3 Generations Of Pharmacists Reflect On The Coronavirus Pandemic

Jul 3, 2020
Originally published on July 3, 2020 7:16 am

Vivian Garcia Leonard studied to become a pharmacist in Cuba before coming to the U.S. in 1961.

Her daughter, also named Vivian, eventually followed in her mother's footsteps. So, too, did her daughter, Marissa Sofia Ochs. Today, the three generations of pharmacists live near each other and work in New York City.

But recently, the elder Vivian, who's 82, stopped working to limit her exposure to the virus.

In a remote StoryCorps conversation recorded last month, the women talked about living through the coronavirus pandemic.

Vivian Garcia Leonard, a pharmacist, inspired her daughter and her granddaughter to follow in her footsteps.
Marissa Sofia Ochs

The younger Vivian, who's 58, said the hospital where she works had been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. It recently expanded from a 160-bed capacity to 260 beds, she said.

"The patients, they were coding so often that we couldn't keep up with the medications. It was insane," she said.

To keep up with the number of people who succumbed to COVID-19, New York set up refrigerated trailers outside hospitals to function as makeshift morgues.

"One of the worst moments was realizing that the trailer was outside my office window," she said. "The hospital would report out each day, 'We have 30 in the trailer, we have 55 in the trailer.' And, seeing the bodies. At one point it went as high as the 80s."

In mid-March, Marissa, 30, told her grandmother not to go to work, out of fear of exposure to the virus.

"She wouldn't let me leave the house," her grandmother said.

"Well, I just knew it was so hard for you to not work, because you don't know what life is not working," Marissa said.

"I know, I always work," her grandmother said.

The elder Vivian had been interested in being a pharmacist since she was a young girl. She said when she was little, her grandmother used to take her to a pharmacy owned by her friends.

"I always liked science and chemistry," she said. "I always said, 'I'm going to be a pharmacist.' That was my calling."

But her daughter and granddaughter were adamant about keeping her home from work, where she was at a higher risk of exposure to the virus.

"I had to basically tell you, 'OK, you wanna go to work? You can go. Just tell me who are the 10 people you want at your funeral.' Because it was really, really serious. And I'm sorry I had to be that blunt with you," the younger Vivian told her mother.

Her mother said she understood the gravity of the situation.

"I miss the people and I miss my work," she said.

Marissa said her grandmother's dedication to her career inspires her.

"I feel like I am who I am because of you," she told her. "I wanted to grow up to be like you."

The coronavirus crisis has served to remind the three women how grateful they are for one another.

"As a result of this pandemic, I think that we express more to each other — how much we love each other and how much we need each other," the elder Vivian said.

Marissa, mom to a nearly 2-year-old daughter, Liana, has her eye on the future. "I am just hoping for a fourth-generation pharmacist," Marissa said.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Camila Kerwin and Abe Selby.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. And we have the voices of a three-generation family living in New York City. Vivian Leonard studied to become a pharmacist in Cuba before coming to the United States in the 1960s. Her daughter is Vivian Jr. and is also a pharmacist. Then there's Vivian Jr.'s daughter Marissa. They used StoryCorps connect to talk about their lives during the pandemic. Vivian Jr. begins.

VIVIAN LEONARD JR: The hospital I work in is a 160-bed hospital. We went to 260 beds. And the patients were coding so often that we couldn't keep up with the medications. It was insane. One of the worst moments was realizing that the trailer was outside my office window. The hospital would report out each day - we have 30 in the trailer; we have 55 in the trailer - and seeing the bodies. At one point, it went as high as the 80s. Mom, do you remember when Marissa came home that day from work and said, you can't go to work, Abu (ph); you can't go to work.

VIVIAN LEONARD SR: Oh, yes. She wouldn't let me leave the house.

MARISSA OCHS: Well, I just knew it was so hard for you to not work because you don't know what life is not working.

LEONARD SR: I know. I always work. My grandmother had good friends that owned pharmacy. And when I was a little girl, she used to take me there. And I always liked science and chemistry. And I always say that I'm going to be a pharmacist. That was my calling.

LEONARD JR: I had to basically tell you, OK, you want to go to work? You can go. Just tell me, who are the 10 people you want at your funeral? And I'm sorry I had to be that blunt with you.

LEONARD SR: I followed their instructions. But I miss the people. And I miss my work.

OCHS: I feel like I am who I am because of you. I wanted to grow up to be like you.

LEONARD SR: As a result of this pandemic, I think that we - we express more to each other how much we love each other and how much we need each other.

OCHS: I am just hoping for a fourth-generation pharmacist.

LEONARD SR: Right.

INSKEEP: Vivian Leonard with her daughter Marissa and mother Vivian Sr. They spoke using StoryCorps Connect, which allows loved ones to interview each other remotely. Their conversation is archived at the Library of Congress. And you can make your own recording by going to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.