Feb. 16, 2021

S1E15: Harriet - "Look for the Helpers"


We can all agree we're in need of a feel-good story right now, so meet Harriet! She has been dedicating her time and energy to helping elderly people navigate the world of technology so they can receive the vaccine. "Anybody would do the same when you hear the people on the other line," she says. From family to strangers, she's helped so many get access to the information they need so they aren't left behind. She also details her hints, tips, and suggestions on how to look for vaccination access! 

Below is the New York Times article that inspired this conversation in the first place:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/04/nyregion/coronavirus-nyc-vaccinations.html

Stay tuned and follow us on social media (@fatiguedpodcast) to hear more about our upcoming changes, news, and updates! 

Transcript
Caroline Amos:

Hi, I'm Caroline Amos.

Raymond McAnally:

And I'm Raymond McAnally.

Caroline Amos:

And we are Fatigued. Before we begin this whole story, I just want to say after reading the article about you in the New York Times, the Fred Rogers quote came to mind, look for the helpers. I just think that what you're doing is so special. And Harriet, tell us more about you what's going on.

Harriet Diamantidis:

My name is Harriet Diamantidis. And I have been volunteering, signing the elderly up for the COVID vaccine, so that they can get vaccinated for any elderly person who is not familiar with the internet.

Caroline Amos:

You absolute Angel,

Raymond McAnally:

You nailed that summary!

Harriet Diamantidis:

Oh, I was just gonna say Did I or not?

Raymond McAnally:

No, that was great.

Harriet Diamantidis:

I was awkward a little bit.

Caroline Amos:

No, you're good.

Harriet Diamantidis:

So I'm from Rockaway Beach, Queens. I don't know if you guys have ever been there. But it's a little town in Queens that usually most people haven't heard of, although now it's more popular. And I grew up there, and my grandparents would stay with us every summer. And it's really my grandmother who inspired this journey for me. And so I was signing her up for the COVID vaccine. And if you've ever called My grandmother on the phone, it's it's hilarious, because she can barely use the phone. So you sort of have to, you know, announce who you are about 13 to hide, you know, cutely hang up on you about, you know, five times. She's the best!

Raymond McAnally:

And is that just like a switch to cell phones kind of thing?

Harriet Diamantidis:

Something like that. Exactly. So as I was signing her up for the vaccine online, I said, I couldn't help but think about all the other people in her age category. And, you know, how are they going to maneuver through this online? You know, phase and you know, if she can't work her landline? How was she? How is anybody going to figure out this process online? And, you know, people in her age category are obviously most at risk for COVID. And I started thinking about all the elderly people, what were they going to do and the baby boomers, you know, they use the internet, but they're obviously, you know, not as good at it as you know, someone like me, or you are and so I just

Raymond McAnally:

I don't know, I know, I know, 40 year olds, 20 year olds can use the internet very well.

Harriet Diamantidis:

It's a challenge. And so that's really what inspired all of this for me. And so I made a post on Facebook and instantly, so many people from all ages wanted advice and needed help. And that's really how all of this got started.

Raymond McAnally:

So you sent it out initially to your circle of friends, or was there already some group that was for this?

Harriet Diamantidis:

So I am a member of a bunch of public groups on Facebook, from my hometown of Rockaway Beach, to the town that I currently live in to the Upper East Side, mom's group on Facebook. So naively, I posted it in about seven Facebook groups that had, you know, a total of like, 100,000 members, and I really didn't think that so many people would reach out to me, Oh, my God, I only thought, you know, maybe 10 people would need help, but right away, tons and tons of people. I was overwhelmed with how many people needed help. And of course, I didn't want to not help anybody. So right away, you know, Nico, and I Nico's my husband, we were up till two in the morning, you know, helping people. And that's really how this all got started. You know, you don't want to turn anybody away. Because it's, it's really, you know, a life or death situation for some people.

Caroline Amos:

No kidding. Yeah. Well, when when did all this start? How long ago? Did you start doing this?

