COVID-19 story by Ann Garvin, 2020

Ann Garvin shares her family's story of four generations of nurses and the advice she gives to her daughter, a brand new ICU nurse.

This story was originally recorded and shared as part of an episode of the Madison podcast Inside Stories. Listen to that episode and subscribe to the podcast here:

  • covid19-027
    Narrator Name: Ann Garvin
    Interviewer Name: N/A
    Date of interview: 04/10/2020

    The title of this story is : “Worry Is What You Do”

    My daughter called yesterday “Mom!” she said, “They’re running out of gloves and masks.” She’s twenty-three and still in orientation as a brand new ICU nurse. “We have that guy in a coma. He’s so young. Only thirty-five. And he has a fifty fifty chance of living. I’m worried, mom.” And she cried into the phone. “What if they run out of supplies?”

    When I was a new nurse in 1986 I remember hearing about a disease affecting, we thought, only gay men, and it was killing them. I worked at the VA hospital, and I was pretty sure we wouldn't see any homosexuals there. (laughs) I was twenty-four and I wanted to be a good nurse more than anything, even though I knew absolutely nothing.

    It was a typical day, and we were getting a new admission, and he was being put into one of our private rooms. We only had two. He needed a new IV, and I was handed a pair of vinyl gloves. I was so eager to prove myself. The guy looked miserable. So thin and dehydrated. It was a muggy, hot Wisconsin summer day, and the VA didn’t have air conditioning at that time. (laughs) And I was sweating. God! And so was he. The vinyl gloves I wore were loose and sticky on my hands as I tried to find a good vein. I didn’t like wearing gloves during procedures. They weren’t required, if you can believe it, and I often went commando. So, I just slipped them off. I remember feeling the pop of the vein and watching the blood rush into the tubing. I got blood on my unprotected hands. “Got it,” I said, and the man sighed, I remember, with such relief. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for not hurting me.” I felt pride and relief, but what I didn’t feel was fear. That’s what I should have felt. I did not feel the emergent rush to wash the blood off my hands.

    Hospital mandates change quickly, you know, as we learned more about the blood borne contagion. We were required to wear gloves during all procedures after a while. The leaky vinyl ones that we started with were traded out for latex ones, and I had heard that factories had to
    be built quickly due to the high demand of them. Our vinyl ones were porous, they said, and they could let just about anything in.

    I soon understood the viral fear of worrying and waiting in line to be tested for HIV, as I had been exposed more than once in those early days.I remember I called my mom too. And she talked to me about when she was a new nurse in the height of the polio epidemic. How they knew nothing. I asked how she got through it. How did she manage her fear? And she said her mother told her about the Spanish flu. And her mother had told her this: “Worry is what you do when nothing can be done. It is a waste of time”

    So, on the phone with my daughter I listened to her cry. I felt anxious and helpless. But I knew a few things this time around. “Sweetie,” I said, “shut off the news. Stop listening. Follow the hospital procedure. Be a little bit afraid. Be sure to take care of yourself first, so you can take care of your patients. And remember, remember this, try not to worry. Worry is what you do when nothing can be done. It’s a waste of your time.”