Paramedics re­flect on re­sponse

Daily bat­tle against COVID de­scribed as an emo­tion­ally drain­ing learn­ing curve

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ALANNA SMITH al­ Twit­ter: @alan­na_­smithh

Cal­gary paramedics pre­pared for the worst as novel coro­n­avirus cases de­vel­oped in the city.

They feared hos­pi­tal and am­bu­lance ser­vices would be over­run, as they have been in Italy and parts of the United States, where COVID-19 has claimed the lives of thou­sands. The worst has yet to come — and hope­fully never does for Al­berta’s largest city.

“The work that we’ve done in the prov­ince to ac­tu­ally self-dis­tance, iso­late and quar­an­tine is ob­vi­ously start­ing to pay off now,” said Shane Pa­ton, act­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer for Cal­gary EMS. “We all still need to be safe, and pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing down the road, but it is cer­tainly a big re­lief.”

Un­der a “prob­a­ble” sce­nario, Al­berta was orig­i­nally pro­jected to peak in mid-may with 800,000 to­tal in­fec­tions and be­tween 400 and 1,300 to­tal deaths. In an “el­e­vated sce­nario” the peak would hit in early May with over one mil­lion in­fec­tions and be­tween 500 and 6,600 deaths.

The prov­ince came close to nei­ther.

As of Satur­day, COVID -19 cases to­talled 6,992 with 143 deaths. The Cal­gary zone makes up the ma­jor­ity of cases and deaths at 4,860 and 104, re­spec­tively.

Lo­cal paramedics played a cru­cial role, like all front-line work­ers, in help­ing to con­trol the spread of the deadly virus by adapt­ing their re­sponse sig­nif­i­cantly to pro­tect them­selves and pa­tients.

En­hanced use of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE), ro­bust san­i­ti­za­tion and clean­ing of emer­gency ve­hi­cles, and cal­cu­lated ac­tions to pre­vent pos­si­ble spread to loved ones, were all un­der­taken.

“It’s def­i­nitely been a learn­ing curve for all of us and def­i­nitely af­fects us emo­tion­ally. You come to work and you care for peo­ple as best you can but you know there’s go­ing to be in­stances where you could po­ten­tially be ex­posed to COVID-19,” Pa­ton said.

“I would say my big­gest chal­lenge is just adapt­ing to this new mind state. When you’re deal­ing with a virus that’s in­vis­i­ble, and you can carry for a few days prior to hav­ing symp­toms, you al­ways need to be on the out­look.”

On the job, paramedics prac­tise phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing when pos­si­ble and wear pro­ce­dural masks in the com­pany of their peers.

Off the clock, some have taken up res­i­dence away from their fam­i­lies to pro­tect them from po­ten­tial ex­po­sure. Oth­ers are dili­gent in show­er­ing and bag­ging their uni­forms be­fore re­turn­ing home.

“The big­gest thing that has changed for me is just aware­ness of ev­ery­thing around me and check­ing in on my part­ner to make sure they’re safe as well,” Pa­ton said. “And they’ll do the same for me.”

He said paramedics check on their PPE sup­plies at the start of ev­ery shift. Be­fore a new team ar­rives, am­bu­lances are dis­in­fected and con­tinue to be cleaned af­ter each call.

Paramedics are alerted, in ad­vance of ar­riv­ing at a home, whether a pa­tient has re­cently trav­elled, is experienci­ng an in­fluenza-like ill­ness or has been around a con­firmed or sus­pected COVID-19 case.

These new dispatch pro­to­cols help iden­tify what PPE to wear and whether to no­tify a hos­pi­tal of a po­ten­tially pos­i­tive in­com­ing case.

When COVID-19 is sus­pected or con­firmed, paramedics wear a gown, gloves, a pro­tec­tive face shield and/or safety glasses, and an N-95 respi­ra­tor be­fore en­ter­ing a home.

“There may be a few-minute de­lay when we get to the call to make sure we have our gown on and our N-95 mask is se­cured prop­erly,” said Pa­ton, adding that re­sponse times are only marginally af­fected.

On scene, they con­sult with physi­cians to de­ter­mine whether a pa­tient should be seen in a hos­pi­tal that day or can stay home. Se­ri­ous cases, in which some­one has dif­fi­culty breath­ing, for ex­am­ple, will be trans­ferred im­me­di­ately.

No fam­ily mem­bers are al­lowed to ac­com­pany them.

EMS spokesper­son Stu­art Brideaux said de­spite Cal­gary’s op­ti­mistic num­bers, it’s im­por­tant peo­ple con­tinue to prac­tise cau­tion as the prov­ince moves for­ward with its re­launch strat­egy.

“Take all of the pre­cau­tions that are be­ing ad­vised to us,” he said.

“There’s com­mon sense but there’s also the prac­tice of hand­wash­ing, phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, stay­ing at home if it’s not nec­es­sary (to go out) … all of those things need to stay in place even as there is some re­turn to nor­malcy.”

Brideaux de­clined to com­ment on whether any paramedics have fallen ill with COVID-19.


EMS para­medic Shane Pa­ton, at right with col­league Stu­art Brideaux, says the work done in the prov­ince is “ob­vi­ously start­ing to pay off.”

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