Paramedics And COVID-19: More Pressure Than Ever
Definitely On The Front Line
I couldn't be a paramedic.
I have a great appreciation for science, particularly biology and anatomy, having grown up in a home where my parents were both health care workers. My mother was a nurse, so there were quite a few medical books around that I could peruse if ever I was curious about something, and my father was an ophthalmologist technician with the Canadian Armed Forces, which means that while his focus was on an individual's eye health where he might make recommendations to an ophthalmologist if need be, he had a lot of medical knowledge as well. Very rarely, though, did either of my parents have to deal with a medical emergency, save for my father's heart attack when I was in my mid-teens.
I've only ever needed to draw upon the services of paramedics twice. The first time was when my oldest was small and she woke with a raspy sort of gasp that made me wonder if something serious was wrong with her throat. Paramedics ran my daughter and me into the hospital, which was 20 minutes away, as my husband was away on a course and I was convinced if something went wrong while I drove her I wouldn't be able to deal with it. As it turns out, she had croup, but I can still remember the efficiency with which the paramedics worked and how helpful they were in maintaining my level of calm and keeping my daughter at ease.
The other time I needed to deal with paramedics was in late April, 2020, after a nasty fall while running saw me having to deal with a gash in my head. Someone had called the ambulance as the cut apparently looked serious enough to warrant it, and within minutes, a couple of kind paramedics, who were gowned and masked, were asking me a host of questions including those about any potential exposure to COVID-19. These were young women who very quickly took stock of the situation while still trying to do their best to ensure their own safety against a virus we still don't know a whole lot about. They recommended stitches, which I ultimately got, and had even offered a lift to the hospital via the ambulance, which I couldn't take at the time given my husband hadn't arrived on scene and I had my dog to take care of. I am still struck by their kind efficiency, and now, as COVID-19 continues to rage, I am struck by the pressures that must now face paramedics everywhere with every call.
To be sure, dispatchers must ask these extra questions about every potential patient's travel history in the last two to three weeks or their risk of exposure to the virus. Those in the ambulances not only have to wear their uniforms, which are heavy duty at any rate to prevent the wear and tear that must come with the physical challenges of their job, but it's my understanding that they have to mask up, gown up, and wear face shields if they're tending to a patient. On a hot day, that can be more than a bit uncomfortable, but when you're having to throw all that on overtop a winter jacket as well, so I could only imagine the dehydration that might come from wearing so many layers.
I could also imagine the frustration that might come from being separated from a patient by so many safety measures. As a patient, while I might understand the protocols, there might be a sense on my part that the paramedics tending to me might be concerned I have COVID, which might also amp my fears up in the moment. It's hard to navigate fear when times are calm, but during a pandemic when you need paramedics and they have to follow extra medical protocols? That's got to be a bit scary if you're a patient, which might make things more difficult for the paramedic to deal with.
Paramedics, like other health care professionals, see people on what is usually their worst day ever, and their jobs by their very nature are stressful. They are undoubtedly - as is the case with other health care professionals - feeling the incredible stress that comes as a result of dealing with patient medical issues while having to deal with COVID-19 at the same time. Add to that the immediacy with which they respond to calls and have to determine how best to treat someone in order that they make it to the hospital - if required - safely, and you've got a heck of a lot of stress that paramedics are dealing with. Then, they have to go home and deal with the stress of being a parent, partner, son or daughter, and all the emotional baggage that comes with.
I realize I might be unintentionally understating the level of stress paramedics deal with on a daily basis. I do, however, want to acknowledge just how much they should be appreciated for what they do daily.