Harriet Diamantidis:

So on January 10, I made my post that was the night before you could start making appointments. And that was my grandma's 96. So I obviously, you know, for her if she got COVID, it could be a deadly situation. Oh, yeah. reading all about what you needed to do and what the process was to get the appointment. So in a sense, I was a little bit ahead of the curve. Because I was reading, you know, where did you need to go? What were the websites? What, you know, what was the eligibility requirements? Where were you able to get an appointment? So I was reading what forms Did you need to fill out? So a lot of people, you know, didn't know that information yet. I was sort of obsessively reading about it. And so January 11, is when you could get online and make an appointment. So midnight, I was there on the internet, getting her an appointment. So January 11 is when anybody 70 Five and above could start booking appointments. And so that between January 11, and January 14, is when we were booking appointments for people. And on January 14, that's when the vaccine shortage hit. And after that, it was near impossible. That's when appointments are to get cancelled. And that's when appointments are to get rescheduled. And from that point onward, it's been near impossible for people to get appointments to this very day. We have barely been able to help people because it's near impossible to get an appointment.

Raymond McAnally:

Because I believe the couple that was featured, I believe in both the New York Times article and your segment with Lester Holt the Goldberg Goldberg Yeah, it was a situation where it was some sort of last minute they they had extra vaccine or something. I don't quite remember the logistics of that. Was that just too simple? We got you an appointment. Here's where you show up, or was that something new caused by the shortage?

Harriet Diamantidis:

So they were concerned that their appointment might get canceled? Luckily for them, there's didn't but ironically, my mother and grandmother's appointments got cancelled and rescheduled

Caroline Amos:

because of the shortage, the shortage?

Harriet Diamantidis:

No, that's the irony is that I the first people I got appointments for were my mom and grandmother and their appointments got cancelled and rescheduled. The Goldbergs were very concerned that there's get cancelled, but they they didn't. I think what you're referring to, though, is that some sites have had vaccines that were about to expire. So when a vaccine is about to expire, because sometimes, you know, they have to be kept cold up until a certain point and when there are no expire, some sites will use those vaccines and open up the eligibility to anybody at age that can get there within the timeframe.

Raymond McAnally:

That is what I'm thinking about. Because here in Los Angeles, that is a big deal. We are at least our county protocols, I'm not sure if it's statewide or not. They are simply age restricted. So it doesn't matter if you have a pre existing condition, it doesn't matter. Anything other than age. So folks who are severely immunocompromised in their 20s 30s 40s, they're going to be waiting quite a while unless we figure out a way to to speed this up.

Harriet Diamantidis:

See, I think in New York, they are opening up that eligibility to people who are compromised this week, not this week, next week on the 15th February 15. I read that they're opening up that February 15. So hopefully, Los Angeles or California will be

Raymond McAnally:

coming up. So I think everybody's figuring it out on the local level. But that's what I love that you're so informed because you've been so kind of in the middle of all this, that's I can relate quite a bit to that instinct of I grew up around a lot of older adults, my parents were 40 when I was born. And so with the technology, especially like I I would love to have a technology conversation with my mom now because she's no longer with us. But at the time, it could push my buttons, so she never understood the concept of the internet. She thought it was on her computer. She thought her Gmail on her phone was a different Gmail. I used to have to remind myself all the time that that this is a person who, despite being highly intelligent, like she, she was born in 1939. She remembers she remembers calling and telling the operator what phone number you want to call, you know what person in town you want to call. I even have some old letters of her because she was um, she was Miss Tennessee. And so yeah, and so we have all these in 1958 sheet, we have all these wonderful letters from around the country. And even some international that all it said was her name. And her street address and the town. There was no zip code. We can't even imagine that level of like so from going from that. And your your grandmother's would be 14 years older than my mom would be today. So these folks have seen some major major changes, so I don't fault them for not being up with times. I know

Harriet Diamantidis:

my mom once asked me, you know, I told her, you know, she had to go into the app store to you know, buy something for her phone. And she was like, Well, where is that? Is that on Avenue? You in Brooklyn? You know? Yeah, I would always laugh Her but I think in COVID times, now, I almost, you know, feel sorry for them. Because now, you know, it always was funny. And now in a time like this, it's, it's actually a crisis, you know. And so

Caroline Amos:

it's actually it's a matter of life or death right now, actually. And it's really, really a scary time to be thinking about those things. Thank God that your grandma and your mom have you.

