For my first 10 years as a paramedic, the N95s on my truck ended each shift exactly where they started – slowly dry-rotting in a cabinet behind the soft restraints.
But as the relevance of travel advisories eroded against the rise of community spread, the thought of stepping out of the ambulance without an N95 mask is like doing so without a pair of gloves.
Between calls, I carefully remove and disinfect the mask, doing what I can to extend its life far past the recommended single use.
By now it’s a process that I’ve done many times.
And though I believe our process of responding to these types of calls has improved, it is hard to fight back the feeling that we’re all locked into a long game of Russian roulette. It is just a matter of time before one of us gets sick from COVID-19 and carries it back home to our families.
Fear has always been a distraction for first responders. As we progress through our careers, we all find our own ways to work through it. But I doubt that even our most experienced colleagues were prepared to face a global pandemic.
As we all try to find our own way of remaining focused on the tasks we have it hand, I thought I’d share what has worked for me.
Staying informed without staying glued to the internet
There are so many horror stories surrounding this pandemic, it is easy to find yourself feeling doomed.
I avoid posts from “Facebook Scientists” and limit myself to only reading from reputable sources. I pay attention to what is going on nationally, but I keep a very close eye on what is happening locally.
And when I’m done, I turn off whatever device I’ve been staring at and do something else. I read a book, play with my kids or go for a run.
The job is stressful enough. Being able to quote the latest statistics is not going to help me do it any better.
Taking advantage of time on non-emergency calls
Most of the patients we have responded to have not been in any distress. They’ve called 911 because they have experienced a few of the symptoms they’ve been hearing on the news – and they are scared.
My department has adopted the practice of sending one person up to make patient contact to reduce exposure and conserve PPE.
With most of the crew standing back waiting to gown-up if they are called in, the calls have stretched on a little longer than usual. And for a crew that responds to over 300 runs per month, we’ve had to fight back our urge to jump in and do what needs to be done. It has definitely taken a little getting used to.
But the citizens have been more than understanding with our newly slowed pace.
As the company officer, I try to see this time we are allowed as a gift. Compared to the high stress of responding to cardiac arrests, house fires and gunshot wounds, responding to a suspected case of COVID-19 is a scene much more easily controlled.
It is easy to get frustrated at those who put us at risk when they should be staying at home and taking care of themselves.
But we’ve got to remember that even though this thing is affecting all of us, we’re all experiencing our own different struggle.
Before this pandemic began, the area I serve was already suffering. Dense pockets of poverty, compounded with limited access to healthcare, had been wreaking havoc for generations. Now they’ve got to face COVID-19 along with the rest of the world. Most don’t know what else to do when they are sick besides call 911.
Through the years, the fire department has earned trust by being one of the few constants in a chaotic world.
Even though we do not carry the cure to the coronavirus in our drug box, we do hold the only current treatment available – courage, compassion and the determination to never abandon those in need.
It’s a tall order. But we haven’t let them down yet.