Agatha Walston, a registered nurse at a long-term care facility in Louisville, was on the front lines when the pandemic hit. She has Type 1 diabetes, which puts her at a high risk for severe COVID complications. But she worked through the pandemic, caring for some of the sickest residents. One of the hardest things about work was seeing how many people had to die alone.
A mother of two, Walston recounts how this year also has taken a toll on her family's emotional and mental health. She speaks with reporter Farah Yousry about the past year.
The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
My name is Agatha Walston, full time working registered nurse. I have two incredibly difficult children, who I love very much. I live in Clarksville, Indiana, and commute 20 minutes to and from work in Louisville.
It was that evening, the afternoon of March 16 when we had a mandatory staff meeting where we locked the residents down into their rooms and nobody was allowed in or out of their rooms in case we had it in the building.
I remember being scared. But because I have a different relationship with mortality because of being a type one diabetic since I was eight, it was less scary for me. If I die, I do die. I just want to make sure my kids are taken care of.
The gentleman that had left the building in early March was very close with me. I loved this guy so much. He was awesome. He was just one of those dirty old men that just keeps you laughing. When he got sick with COVID, he was just so sick, he couldn't get out of bed. And he was the first one to go behind the curtain. And that was the last time I saw him––hw was in that wheelchair with my favorite certified nursing assistant. She rolled him back there and he was scared.
I remember calling his daughter when we'd sent him out to the hospital. And I was like, I don't know. I don't know anything. Nobody knows anything about this bug. But this is bad. And then she wanted me to call and explain everything to her son--his grandson who's 23 years old. And he took it like a man. And he appreciated me and he thanked me for calling him. And it was really painful, because I know he just wanted to see his grandfather one more time. And I still look up his obituary just from time to time. That was rough.
I got my nose swab on April 13. And my test results came back on April 15. So I got my positive test. And I remember thinking, Well, I'm just going to work until they won't let me work anymore or until I'm dead. And at the time CDC had said the positive can care for the positive as long as they're not symptomatic. And that's when I had the conversation with my children and my parents and my sister and my best friend. And I said give me seven days on a ventilator, if I'm not working after seven days, if I'm not getting any better, pull the plug and give it to somebody else.
So if I wasn't at work, I was sleeping. So my children, they just didn't get to see me.
What my daughter went through — she ended up being in the inpatient mental hospital over here and tried to kill herself. My son, he got suspended from school probably about a month ago because he had made the comment that I was off work that day and he made the comment I'm going to do whatever I have to do to go home and spend the day with my mom because she's off work.
I have an anthem. I sing it whenever I just need that lifting up. I roll the windows down no matter how cold or hot it is, and I will just play it while I'm driving on my way to work.
[Song: Strength, Courage & Wisdom by India Arie]
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.