people, at 205.1 cases (at the time of this writing) – higher than that of India.

How did it go so wrong?

Well, if you ask me, it’s a combination of many factors: poor governance, weak leadership, a lackadaisical attitude and a lack of discipline among the public, poor enforcement, double standards… the list goes on. Malaysians are also notorious for being super invested and enthusiastic at starting things, but are terrible at sustaining them. Sure, in the beginning, it seemed like we had our shit together. Everyone cooperated, and there was a sense of solidarity that we’d all get through this together. But as time went on, people either got tired of keeping up appearances, or simply did not care anymore. There are some who have no choice but to be out and about, due to economic reasons. But there are also plenty who are contributing to this current wave because of a “it won’t happen to me” attitude. And frankly, as someone with two elderly parents in the vulnerable category, I find this behaviour disgusting, and I cannot fathom how anyone can be this reckless and selfish.

There was a viral post by a local doctor recently on how she had to perform an emergency surgery for a pregnant woman who was diagnosed with COVID, and yet STILL went to visit relatives over the holiday season, KNOWING FULL WELL she was putting everyone’s lives at risk, including that of herself and her unborn baby. It’s time like these that I wonder if there could be a waver of some kind; like if we know you’re going to contract COVID because you’re being a stupid idiot, doctors can refuse to treat your stubborn, selfish ass.

But we can all talk about my lack of faith in the human race until the cows come home; it doesn’t change the fact that we are in a serious situation. I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, but our front liners are exhausted and on the verge of a breakdown, many people have lost their jobs, our hospitals are bursting, and our vaccine rollout is super slow.

Which is why I signed up for the voluntary AstraZeneca vaccine programme recently. And I was very VERY lucky to be among those who managed to grab a slot, because thousands of others did not make the cut and will have to wait for whenever the next one, whichever brand it is, becomes available. Of course, AZ was not my first choice, but with how things are going, I think it’s the ONLY choice for many people to protect themselves and their loved ones.

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To give you a bit of a background, Malaysia is supposed to get a bunch of vaccines from different countries. The three main ones are AstraZeneca (12.8 million doses), Pfizer (32 million) and Sinovac (12 million), and we’ve also placed orders for Sputnik V from Russia, and CanSino Biologics, from China. That sounds plenty for our population of 32 million. The problem, however, is that only a sliver of these orders have arrived in Malaysia, and our government is extremely slow at administering the vaccine to the population (you can read a more detailed report about the reasons why in this article). So it is that while neighbouring Singapore has already vaccinated 25% of their people, and even Indonesia with its large population has done 4%, Malaysia is lagging behind at an abysmal 3%.

In the early days, the government announced that vaccination would be done in stages: frontliners first, followed by seniors and those with comorbidities (since they are most at risk), followed by everyone else. Being a relatively healthy 30-year-old, I fell into the LAST category, which meant that if everything went according to plan, I’d be inoculated sometime at the end of the year, or early 2022. Seniors, like my parents, were supposed to start their vaccination in April.

Malaysia being Malaysia, April came and went, and my parents (and many other seniors) were still waiting for an appointment. The government seemed to be dragging their feet, and the lack of info further added to public frustration. Now I’m not blaming our medical system. I know our front liners are working crazy hard. But I think they are limited by many things (like manpower and availability of vaccines and facilities), and the poor way the programme is coordinated isn’t helping at all.

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The vaccines that arrived earliest were small batches of Pfizer, which were given to our frontliners. Then came the AstraZeneca shots, and many were reluctant to sign up because of the blood clots scare. This was a couple of months ago when cases weren’t that high, so a lot of people adopted a “wait and see first” attitude. The take-up was so bad that the government opened it up for volunteers, even if they weren’t from the Phase 2 (seniors/comorbidities) category. I initially wanted to register for this, but my mom cautioned me strongly (I’m being polite here) because she was worried, despite me explaining that it was all rumour-mongering and that the percentage of blood clots happening is really low. Like 8 per 1 million. To set her mind at ease, I decided not to volunteer. Cases weren’t that high at the time, and I thought as long as the seniors were vaccinated first, then I could always wait, since I didn’t get out much anyway.

