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After the Pandemic — The Emotional Toll

By CHELLE CORDERO, Correspondent | June 01, 2020 | NEW YORK

Story No. 041820108

The Coronavirus crisis has ravaged our country, our EMS personnel, and all healthcare on the front-line. As of the writing of this article New York State has suffered more than 12-thousand deaths, with New York City and the southern counties being the epicenter of most confirmed cases and deaths. EMS responders have been running non-stop, riding seemingly endless shifts, and all too often falling to the sickness themselves, sometimes fatally.

One EMT recently interviewed for a local news broadcast mentioned that his typical call volume has, at the minimum, quadrupled and that he knows most patients he transports never make it out of the hospital. He also admitted being reduced to tears when he has had to tell patients’ families that they are not allowed to ride in the rig or even show up at the hospital to be with their loved ones and they all realize it may the last time they ever get to say “I love you”.

Aside from the physical demands which have included lack of sleep and lack of proper PPE, too many of our state’s EMTs and Paramedics have seen their friends, co-workers and sometimes family members fall ill and die. Our brave EMS teams have often been called to act often beyond their scope and to make desperate triage decisions because of an overburdened health care system and overcrowded hospitals. Crews are advised not to attempt to revive suspected (or confirmed) COVID patients if they have coded or to perform procedures which could generate aerosols that would transmit the virus to others. The “decision” to let someone die in your care goes against the grain of most EMS and can weigh heavily with guilt and regrets.

911 operators do their best to ascertain if a patient exhibits any Coronavirus symptoms or has had contact with any known sufferers so that they could warn the responding crews. While basic Personal Protective Equipment is always donned during a response, if the supplies are available then authorized masks, gowns and eye/face shields are also worn; too often crews need to rely on simple face-masks made of linen and gloves simply because supplies have dwindled dangerously low. And yet the ambulance crews still rush to every patient’s side. Many EMTs and Paramedics are often afraid to return to their own homes and families for fear of bringing the virus along with them.

WHEN… When this pandemic is over and ambulance and hospital ERs are once again dealing with the mundane (in comparison) calls that most EMS and emergency courses train for, our health responders will truly never be the same again. They will have lived through a COVID “war zone”, they will have lost colleagues, neighbors and loved ones and they will be left with the time to dwell on all the decisions, all the deaths, and all the exhaustion. There will be sleepless nights from nightmares, tears and regrets, grief, anger and disbelief. The resulting depression could lead to poor health, substance abuse, anger, and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.

The state and individual agencies need to plan now for CISD and grief counseling as well as finally giving recognition to our EMTs and Paramedics who gave so much of themselves to fighting this virus despite the overwhelming numbers and lack of supplies. Our first-responders need to be allowed to grieve, to cry and to know they are not weak to seek help. Therapists need to be available, but not just any therapists, counselors need to understand what our EMS personnel have gone through and the things they’ve seen and experienced. Simple compassion won’t cut it. CISD counselors must know EMS, they must understand the hard decisions and what it actually means to “have been there”. Crisis teams and counselors need to be formed now so that they can learn what is actually going on and what our EMS personnel are being exposed to every day.

EMS, along with other healthcare workers, have been on the frontlines and their contributions have been vital to a, hopefully soon, recovery and reopening for our state and our country. EMS is as essential to our well-being as breathing the air around us.

This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.