This Is What It’s Like To Be A Paramedic On The Coronavirus Frontline

During this pandemic, it’s been business as usual for ambulance crews – just in aprons, boots, masks and goggles.
Sam, on shift with the West Midlands Ambulance Service
Sam, on shift with the West Midlands Ambulance Service
HuffPost UK

When I was offered the opportunity to go out and work as an ambulance clinical assistant during the coronavirus pandemic, I didn’t need to think twice. As a second-year paramedic science student it hit home that, with the number of ambulance crews growing in the face of coronavirus, this was a valuable chance to see how big an impact Covid-19 is having on the NHS and society as a whole.

My excitement about the learning opportunity quickly turned to thoughts of how vulnerable we might be: visiting patients who may or may not be Covid-positive, and the possibility of taking the virus home to family members was an odd but not unrealistic proposition. Was I putting the ones I love at risk by doing a job that I love? Even though it was scary, I decided it was a great opportunity for me to learn.

The first thing I learned was that it’s business as usual for ambulance crews, responding to calls as usual, albeit with the provision of personal protection equipment. West Midlands Ambulance Service, who I work with, had invested so much in PPE and gone all out to support and protect staff. Before the virus, we’d wear gloves, but now we have aprons, boot covers, masks, gloves and goggles. For paramedics, those first few minutes can make the difference, so while it’s time consuming, we got a lot faster with more experience of putting the PPE on.

Here’s what my first shift looked like:

First call, 1920hrs: Patient with blunt head injury, we attended and, following assessment, suggested that he went to hospital – however the man refused, so he was left in his own environment after spending 1.5 hours with him.

It was nerve-wracking taking my first call, when you’re on scene for so long your patient comes first so you forget your nerves. After that initial first job, I felt ready for my second and was feeling more confident.

Second call, 2115 hrs: Patient unconscious with noisy breathing, within ten minutes of arrival the patient had arrested and was transferred to hospital. Call took approximately 2.5 hours.

Third call: Patient reported chest pain and following an electrocardiogram (ECG) was transferred to hospital. Approximately one hour spent with this patient.

Fourth call: Patient had a fall and laceration. We helped them get up and advised a transfer to hospital. However, the patient refused on the basis of the Covid-19 situation. Despite a prolonged period of reassurance, the patient still refused to accompany the crew and we had no choice but to leave the patient at home. This, to me, was a sign that the pandemic and lockdown have created fear for some patients, and that some don’t want to risk attending an A&E department in cases they normally wouldn’t even think twice about.

One thing I noticed on my shift is that lockdown has clearly created an increased feeling of loneliness for those who live alone or can’t be visited by family, and a lack of being in touch with the outside world. Knowing that helping those individuals and providing them with a much-needed friendly face and a real person for them to talk to felt rewarding.

These tend to be members of older generations, who in my experience are usually the people most stoic in their approach to life. Seeing how they have clearly been affected psychologically by all of this has been heart-wrenching, and we often felt sad to walk away and leave them alone once again in the middle of the night.

As for the people we do take to hospital, their fear of being unwell is often compounded by a fear of going into hospital, fearing they may contract the virus as a result. I can physically feel that fear and hear it in the voices around me. I’m the one sat in the back of the ambulance with the patient on route, trying to constantly reassure them, trying my hardest to make them feel comfortable. A few patients seem to pick up on the way, and then when you pull up to the hospital you can see those nerves return, no matter how much you have reassured them.

That’s all just one snapshot of one shift. The next can be entirely different to this, every job being a Category 1 (the most serious) or every job being a Category 3, no one can predict what the next 24 hours will bring. At the end of all of this, I hope there is support for all of those within the NHS, to give them all some down time to reflect and talk about their experiences during this crisis, good and bad. In one day I had four Category 1 calls (where patients can have life threatening conditions), including two involving very young children, one of whom we had to rush to A&E. It was a lot to process, and I went to A&E to check on their progress before I went home, which helped me.

Being a paramedic is so daunting, but that’s part of what I love about doing what I do: most of all, it’s about being there for people when they are at what may be their lowest or most frightening point. If I can make that journey in their life a little easier, especially during this pandemic, then I go home satisfied, knowing I’ve made a difference.

Sam is a paramedic student at Wolverhampton University. He appears in Channel 4′s Paramedics: Britain’s Lifesavers, airing Monday 13 July

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