The Indianapolis Star
When coronavirus first hit back in the spring, work actually slowed down for Amber Michaels and her colleagues at Indianapolis EMS.
Michaels, a 37-year-old south-side dayshift lieutenant, and her colleagues had braced for an onslaught of calls but instead, they were surprised how quiet things got.
“I think people were afraid to go to hospital because of the uncertainty of catching COVID,” she said. “The uncertainty was quite scary.”
Then came the fall.
Since November, as COVID-19 patients have filled area hospitals to capacity, Michaels and her colleagues have found hospitals on diversion more often. They have arrived at an emergency room and found as many as 10 other ambulances there first.
“Southside hospitals have had lines outside the door,” Michaels said.
Nov. 9, when IEMS responded to 413 incidents, was the single busiest day in IEMS history, media and public affairs manager Brian Van Bokkelen said. Currently the agency averages 332 incidents per day.
The entire month of November was the busiest in the agency’s 10-year history, with 10,210 incidents, he said.
When an ambulance transports a person suspected or known to have COVID-19, the crew has to scrub the inside of their vehicles after the run, which adds to the workload, Michaels said.
It’s so much work, ambulance crews have begun helping each other. At the beginning of November, Michaels noticed the EMS crews doing this more and more. With all this practice, this procedure now takes 10 to 12 minutes.
“From top to bottom, every surface… you literally have to wipe everything down,” Michaels said, from the floors to the bars hung from the ceiling that paramedics can clutch to steady themselves as the ambulance races to transport a patient.
Coronavirus brought another challenge to EMS workers: Doing everything encased in personal protective equipment.
For IEMS workers that means not just a surgical mask but a respirator that cleaves to your head and face, making it even harder to breathe or have your voice heard. And in the summer the respirator left most EMS workers “drenched” in sweat, Michaels said.
A handful of her co-workers have fallen ill but most have effectively avoided infection, she said. Many won’t see elderly relatives. Michaels won’t touch her six-year-old twins until she’s had a chance to clean herself up.
She’s had two coronavirus scares herself. The first was around Easter when she suddenly lost her sense of taste and smell. The second time was more recent when she developed what seemed to be a bad cold. Both times she tested negative.
After the first time, she tested for antibodies as well, thinking the initial test might have been a false negative. The antibody test came back negative as well.
The pandemic has made people more grateful than ever before for EMTs, Michaels said. Often now, people will thank her and her colleagues for keeping them safe, gratitude they rarely heard in the past.
But then there are those who scoff at the need to follow public health recommendations, like masking, social distancing, etc. When Michaels sees people post on social media downplaying the seriousness of this virus, it leaves her nothing short of livid.
If she could tell the naysayers anything, she said, she would talk about how it feels to transport an unstable patient to the hospital, where visitors are no longer allowed. As she wheels them out of their homes, she thinks about how this could be the last time they wind up seeing their families before dying.
“If they could see what I see every day,” she said. “It has just impacted our world and healthcare field in ways that people who don’t work in this field don’t understand.”
Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: ‘If they could see what I see every day’: EMS worker faces coronavirus pandemic frontline
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