Harriet Diamantidis:

I know. But you know, they'll tell you that I'm a real pain most of the time was not a pain.

Caroline Amos:

It's really encouraging to hear you talk about, you know, wanting to take care of your grandma wanting to take care of your mom, when you were doing the research to get them the vaccine, where do you begin?

Harriet Diamantidis:

So I really began online. But what I would tell you is that a lot of misinformation is out there. And so I've learned that a lot of what I read was incorrect. So I'll give you an example. I was pre registering, I pre registered, my mom and grandma at first, and I learned afterwards that there was no need to pre register. So I found a pre registration form on New York State's website, and I filled it out. And later I learned No, you didn't need to pre register. So that was a misstep that I took you. So my point is that there's so much misinformation out there. And part of that problem is that nobody knows what's what, you know, yeah, well out, you know, you go on the site, you think you're doing the right thing, and you don't necessarily, you're not necessarily doing the right thing. Really, all I had to do was go on the site and search for an appointment, then you go on Facebook, and you read what people are saying. And for example, one of one of the big things was you, I thought you could go anywhere to get an appointment, you could travel anywhere to get an appointment. Apparently, that's not true. You have to, you know, go within a certain parameter to get an appointment. And that's parameter of like, of where you are, where you live. So and again, this is I'm not even sure what the answer is. So when you go online, and you Google and you read articles, you I understood it, that you could go anywhere, you could travel anywhere to get an appointment. So if you live in Long Island, I thought you could go anywhere to get an appointment, whether that means Manhattan, or Manhattan, Queens. But now I'm reading that if you live in Long Island, you can only get a vaccine within Long Island.

Raymond McAnally:

Whoa, how are they are they checking if your local resident through your ID or

Harriet Diamantidis:

so at the vaccine site, they check your ID. So you would think that if they're checking your ID, and you you're able to get the vaccine, that's okay. But apparently, now I'm reading that you can only go if you live within the five boroughs, you can only get a vaccine within New York State five boroughs. And if you live within Long Island, you can only get a vaccine within Long Island. And there's so much confusion with this rollout. And they really believe that they should have signs in every local department store in every store with instructions of where you need to go and what you need to do. And I believe they should have commercials that are running every half hour that are telling people this is the website, this is where you need to go. I think that people don't know what they're supposed to be doing. And that's the problem. And they call me. They don't know what where to go or what to do. And even me, and I read about it. And I get confused myself because I say, Oh, I thought that you could go anywhere within New York State. But you can't

Caroline Amos:

know if you could. For our listeners, I know you may not be the expert, but you probably have a lot more information that a lot of us do. If you could maybe outline some simple steps so people know where to get started. I'm asking selfishly because I'd like to get started. So if

Harriet Diamantidis:

and again, I've only recently learned these new rules. If you live within the five boroughs. You should go on the NYC you should google because it'll make it simpler. The NYC vaccine finder and you type in your zip code and a list of locations will come up that are closest to you. And you click on the first the first location that comes out. And right then in there, it will link you where you can click a button. You can click a button that will say schedule your first dose and then from there it will ask you You to certify that you don't have allergies. Because you know, obviously, well, not obviously. But you may have read in the news that if you have severe allergies, you could possibly have a reaction to the COVID, right. So it will ask you to certify if you have any severe allergies, and then you type in your name. And right away, you can put in a zip code and try to book an appointment. My first tip to people is, if you're not having luck with your exact zip code, start looking under other zip codes, I find that that's helpful. I'm looking under other zip codes, if you're not finding anything under yours, look under random towns, I find that that sometimes change it up. And just keep going keep refreshing your page. My other favorite tip is go online at really random times. Really, really early in the morning or really, really late at night, or at dinner time. Or you want to compete with less people. So if you look pending in most people are looking for an appointment at 10am 11am most people are looking for an appointment. But Saturday night at eight o'clock most people are out. Well not out but most people are, you know, doing, you know,

Caroline Amos:

we can hope that they're not out I mean, deadly pandemic rather than

Harriet Diamantidis:

doing something other than looking for an appointment. So

Raymond McAnally:

this reminds me of a friend of mine posted on Super Bowl Sunday that like at kickoff, she was at the grocery store. And she posted a picture that she'd been planning this for weeks. Apparently she does this every year that she goes to the grocery store and Super Bowl Sunday so she can have the whole place to herself.

