The COVID-19 pandemic became real for Bennett McConnell during a family trip to Walt Disney World in March 2020. What was meant to be a 10-day vacation ended after just three days as the world began to shut down.
Bennett and his parents traveled back home to Rochester and began their pandemic life that was dominated by everything virtual. For Bennett, that meant finishing fourth grade through distance learning. Little did he know, he would spend all of fifth grade that way, as well.
Bennett says not seeing friends and teachers was tough, but he also found a bright side.
"The food at home was way better than at school, and the lunch breaks were much longer," he says.
Still, he longed to see friends again and wondered when that would be possible.
Things began looking up for Bennett and his parents with news of the first COVID-19 vaccines available to some groups in December 2020.
"I remember my parents telling me about it, and I was super excited and happy for them because they could do activities again and didn't have to be as scared anymore," Bennett says.
"I thought it would be fun to make something for the nurse, so I thought it would be cool to draw something on my arm."Bennett McConnell
But Bennett, who was now 11, had to wait to get vaccinated because he wasn't eligible yet. Come spring, he says it was hard to see kids just slightly older than him beginning to get their shots. A second canceled family trip to Walt Disney World last summer added to the agony.
As he patiently waited, Bennett's life got closer to normal when he began sixth grade last fall at Friedell Middle School and returned to the classroom.
Bennett's big day would come in November.
Bennett remembers when his parents told him last fall that he was finally eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
"I was just so happy and thankful," Bennett says.
His father, Mark McConnell, an Information Technology specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, says he and his wife, Rachel, researched the benefits of the pediatric version of the vaccine by listening to experts like Gregory Poland, M.D., head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group. They quickly scheduled Bennett's appointment for his first shot on Nov. 13, 2021.
Bennett was now a step closer to being fully vaccinated. The wait until his second shot on Dec. 10, was almost a blur. In his excitement, Bennett hatched an idea.
"I thought it would be fun to make something for the nurse, so I thought it would be cool to draw something on my arm," he says.
So he got out his notebook — not feeling confident to draw on his arm right away — and sketched out a large syringe. Bennett then used a pencil to draw the image on his arm to show the idea to his mother.
A snowstorm the day of his appointment almost threw a curveball into Bennett's plans. The vaccination clinic called Bennett's parents and asked if they could bring him in at 1 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. since the clinic was closing early. The McConnells agreed, but there was one problem: Bennett's drawing for his nurse was not yet complete.
With just 20 minutes until they had to hit the road to the vaccination clinic, Bennett used a Sharpie — with a bit of help from mom — to draw the syringe on his arm and added the words "thank you."
Then Bennett was off to get his second shot ― and make a vaccination nurse's day.
When Bennett was seated and ready to receive his second COVID-19 vaccination from Katie Lumley, who was giving vaccinations at the 41st Street Professional Building, he pulled up his sleeve to reveal the drawing on his arm. He still remembers Lumley's reaction.
"She was so happy and overwhelmed, almost crying happy. It really made me feel good," Bennett says.
Lumley couldn't agree more.
"He is an amazing kid. Most kids are decidedly not thinking of others when faced with getting an injection."Lara Beacom
"What a stellar young man. He truly brought joy and a smile to me and others with this thoughtful drawing," she says. "As a nurse, 'thank you' is not always heard frequently, and our jobs can be draining. The fact that Bennett went the extra mile to send that message and spread kindness meant so much."
Word about Bennett's act of kindness spread quickly. Lara Beacom, a nurse practitioner who was working at the vaccination clinic at the time, promptly rounded up several colleagues to see Bennett.
"He is an amazing kid. Most kids are decidedly not thinking of others when faced with getting an injection. His visit was the highlight of our day and nearly had a couple of us in tears," Beacom says.
As for Bennett, the many positive reactions to his surprise left him thrilled.
"It made me feel good that I made so many people happy," he says.
Not surprisingly, Bennett's dad says he was proud of his son.
"It's a testament to Bennett and his personality. He is very kind and aware of people. He likes to do things to help out and make them happy. That's how he approaches life," Mark McConnell says.
The syringe on Bennett's arm has long faded away since that joyous moment, and Bennett is ready to resume a more normal life, which includes looking forward to another family vacation if the pandemic permits.
Regardless, Bennett has an important piece of advice for other kids who have yet to get vaccinated.
"I would tell them to go for it," he says. "It was the easiest shot I ever got."