No matter where they are on the frontlines, healthcare workers are regularly putting themselves at risk to do their job. In New York and New Jersey, two states among the hardest hit in the US, the risk can be even greater.
Recently, we had a chance to “sit down” (virtually, of course) with Carlo Fajardo, a paramedic serving Hudson and Bergen Counties—two major COVID-19 crisis areas in New Jersey—and discuss his personal experiences and insights.
So, what does being a paramedic entail?
Paramedics are able to provide advanced life support, so I [am able to] do anything the ER is capable of doing to save a life; intubations and other advanced airway maneuvers, IVs and other procedures which are all vital for COVID patients.
What does a day at work look like for you during the pandemic?
At the peak, it was twice the amount of calls than normal. There was an increase in [what we call] anxiety calls because it was a lot of people were receiving positive test results and becoming anxious about their symptoms. And then there’s people who [panic without experiencing] symptoms.
Has the pandemic changed the way you approach your work each day?
It’s mentally and physically exhausting. Having to breathe through an N-95 is like someone covering your mouth while you’re walking up four or five flights of stairs. It almost goes against a lot of what we were taught because we’re supposed to do the job with haste—but in a pandemic we really have to take our time putting on our PPE to ensure our own safety and theirs.
If you could share some insights and advice with people out there who are scared, confused, or just plain exhausted, what would you tell them?
I do think people need to be people and things do need to open again, but to do that, we have to not be selfish. Wear masks, social distance, and be smart. If we can come together as a community, we can find a happy medium.
At the same time, as a paramedic, I feel scared trying to help because of the risk of exposure. And because it’s viral, [there is still so much uncertainty].
What do you do on your days off?
I take time to decompress. I try to interact with my kids and we do a lot of backyard time, but I always have that fear [that] I’m carrying the virus—but you also just want to live. I can honestly tell you I'm more irritable now; my sleep isn’t as restful. You try to push away the thoughts of the job and you’re kind of scared to even go to work. When I do think about it, it takes me a while to push out those thoughts.
What are some things you’ve seen that have given you hope?
Seeing people recover gives me hope. In the beginning, I was so scared to even do my job because our guys were dying and that was scary. They came to work to help people and now they’re not coming back home. So you can’t help but think “Is this for me, is this what i signed up for?” The risk is very real but seeing people recover makes me feel like I can push a little harder and try even harder to help.
What are some ways people can help healthcare workers right now?
There was this huge surge of people donating masks and recognizing us and our work—it was amazing. But what can really help us right now is to just be more cautious. A lot of us are exhausted and stressed and fearful of a second wave. So just stay the course, go out only when you need to, wash your hands, wear your mask properly. That’s the biggest help!
Think of your community. Just try to pretend that you might be a possible carrier and you’re able to spread it. At any moment, if you have it, you can infect five people, and those people can infect five other people, and so on. So just try to think of it as if you’re protecting others by staying home.
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