Harriet Diamantidis:

Exactly. Exactly. So for example, that's a great point during the Superbowl, I was looking for appointments, because I figured so many people would be preoccupied and I yeah,

Caroline Amos:

that's great. It's really interesting. I live in a story. And I was reading that if you want to secure any sort of COVID test, the best time to do it is at midnight, because that's when the whole thing refreshes. And now that I've said this, everybody that listens is going to take all my spots to get COVID tests, and that's totally fine. I just hope everyone's being safe. Yep.

Harriet Diamantidis:

I've heard a rumor that it's the same with appointments. I've heard a rumor that it's at midnight that they refresh as well. Yeah.

Raymond McAnally:

Okay. That's a great tip.

Caroline Amos:

Yeah, I really want to turn all of this into like an infographic and be like, these are Harriet's tips for getting vaccinated.

Harriet Diamantidis:

I've heard that they refresh at midnight. That's why sometimes I'll go on at midnight or 2am. Although lately, it's been impossible. But Yep, midnight, 2am 5am. Go on at random times when everybody else is busy.

Caroline Amos:

That is so great to know. Your story is so unique in that you have been taking your time and energy and resources to help other people. And I think that's just so phenomenal of you.

Raymond McAnally:

Yes.

Caroline Amos:

Tell us a little bit more about like, you know, what goes in your head to do something so, so selfless and wonderful for other people.

Harriet Diamantidis:

To be honest, you, both of you, anybody would do the same when you hear the people on the other line, who call they are the sweetest. When you hear these elderly people on the other line, I swear it's not me. Anybody would do what I'm doing here, how concerned they are. And last and, you know, when you when they call and I say you know, what's your email address? Or I'll say can you forward me your verification email? And they'll say, how do you forward an email, you know, and they don't know how to do it. And you were I it's second nature, you know, you know exactly how to forward an email, it's to us, it's the simplest thing. And if I played you want to their voicemails, anybody's heart would just open up and when you can make an appointment, it's actually very simple. It's a five minute process. If there were appointments, it would take anybody five minutes. It's very simple. If there were appointments, and so in the beginning when I was doing this, it really wasn't difficult. But now it's difficult because there's no appointments here these elderly people,

Raymond McAnally:

it just

Harriet Diamantidis:

you guys who both do it to anybody would and there was someone I did it for the other day. It was snowing here in New York, I think it was was it Saturday where it was snowing.

Caroline Amos:

I think it was Sunday. It was really really

Harriet Diamantidis:

and for a while it was snowing pretty heavy. And he works. He was an elderly man and he attacked In he didn't speak much English. And he works in a in a cleaners, and he had a lot of underlying health issues. And he could he spoke very broken English and he got my number through somebody else because a lot of it's word of mouth. And he really needed the vaccine, and I have a list of people, but his case was so dire that I sometimes when it's a dire case, I kind of, you know, I'll let them move up a little bit. And I have no idea how, but by the grace of God, I got an appointment for him. And it was 12 o'clock, and he was able to get an appointment that day for 2pm. But it was snowing really hard. And his appointment was far away from where he was located. And, and I called him and I told him, and I said, I don't know, if you're, you know, he was, I think he was he was at two still working in a drive. And I said, I don't know, if you're gonna be able to get there, because where he needed to travel was over an hour away in the snow. And he started crying, he said, No, I'm gonna, you know, in his broken English, I'm gonna get there, I'm gonna get there. And he got there in the snow, there was like three inches of snow on the ground. And he'll always remember him, I remember calling my mom and saying, you know, I'll remember this guy, and wonderful. And then his daughter called me to thank me. And it's the people like that, who stick with you. And like I said, I'm not doing anything that anybody else wouldn't do. When you hear those people, and they have the health conditions. And, and, you know, that's why we're doing this, because it's, it's the elderly, and I really feel like, you know, they took care of us, you know, and if you have a grandparent that, you know, really was good to you. That's why,

