Rocky Mount, N.C. — Shirley Debruhl hadn’t been in the same room with her daughter for 332 days before Wednesday. The coronavirus pandemic had kept the 82-year-old inside Rocky Mount Rehabilitation Center and apart from the outside world since last March.
During that time, Debruhl missed numerous family birthdays, anniversaries and other events, including the birth of her first great-granddaughter. Her only contact with relatives was through the window of her room.
On Wednesday, however, Karen Hammond was allowed to go into her mother’s room at the long-term care facility with a special gift: Debruhl’s second dose of coronavirus vaccine.
“It’ll be a personal moment, but it has to be professional first,” said Hammond, a member of a CVS team immunizing residents and staff at the Rocky Mount facility. “I’m here as a professional.”
A pharmacist at a CVS in Durham, Hammond said she volunteered to be part of the vaccination effort. CVS and Walgreens have a federal contract to handle shots for residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities nationwide.
“The COVID vaccine itself is very historic, and I’m so honored and proud to be part of this effort,” she said.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday that the CVS and Walgreens teams have visited every long-term care facility in North Carolina at least once. More than 84,400 residents and staffers have received their first dose so far, but only four people had received second doses as of Monday, according to state figures.
Debruhl already contracted the virus, her daughter said, but she never experienced any severe symptoms.
“My mom, as I said, is a very strong woman,” Hammond said. “We don’t measure her life in years, we measure it in cat lives.”
A pharmacy technician accompanied Hammond into her mother’s room so Hammond and Debruhl could talk while the second pharmacist handled screening questions and prepared the vaccine.
“I appreciate y’all coming, and I love y’all so much,” a tearful Debruhl said. “I just wish I could hug you bunches and bunches.”
Instead, mother and daughter gave each other air hugs before and a gentle high-five after the vaccination.
“My automatic reaction is to hug her,” an emotional Hammond said afterward. “It was so good to be there – just not long enough, not long enough.”