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“I don’t need you to buy me coffee.” As a paramedic on the frontline, this is what I want from you.

I’m a paramedic. I’m a single responder for a reputable state Ambulance service and have been for quite a while, but the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything.

It’s a completely different experience day-in and day-out now. It’s exponentially harder, and not for reasons anyone not on the frontline can see and comprehend.

We are getting a lot of support. Businesses and the public are buying us coffee and offering us discounts on food but I want to get it out there: we don’t need it.

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We are getting paid and we can contribute to our flatlining economy if nothing else. The gesture is appreciated but it’s not what we really need.

I want to give you three examples to explain why.

Now, I am used to turning up in times of chaos and heightened emotions and death. I know what to do.

But it’s different now. We have directives to change the way we operate in life-threatening situations, including not being able to provide some life-saving interventions because it’s too risky for us.

For example, I was sent to a cardiac arrest for a 50-something lady at her home. It was unexpected, and despite our efforts we were unable to revive her.

Often, given I am an experienced single responder, I am tasked with speaking with the family, organising logistics and providing support on scene when a cardiac arrest results unfavourably for families. This time it was different.

I had to somehow convey empathy dressed in a complete PPE suit with a mask and goggles while simultaneously not letting family in to say goodbye to the deceased as well as quashing their funeral plans, explaining that they could not have more than their 10 relatives attend their mother’s funeral because of the COVID-19 laws. This was a Maori family, for context on what 10 family members at a funeral might mean.

I attended the home of an elderly man with a terminal illness suffering a potentially reversible complication of his condition. His family were on scene and, given the outbreak, the doctors and nurses managing him had not been able to attend to him in person or had any conversations with him or his family regarding his wishes or medical directives.

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After I assessed him, it was obvious if he was to stay at home he would 100 per cent die but, if he was to go to hospital he could, potentially, return home.

My educated estimate would give him a 20 per cent chance of being able to return home given that he was significantly immunocompromised and would likely pick up something, if not COVID-19, in hospital and die from that.

The difference here is that the family could not come to hospital with him.

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He asked me if I thought he would come home and I had to say, behind my suit and mask and goggles, “no, I don’t think so”. I had to take my mask off – I could not have that conversation with him and his family veiled by mask. The family had to say goodbye to him as we loaded him into our ambulance, knowing it was unlikely he would return.

I attended a potential COVID-19 case with an assisting crew. The patient, for whatever reasons – be it they thought they would get in trouble or feared ridicule – denied any COVID-19 symptoms or epidemiological criteria to us on multiple occasions. It wasn’t until the patient was loaded into the ambulance that they admitted to potential COVID-19 criteria.

This meant the patient had been treated without the precautions up until this point. This results in this breach in turn means the treating paramedics must go into isolation until results can be returned. One of the treating paramedics in the back of the ambulance had a pregnant wife and subsequently was not allowed to attend the birth of his own child.

This is the reality of COVID-19.

This is why we don’t need your discounted coffee and food. We appreciate the gesture immensely but please, please, all we want is for you to stay home, flatten this curve, have your healthcare plan up to date and call an ambulance if you need to. Only if you need to.

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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Feature image: Getty.

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