Raymond McAnally:

yeah, that's what I pick up on just just getting to know you, in this conversation that, you know, you come from a strong family and so that there's a sense of an extended family here that once you talk to these people, they they become people, they become human. And just like your family, you want to help them it. There's also something else you said about that. It's they're finding you through word of mouth. And that can be one of the biggest logistical issues of reaching people who have technical problems is our normal means of getting the word out Facebook and and all these things. They're not network to it. They don't, their problem is they don't know how to use it. So how do you find them? I think it's wonderful that you're willing to put your personal phone number out there, a whole lot of people would would not be comfortable with that step of it. I just think I just think it's so great. It reminds me of I haven't even talked about it here. But I work with 55 and older volunteers here in Los Angeles, I recruit and manage help manage events for that demographic, as part of a grant, a national grant. And yeah, with a nonprofit called Le works that does amazing work. I love being associated with this organization. So I've experienced to what you're talking about with with you get the person on the phone, and maybe you've gotten a frustrating email, you know, an email that sounds a little like, whoa, I'm helping volunteers. Why are you Why are you mad at me? Right? And then you talk to the person and you realize it's just they're just so frustrated. I don't know. We're recording this on February 10. And the biggest viral video of yesterday, which gave me so much joy was the lawyer couldn't get the cat filter.

Caroline Amos:

On my god that guy was so funny.

Raymond McAnally:

It is I want to use it when I teach it is a study it is a study in perfect timing. And it just like everything from the from the cat face looking down at the very beginning and exasperation to this little sigh he does at the end he says he says I'm not a cat. I'm just this like little like frustrated. Almost laughing. I hope you find this funny to judge kind of laugh. Oh my gosh, I've listened. I've watched it and listen to it at least 50

Harriet Diamantidis:

so darling.

Raymond McAnally:

But that's a good example. A friend of mine pointed out that's a great example of like, a lot of people's level of frustration with technology right now, a minute. It's funny that it can filter in front of a judge, but but it's that in a way that's what you're dealing with. You're dealing with folks who they get on to do the simplest task to forward an email and it shuts down their computer. They don't know what they pushed.

Caroline Amos:

Oh my god. My, in the past year of this pandemic, I got both of my grandma's iPads so they could FaceTime us. And when I was home, I, you know, the family, we presented my grandma Norma with her iPad. And I showed her how to plug it in to charge it. And she came out one night, and she said that the plug isn't working, I can't, I can't plug it into the charger. And I said, Oh, and I came over to it. And my grandma with Hulk like strength had ripped the end of the charger off. And it was just lodged and stuck in her iPad.

Raymond McAnally:

And how in the world

Caroline Amos:

I don't know, like, my sweet little grandma was tinier than I am. And gentler, you know, literally wouldn't kill if Lee had ripped the end of the charger off of the I couldn't believe it. It was so funny. But bless her, thank god, she's living with my parents right now. So they can assist in all of her charging needs. I don't want her to touch another charger ever again.

Raymond McAnally:

We've mentioned it but we have you haven't explicitly said what you're able to do now with appointments being so hard to find, or our guests are not up back up and running? Have you? Because nobody would fault you for saying I did this for a week? And then I was done? I don't know if you're still doing it. But it sounds like you are what are you able to do now to help people.

Harriet Diamantidis:

