To most, working on Christmas Day sounds like a nuisance. But traveling nurse Pat McGarry describes the hours she’s logged in clients’ homes on December 25 as a pleasure.
“It’s actually very nice,” McGarry, a longtime Colchester resident, said. “We only see the people on Christmas who absolutely have to be seen. They’re generally very appreciative and, in some cases, a little bit lonely. We can be a cheery face and exchange holiday greetings.”
After spending more than 38 years with the Visiting Nurse Association and four years as a hospital nurse, the cheery 64-year-old retired earlier this month. The veteran caregiver said she’s trading in her stethoscope for a golf club and looking forward to spending more time with family.
“I don’t know a reason for this particular date,” McGarry said. “It just felt like it was right.”
Originally from Connecticut, McGarry said she knew she wanted to be a nurse from a very young age. It wasn’t friends or family who inspired the move, though, but a series of children’s books.
“This is kind of silly, but I read Cherry Ames books when I was a little girl,” McGarry said with a smile at the VNA’s Prim Rd. headquarters last week. “That was the nurse equivalent of the Nancy Drew series … that kind of piqued my interest.”
After graduating from the University of Vermont School of Nursing, McGarry spent the first part of her career working in hospitals. When a friend notified her of an opening with the VNA, she decided to make a setting switch. Once there, she knew she found her place.
Working in homes provided a fairly stark contrast to the sterile hospital room, McGarry said. She soon found she could spend more time getting to know her patients and could better assess some of their needs, but also felt pressured being the only medical professional onsite.
Visits occasionally turned troublesome, McGarry said, and required team meetings and consultations to determine the best path forward.
“It feels like an adventure at times,” McGarry said. “I’m the one, I’ve got to figure it out. I think we do develop a confidence.”
As a registered nurse case manager for her whole career, McGarry was in charge of determining whether a client qualified for care, coordinating skilled services and guiding other nurses. Nurses like McGarry provide anyone 18 and older with in-home services. The most common diagnoses include heart failure, diabetes, stroke and recent surgery, McGarry said.
In her nearly four decades with the VNA, McGarry said she’s watched the industry change. Paperwork and caseloads are both steadily increasing demands, she said. On average, McGarry said VNA nurses now see six clients per day.
Other advances have made life a little easier, like a monitoring system that virtually transmits vital signs back to the main office.
Nurses like Joe Haller, who learned the profession under her direction, are possibly the best at articulating McGarry’s skillset. When Haller started as a VNA nurse five years ago, he said McGarry exemplified patience.
“She’s just one of those people who brightens up a room when she walks in,” Haller said. “If there were ever any questions about a nursing skill or how to handle disagreements, we would always go to Pat.
“She has built such a legacy by teaching,” Haller continued. “Although her immediate experience and presence is gone, she has left a part of her in nearly every nurse who is now working for the VNA.”
McGarry counts such mentorships among her most treasured relationships, but also noted the bond she’s forged with clients themselves. She’s seen one 93-year-old client in Burlington on and off for the past 35 years and helped more than a few patients live to see their 100th birthday.
And even after all these years, McGarry said she knows she’ll miss knocking on her patients’ doors each day.
“[It’s] just rewarding to meet so many clients and get to know so many clients who exemplify strength and patience and acceptance,” she said. “I loved being a nurse, and I’ve been very proud to be a part of the VNA.”