Each call has to be treated as if the patient is COVID-19-positive.
First: They’re paramedics, not ambulance drivers, any more than police are cruiser drivers or firefighters are engine drivers.
And, as a spokeswoman for the B.C. Ambulance Service put it, paramedics aren’t usually thought about until you need them in an emergency. Everywhere across the province paramedics have donned PPE and walked into viral environments such as private and seniors homes to assess, treat and transport patients to hospital during the pandemic.
Each call has to be treated as if the patient is COVID-19-positive. And after each call, paramedics have to clean and disinfect, decontaminating all high-contact points in the ambulance. It’s awfully time-consuming.
“We have worked a lot of overtime this year,” said Alison Stevens, a paramedic based at B.C. Ambulance Service Station 248 on East Cordova Street. “At times it has been scary and hot and frustrating.”
Shouting through their masks just to be heard. Comforting patients on the way to the hospital knowing their families can’t ride with them or be with them once they’re admitted. Being yelled at because they’ve fallen for the so-called COVID-19 hoax.
“Some days are emotionally draining,” Stevens said.“The stress is real and its taking its toll.”
There are roughly 4,300 paramedics, medical emergency call-takers and dispatchers in the province. Post traumatic stress syndrome and depression are grim everyday realities.
“I would say generally, the job is positive,” Stevens said. “You get to meet a lot of interesting people, you meet a lot of people you would normally never interact with in the world, everybody from homeless to celebrities in-between.
“It is stressful, we all have to find healthy ways to deal with that stress.”
But still, Stevens said, morale was already ebbing because of the exhaustion caused by the opioid crisis; then add a pandemic. And while some calls — for traffic collisions, say — are down, COVID-19 has added to the roughly 1,500 emergency medical calls a day provincewide, Shannon Miller of the ambulance service said.
A 2018 survey by the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada found paramedics have the highest stress of all first-responders. And the Canadian Mental Health Association has found emergency service workers — paramedics, firefighters, nurses and doctors — are twice as likely to be affected by PTSD as the general population, Miller said.
First-responders have a lot more resources to help them today than in the old days when alcohol, drugs, violence, divorce and black humour were the coping mechanisms. Several psychological supports and services are available, including a peer-support program for paramedics and dispatcher staff that’s available 24 hours a day.
“I think we’re all feeling it right now, it’s been a really challenging year and winter is always hard,” Stevens said. “Being (recognized as) COVID heroes would go a long way to helping morale in our ranks, especially at this time of the year.December is always a heavy month as suicides and suicidal ideations increase.A little joy in our lives is well-deserved.”