Health

Front Lines: A Paramedic on Life on the Coronavirus Front Lines

Are medics worried about bringing the virus home?

Yes. I’ve worked to find alternative housing for medics in certain situations, like if they normally live with someone who is immunocompromised or elderly. I’ve called hotels, nonprofits, looked into Airbnb, and even looked into a Facebook group for people letting medical professionals stay in unused RVs. A few hotels offered “hero deals” that were still unaffordable on a medic salary.

Eventually, Concordia University agreed to provide housing for EMS and health care workers.

Hilton then partnered with American Express to offer free hotel rooms for some health care workers. The city is also renting hotels for COVID-19 essential employees and people experiencing homelessness.

What risks do the homeless population in Austin face during the pandemic?

After the orders to shut down non-essential businesses started, medics started to see that many people experiencing homelessness didn’t know what was going on. Many food pantries have had to scale back without warning, and medics reported that people were eating out of trash cans or hadn’t eaten for days. Due to libraries and recreation centers closing, people experiencing homelessness couldn’t even wash their hands. Fewer people were driving, so there were fewer people to donate to homeless people asking for money on the street.

I sent a frenzied text message to my friend Pooja Sethi, attorney and City Council District 10 candidate. She immediately got five women together to create the Quaranteam, which has been feeding hundreds of people a day. They’ve bought Lunchables, made sandwiches themselves, and worked with local restaurants to source meals. The city has also opened some recreation centers and libraries for people experiencing homelessness to access.

What are paramedics experiencing on the front lines of fighting the virus?

We’ve had some harrowing weekends where we’ve run many COVID-19 cardiac arrest calls. People are dying from COVID-19, suicide, not seeking treatment for various health issues, and unintentional overdoses.

Unfortunately, we still don’t understand much about COVID-19. Our medics have seen people with oxygen levels half of normal oxygen levels who are still able to talk and function. Normally, these people would be in and out of consciousness. These many unknowns about COVID-19 have caused great stress for our medics, and I’ve internalized it.

How are you feeling now?

A month ago was a sprint. By the end of many of those days, about 50 percent of my words were incoherent. I never knew if I’d wake up to texts and calls, or if it was a quiet night. Now, it’s a marathon.

In the past month, most of my waking moments and many dreams have been all about work, how to improve things for our medics, and running through to-do lists to make sure I’ve remembered everything. I continue to see the great work of our medics and how we’re changing the health care system, and that fuels me to persist.

Right this minute, I feel okay about the PPE levels we have. I feel good about most of our processes. But I also feel like I’m waiting for the next big event, that there will be a breakout of COVID-19 knocking out one of our districts or one of our medics will die from COVID-19 contracted on the job.

Many people are still ignoring shelter-in-place orders and mask recommendations. I get it. It’s very hard adjusting to a new reality and your mind might not even let you feel acceptance yet. And now that we seem to have moved past the peak of cases and deaths in Austin, people feel safer. A false sense of security equals complacency equals infection.

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