Free chips, a cup of coffee, a bottle of water and a nice sit down – if it wasn’t the middle of lockdown I would almost have thought I was flying on a midafternoon Qantas departure. You know, the flights before 5pm after which they start throwing the free beers at you.
Except Qantas doesn’t have a selfie wall. Or provide 96 per cent protection against hospitalisation for Covid-19.
I wasn’t at the airport, I was at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred hospital, commonly known as RPA, and was unexpectedly getting snacks and drinks galore during my second jab.
Based on this fact, and through doing some completely unscientific research, I can confirm that RPA is the gold class cinema / business class lounge of vaccination hubs.
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Surprised to even make vaccine list
I was surprised to find myself in the little more than 10 per cent of Australians that have been fully vaccinated.
There was no skulduggery, I assure you. There were no “secret links” involved. My method of getting a jab was all above board. I registered my interest with NSW Health and a few weeks later I was on my way to RPA to get Pfizer.
For the nine out of ten Australians who’ve yet to get their Pfizer, AstraZeneca or – at some point who knows when really, could be ages – Moderna shot, it’s likely your experience will fall into one of three categories.
There’s the intimate one-on-one experience of getting it from your local GP. There’s the precise opposite experience of queuing up with hundreds of others and waiting your turn at a big vaccination hub like Sydney Olympic Park or Melbourne’s Jeff’s Shed.
And then there’s something in between which is RPA. It had a kind of airport feel. You go through multiple check-ins and queues, but at least there are lots of seats.
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Nerves in the air
Just like flying, the air at RPA was rich with an invisible division of emotions. Half the room had the nonchalance of frequent flyers who’d done this route before. Except the blasé nature of the east coast commute was replaced by the relaxation of knowing the needle was so dainty and so expertly manhandled into you upper muscles that they’d barley feel it.
The other half the room, the first timers, had the anxiety of nervous flyers wondering how big the needle would be and if they’d have to call in sick tomorrow.
On my first visit, my suspicion was that everyone there was an early adopter. They’d signed up to get a shot at the first opportunity in the same way people used to gather outside Apple stores for iPhones.
Maybe they wanted to travel again to see family? Perhaps they’d seen covid spread through friends overseas? Many, likely, were keen to just to get it over and done with.
The waiting room, normally a lecture theatre for nurses, was almost empty. The whole shebang was done in an hour.
By the second trip the abstract threat of covid had become very real indeed with Sydney now in lockdown. The auditorium was getting full, the queues were longer, it took 90 minutes to get in and out, one man tried (and failed) to jump the queue.
It felt like there was now a worry that covid could be anywhere – and indeed it was. Two days before my visit, RPA itself became a hotspot although there is no information any transmission occurred at the hub.
The nerves had been ratcheted up a gear. So seeing a barista, albeit in a visor and gloves, doling out free flat whites was a little touch of normalcy in a strange situation.
I should add that he was parked outside in the open air. Indoors it was all masks on.
But for a few minutes it meant you were concentrating on the liquid in your cup not the liquid going into your arm.
Not all vaccines hubs are the same
After the jab was done – and you have to pity the poor nurses who see up to 70 upper arms a day – you got chips, biscuits and a water. You were told you could only consume them once you’d left.
A quick snap by the selfie wall and you’re done.
Other people I’ve spoken to have had more functional experiences.
“Olympic Park is the most boring place on earth,” said one. “There were no treats.”
But there was praise indeed for the “down to earth” and “fantastic” staff.
“The nurses were super friendly and nice,” said another of her experience in Melbourne, which was done in just 30 minutes.
‘You’ve done a wonderful thing’
A friend who went through St Vincent’s in Sydney had no free coffee but did get a TimTam to while away the wait.
Yet I’ve heard of nowhere that’s pulled out as many stops as RPA. A hospital that took something that could be simply a conveyor belt of medication but decided to humanise it a touch. An institution that did their best to calm any jitters on the way in.
Of course, it’s not about the coffee, or the TimTams, the chips or the bickies. No one came to get jabbed for the free snacks. They came because it was the right thing to do to finally, hopefully, give us an exit from the covid quagmire.
“On the way out of my second shot I told the nurse I was feeling emotional,” a Melburnian told me.
“She said ‘you should be. You’ve done a wonderful thing.’”
So while the free flat white is a nice perk at the gold class vaccination centre, knowing that you’re protected and could protect others is the biggest reward.