Nfld. & Labrador

Paramedics suiting up with extra gear to protect themselves and patients on 911 calls

If you've ever had to call 911 for a medical emergency, you may have seen paramedics rushing to the scene whose protective gear is often limited to gloves. During the pandemic, however, that has changed.

Face shields, full gowns used, depending on the emergency, to keep paramedics and patients safe

Mark Jenkins, an advanced-care paramedic with Eastern Health, says protecting himself during a 911 call is essential for his own health and that of his patients. (Submitted by Mark Jenkins)

If you've ever had to call 911 for a medical emergency, you may have seen paramedics rushing to the scene whose protective gear is often limited to gloves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that has changed, with paramedics wearing face shields and full protective gowns, depending on the emergency.

"Our focus is still on helping our patients but we also have to protect ourselves moreso now as well," said Mark Jenkins, an advanced-care paramedic with Eastern Health's paramedicine and medical division. "So you will see us having to take a little bit of extra time when we show up to scenes to put on extra protective equipment.

"It's not just solely for our protection but it's also for our patients' well-being."

Jenkins said all front-line workers perform their jobs with the assumption that any patient could have the COVID-19 virus — and so could the front-line worker themselves. The need for protective gear, he added — and the minimal additional time it takes to put it on — is a necessary measure.

He said it takes an extra two to three minutes to put the gear on.

"We're doing it not just for ourselves … but so that we may not have brought something to [patients] or their loved ones."

We're normal people.… It's taken a toll but we're more focused- Mark Jenkins

To patients and loved ones during a 911 emergency, even a few minutes can seem like hours, but Jenkins says a calmer approach is needed for everyone involved.

"We've had some instances where we've had people actually meeting us at the ambulance trying to get us to rush in with them," said Jenkins. "We've had people screaming and yelling at us to hurry up.

"We can appreciate their anxiety and what they're dealing with, so we ask people give us that space and that extra time."

Eastern Health paramedics Matt Lacey, left, and Drew Byrne have seen their uniforms change since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (NAPE/Facebook)

Jenkins also asks that callers be open and honest about possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus. That includes the patient and their loved ones and any symptoms they may be experiencing. The uniform might look different, he said, but the job is the same.

"You're still going to receive the highest level of care that we will give you," said Jenkins. "But besides protecting ourselves it helps us to prepare.

"It helps us to treat the patient better and it helps to let the hospital know that there is a potential here that this patient may have it and they have to make arrangements."

For an already stressful job, paramedics like Jenkins look to self-care to get through the pandemic. Many of his colleagues look to exercise and socializing with friends as an outlet for anxiety and stress, but with many of these options now impossible due to physical distancing, Jenkins says COVID-19 is having an effect.

"I think the biggest toll I've heard from other paramedics is the family aspect and the worry about bringing this home to our families," said Jenkins. "We've had paramedics send their kids to stay with grandparents or other loved ones.

'We're normal people.… It's taken a toll but we're more focused."

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