We Could Not Bear the Thought of Getting Her Sick

Vivian Carson

Working at the frontlines of the pandemic, clinical pharmacist Vivian Carson can’t help but think about what it means for her kids.

In the beginning, Vivian Carson and her husband Sean were afraid to so much as hug their kids.

Shoes never came in the house. Showers couldn’t be taken often enough.

As the pandemic unfurled, the two pharmacists — both working in Oklahoma hospitals — waited, not knowing what would happen next.

“We had no idea what to expect,” recalls Vivian who got the first, early hints about the oncoming coronavirus from a pulmonologist she works with. “We were extremely worried.”

In fact, Vivian never expected to be on the frontlines of a pandemic at all. The ICU pharmacist went to school picturing herself in a retail setting, filling prescriptions from behind a counter. But that was before she was drawn to clinical pharmacy — a specialty that required not just dispensing medications, but becoming an authority on them.

“I entered school and thought, ‘You can do a residency as a pharmacist?’” she says.

Today that’s put her in the ICU at the forefront of her Oklahoma hospital’s COVID response — a place where codes, the medical emergencies most of us only know from TV, are weekly and sometimes daily events; where a careful balance between empathy and distance can be lifesaving for practitioners; where you might see someone you know.  

“Once you’re too close,” she says, “you can’t function or do your job.”

And there are worries beyond the job and kids — namely about Vivian’s grandmother, a near-80-year-old who often watched 2-year-old Ava and 4-year-old Aiden in a pinch, but who was in too a high-risk group to continue. “We could not bear the thought of getting her sick,” says Vivian. The concern led Vivian to social media where she asked the mayor and governor to make sure daycare was an essential business. “Healthcare workers,” she says, “would not be able work without it.”  

That the family’s center stayed open solved more than just child care. It reintroduced some of the rhythms of life that were there before COVID-19 — the teachers the kids love, the friends they know — that hold things together every day, not just during a pandemic. “My husband asked Ava if she wanted to stay home while he took time off from work,” recalls Vivian. “She said nooo…I want to go to daycare and be with my friends.”

For now, the couple and their children have settled back into routines that are, if not quite ordinary, then at least familiar: child care drop-offs, work, and family time.

The worry is always there, says Vivian who says it’s easier to hug the kids now that she and Sean have tested negative.  “But you learn to manage.”