So I have a lot of people who are messaging me and calling me and through word of mouth. You know, I get a lot of messages on Facebook, or you know, phone calls, I have a few articles that were written. And then the reporter will say, you know, people are asking for your phone number, can I give it to them? And I say yes. And I started off by telling every person, it's very difficult right? Now send me your information. And I have an Excel spreadsheet with all of their info. And I look every single day, it's very difficult. But what I'm trying to do now what I think the solution is, is I'm calling local pharmacies, not CVS or Walgreens because those are obviously you know, slammed with people. I'm trying to a local mom and pop pharmacies who are going to get the vaccine, and I basically explain I'm a volunteer, and can I, basically, I have a list of eligible people, you know, and everybody who I deal with is elderly, everybody is elderly, and not just 65. And above the majority I like to work with, I mean, I obviously don't turn anybody away, but the majority who I get our abs, you know, late 70s, more on the, you know, older and, and I'm, I have one pharmacy in mind, who I have a call with later today where I'm going to try to get a relationship with to basically say I have all these eligible people, can I please send them directly to you. And I'm hoping that they will be open to that I don't know if they will, but I have all these people, I need a solution for them. And that's the only thing I can think of right now. Otherwise, I'm in the same boat as everybody else, I'm just going to stay up really late, wake up really early, keep refreshing, and try to get them appointments, I'm not going to stop. But I may just be, you know, in the same boat. I mean, the success I had in the beginning was solely because I was ahead of the curve. And I just had those five days of getting appointments, because you know, I was just a little bit ahead of the curve. And that, and I right now I'm just like everybody else, I don't know anything more than anybody else at this point. So the only assistance I can offer at this point is that, you know, I can fill out a form. And but I do have these people that don't know how to so I'm just going to get them appointments and and but I won't be able to do anything more than you know, get them an appointment when appointments become available. I am hopeful because I believe tomorrow, the retail pharmacies are going to start administering things, but their books solid. So, you know, I just want to help these people. So I'm hoping that this local pharmacy can help but I don't know if he'll be willing to. So, you know, I'm just going to keep calling local pharmacies and maybe because of the publicity, you know, with the New York Times article, they'll see that, you know, I'm a real volunteer trying to get these people who are eligible appointments but not

Caroline Amos:

and you have you you have not been vaccinated yet correct?

Harriet Diamantidis:

Nope.

Caroline Amos:

Do you have a plan for yourself?

Harriet Diamantidis:

I mean, not really. I'm going to try I have severe asthma. So maybe when they open up the eligibility, you know, for people preexisting conditions. But, you know, I'll be in the same boat as everybody else just trying to get an appointment.

Caroline Amos:

Well, this whole topic of conversation has gotten me feeling so like warm and fuzzy inside. So thank you so much. I always, I always love to sort of round out these conversations with a question. And I feel like every time we've talked to people, the answer has been the same answer. But I'm curious to know, what is giving you hope right now.

Harriet Diamantidis:

What's giving me hope is, I really strongly feel like the vaccine is our way out of this. And I also really feel like 2020 has taught us that we need each other way more than we ever realized than we ever thought we did. And everyone always says, people are always sitting in, you know, their faces and their phone and everybody's, you know, always on their cell phones. And I really feel like that is changing. Because all anybody wanted to do when we were in quarantine was, you know, see each other and, you know, people were going for walks, they were standing outside talking to each other. And I do feel like we learned a lot from COVID. And I know that for me, it truly tapped into my compassion, my sensitivity. I think, so many people have suffered such heartache. And last, and such terrible things have happened. And we all know people who have suffered, whether you knew someone that passed away, or you had COVID, and suffered from it, I think that we all have learned so much and have, everyone has so much more compassion. And I just think that the world has forever changed, and all of us are forever changed. And I, I just think that we're all better for it. I know, I probably sound like such a mush. But that's why I really think that COVID made me such a better person. And I think that every person is better for it. My husband says I sound like he always tells me now that I'm like a flower child. But I really do think that it made people better. I think that everybody walked away, everybody is going to walk away with a better understanding for life and for what we have. And I think that the world is stronger and better for it. And we have a better appreciation for the little things.

Caroline Amos:

That's beautiful, beautifully said. Beautifully said. Hey, this is Caroline and Raymond. We wanted to say thank you for listening to this episode and let you know that there will be more every week from now until we get fatigued by it.

Raymond McAnally:

We're building out this podcast as we go. So stay tuned for improvements on our website, our graphics and video clips and just everything else. The time was now to tell our stories so we're learning as we go. We really do appreciate

Caroline Amos:

your interest in support. We truly hope that the personal stories that come out in each episode can help build a better understanding of COVID-19 how it spreads and how it affects us.

Raymond McAnally:

If you have a story or a question that you'd like us to address in an episode, please email us at fatigued podcast@gmail.com that's fa TIGU ed podcast@gmail.com.

Caroline Amos:

Thanks for listening.

Raymond McAnally:

Bye