Sarah Perry: As an author, I felt useless in the pandemic. So I trained to be a vaccinator

Inspired by a desire to be good and help others during the pandemic, novelist Sarah Perry trained to vaccinate people. But what does it mean to be good when there is so much bad faith?

Earlier this year – lockdown three: no sign of spring – I travelled to an airport to try to be good. Dogged for months by the sense of my own uselessness, and having wept with relief and accumulated sorrow when the first Covid-19 vaccine was approved, I’d joined an organisation training volunteers to deliver vaccinations, and so arrived at a desolate Stansted shortly after dawn. Here I sat in the basement of a hotel fallen almost out of use, and in the company of a hundred strangers – though alone and masked in a square of carpet marked out with black tape – learned how to treat fainting fits, panic attacks and anaphylactic shock. In our number were a circus performer, a firefighter, a consultant of some kind; and having been starved of unfamiliar faces for so long we were all, I think, happy to be there (putting a woman in the recovery position I apologised for what seemed a shocking intimacy; but she said what a pleasure it was, after all that time, to be touched). Then we attached sponges to our upper arms, and learned how to insert the needle at 45 degrees, stretching the skin to avoid a bleed; how to depress the plunger, and then remove the needle without doing ourselves a mischief. Then, observed by the nurse, who’d hurried out of retirement to train us, we demonstrated our prowess, were awarded a certificate, and went home to await deployment.

Related: Sarah Perry: what good are books, in a situation like this?

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