But then May came and there was the Raya holiday. Despite being warned that there would be fines and possible jail time for travelling interstate or visiting friends and family, thousands still slipped through the cracks and risked their lives and health to go see their loved ones. I know it’s difficult to be away from family. Heck, I haven’t seen my husband since we had our wedding ceremony in February 2020. But that isn’t license to do whatever the hell you want. Sacrifices are necessary – we are essentially at war with an invisible enemy. The worst thing would be to infect a loved one and watch them die because YOU can’t fucking stay at home. Well, maybe you wouldn’t feel the guilt, because if you did – if you had even a shred of responsibility in your being – you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.

So here we are, at 8,290 cases as of May 28.

Now, seeing that shit has hit the fan, people started to go into panic mode. My mom, who was initially so against getting AstraZeneca, finally asked if I could register for her on the MySejahtera app, when the second phase of the voluntary programme opened for seniors aged 60 and above.

“What made you change your mind?” I asked.

“Well, I called your cousin and he was talking about how your aunt and uncle are getting it. And it seems like the chances of blood clots are low.”

“That’s literally what I’ve been telling you since Day 1, and you didn’t believe me.”

“Yeah, well… the cases weren’t that high before. And our rollout is so slow. Even seniors haven’t been vaccinated yet. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait?”

I would have very much liked to say “I told you so,” but I didn’t want another fight so I just did what she asked. And as long as my parents are getting vaccinated, I guess it doesn’t matter if it took an outsider to convince her lol. “You and Cyrus (my brother) should take it too,” she said. “You’re both in the last category, and we’re not even sure if you’ll get it next year, at the rate this is going,”

From naysayer to advocate! I thought.

Unfortunately, the time for being able to leisurely sign up was over. EVERYONE was thinking the same thing. On Wednesday, when the government opened registration for below 60s, it was pandemonium. If you’ve ever tried buying concert tickets for a popular band online, it was exactly like that.

I knew it was going to happen, and that the website would probably crash due to traffic, so my brother and I had our laptops and our phone at the ready at 12pm. The registration got delayed until 12.15pm. Once the button appeared, we were both clicking furiously on both sides: I had one hand on my mouse and the other hovering over the refresh button on my Samsung. True enough, the website kept crashing. At one point, I managed to get to the registration page – but it wouldn’t allow me to select the state I was in. At another, I got past that stage, but it wouldn’t allow me to set the date, even though the slot showed it was still available. Then, of course, the dreaded “I am not a robot”, and having to pick out the frames with bicycles or highways, only to have it crash and repeat everything all over again.

By sheer luck or force of will, I finally managed to submit my details after 40 minutes, and my brother got his shortly after. Registrations were closed after just over an hour, in which over 1 million slots were snapped up.

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You won’t believe the relief I felt when I saw this screen lol. Like I can finally give my fingers a break.

I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my friends expressed frustration, not only because they didn’t get it, but also because the entire experience with the website was such a shitty one. There were memes about how many laptop mice and phone screens must have been damaged that day.

Surprisingly, there were people who appeared not to have gotten through, but received a notification the next day that their application went through. My notification came almost 48 hours later. The earliest available date when I clicked was on 4 July. So July it is. My parents are getting theirs in late June, and my brother in late July.

Honestly, I just feel like it’s a load off my back. I’m not really worried about myself, because I feel I’m fairly healthy and strong – but I’m worried about catching it and spreading it to my parents, who both have comorbidities. Beyond the physical aspect, I also think getting the vaccine is a good thing for my mom’s mental health – at least she would feel a little safer knowing that we have some form of protection. My mom has always been an excessive worrier, and this pandemic has just exacerbated the condition, to the point that it makes things difficult for everyone else living under the same roof. Not that it’s her fault, of course – that’s just how some moms are, and I know that despite her demeanour, she wants what’s best for us.

Life feels like it has been on hold for the past 1.5 years. Can’t wait for things to resume some semblance of normalcy again – or at least normal enough that it’ll be safe for us to go out again (and for the hubs to travel here!).

It will be a long and hard road, but I’m hopeful the day will come. Until then, all we can do is keep ourselves, and our loved ones, as safe as we can.

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PS: Update – The government has just announced a full lockdown from June 1 to June 14, whereby only essential services will be allowed to operate. This will be similar to the first lockdown we had back in March 2020. Dunno, just feel it’s a bit too little too late seeing as how people have been calling for one for the longest time.. rather than allowing leniency and just letting things drag on until it got to this point – but hey. I’m not a policy maker, nor am I an economist, so what do I know?