Captain COVID: One Year Later

Here I am. Here we are. One year later.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of our first COVID-19 vaccine clinic. 

Back on January 13th, 2021, we immunized 120 of some of the luckiest folks in the Hudson Valley, state, country, and world.  Those doses were of the first of the first to be offered to the populace at large.

Just a few days prior, the very popular, oft-designated-hero, Andrew Cuomo, gave word that pharmacies would be the main driver of the vaccination effort in NY.  Boy, was that both a different time… and an understatement.

Today, I’m giving my 55,000th dose. We’ve administered over 40,000 COVID tests at nearly 99 different schools throughout Ulster and Dutchess.

How do I feel, you ask?

Honestly?

I feel as though all the positive is trapped under physical and mental exhaustion, frustration for a clearly broken healthcare system that has proven—despite our tremendous efforts—that the system itself does not value independent pharmacies, a longing for normalcy and social connection with peers, the weight of knowing the time invested in COVID has been just the icing on the cake of family time sacrificed for professional ends, tension from the neglect of my self and my health, and anger and resentment for all things negative thrown our way via vaccination and testing. Sprinkle in some midlife-crisis-fears of mortality. 

You know me, I can’t complain.

On the flip, though: one year ago I would have never pictured the “success” that lay before us.  To hear my childhood pediatrician, a practitioner for 40+ years, a mentor, and a role model stop me and say, “It’s safe to say that you’ve done more for public health in this region than anyone in modern history, and I’m proud of you”… man!  And he was one of many, many people with similar sentiments.

What started as “put me in, coach, I want to help MY people” turned into “Neal and his team are THE force for COVID Busting, and will go above and beyond and deliver for us, even if we’re hours away.”

Underneath the weight of the “bad” is the light. It’s this molten core of all the smiles, trust, cheerleading, positivity, support, bourbon, and junk food that was showered upon me/us over this past year.

I say all of that to say this: we’re trapped. At least it feels that way.  We’ve all had painful experiences, suffered greatly, and we’ve endured.

We wait for the next checkpoint as the goalposts move farther and farther away.

The negativity in many of us continues to grow like a snowball rolling down a hill. It’s a crushing weight that’s impossible to move.

And it’s a reminder that COVID is just a concentrated representation of non-COVID life. COVID is a threat, but Coping with COVID is the challenge.

Long ago in 2020, before I was Captain COVID, you may remember that I was a local wellness expert on my way to a larger stage.  My coaching and patient education start first with paradigm changes. We must change our minds before we can improve our health.

The systems ARE broken. We are probably NOT where we want to be.

But, where we are isn’t that bad, either.

In fact, most of us can say that earlier versions of ourselves would be at least contented and most likely thrilled in the lives we live.

Last night at 930, as I drove home from a 70 person clinic I did in Millbrook, NY, I was festering over what has become a representative of normal for me: this 14+ hour day of sprinting from place to place to place, barely experiencing life outside of vaccine or testing clinics.

I remembered/realized that my attitude was my decision. 

I started to blast apart my snow-boulder, making that burden much more manageable.  By the time I hit the bridge, I found the Tootsie-Roll center: gratitude.

So much, well, ABSOLUTE SHIT has happened over the past 2 years.  Can we stop, take stock, and be grateful again?

I think I can. Looking at the photos, reliving the memories of our first steps helps me tremendously. 

That euphoria then was so infectious. That shared sense of relief and hope was remarkable. Your love and support fueled me, and it built a machine that touched tens of thousands of lives.

And I use all of that again to break free from this funk, to be more mindful, and to keep doing the much-needed work.

One year on, I’ve saved folks. The process, and those people, saved me.

I am forever grateful to you all, and I’ll keep pushing for as long as it takes.

Just trying to keep it real…

Neal Smoller, PharmD
Owner, Pharmacist, Big Mouth

Dr. Neal Smoller, Holistic Pharmacist

About Neal Smoller

Dr. Neal Smoller, PharmD, is a licensed pharmacist: and owner of Village Apothecary, an independent pharmacy in the most famous small town in America—Woodstock, NY. He’s also the host of the popular wellness podcast, The Big Mouth Pharmacist.”

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