London

A day in the life of a paramedic during COVID-19

A paramedic's job revolves around life and death, but since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, these essential health care workers are thinking much more about their own well-being.  

London paramedic Jennifer Cripton gets into full protective gear about two or three times a shift

Jennifer Cripton has been working as a paramedic in the London region for 10 years. (Submitted by Jennifer Cripton)

A paramedic's job revolves around life and death, but since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, these essential health care workers are thinking much more about their own well-being.  

Jennifer Cripton has been answering emergency calls in the London area for ten years and the past few weeks have brought challenges she never imagined.

First, calls are up. And many are from people with breathing trouble or chest pain.

"Our dispatch centre takes the call and they ask very specific screening questions about travel history and about being around anyone who is a positive carrier for the virus," Cripton said.

When Cripton arrives on the scene, she must then conduct another assessment from at least six feet away. 

Sometimes from behind a front door. 

"If anybody comes back with 'I've had a cough' or 'I've been ill', we will take the time to put on protective equipment before continuing."

That means goggles, a specially fitted N95 mask, a face shield, gloves and a gown.

Treating COVID-positive patients

The problem, she explained, is that not every patient is forthcoming with all the information right off the bat. By that point it's too late.

Right now, Cripton gets into full protective gear about two or three times a shift. In one of those cases, the patient relayed that she had already tested positive.

If patients test positive after a paramedic's initial contact, public health officials are to notify that paramedic.

London emergency responders, including EMS, police and fire, held a convoy to say ‘we’re in this together’ on Apr. 1, 2020. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

Already a carrier?

One of Cripton's biggest concerns is that she's already carrying the virus. Public health officials have made it clear that some carriers have mild or no symptoms at all.

"As a health care professional. I'm going from patient to patient to patient and not knowing if I'm a carrier of this virus or not," Cripton said.

Cripton wishes all frontline healthcare workers would be tested for COVID-19. 

"Unless we're showing symptoms, we're not being tested."

The WHO has stated that the first way and the best way is to test test test," Cripton added.

In and out of long-term care facilities

Cripton is frequently called to long-term care facilities where the risk of infection are high.

"We've learned that this virus can be transmitted without symptoms," Cripton said. "We deal with medically fragile people. My fear is that we are vectors for this virus."

"To know that and to know that potentially could be carrying a virus that could wipe out the entire nursing home, it's pretty hard to deal with.

We do the best we can, but the knowledge is there, the fear is there, we fear for our families, we fear for our coworkers. It's a heavy weight to bear," she said.

"It's harder to know that we could be part of the problem as well as the solution."

About the Author

Rebecca Zandbergen

Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 15 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna.

now