Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Emergency Medical Technicians have been fighting on the front lines, treating and transporting sick and potentially sick patients. In Bayonne, EMTs have been prepared to help treat and respond to residents since before the stay-at-home order.
Dave Dobies is an EMT at McCabe Ambulance who has witnessed the pandemic in the city up close and personal. Dobies has been fighting on the front lines of COVID-19, helping residents get treatment whether it be for the virus or other issues.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, there have been a number of changes in operations to ensure the safety of both medical staff and residents.
According to Dobies, a major part of this means making sure EMTs have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times. Dobies is well protected, as well as his partner in the ambulance.
“We always work as a team but even more so now,” he said. “I’ve got to protect my partner and myself and everyone else.”
An emotional toll
It’s already an overwhelming job, Dobies said. The daily grind has become even more intense with the onset of the pandemic. The job normally carries an emotional toll, but with the addition of a new disease into the world, fears have escalated.
EMTs usually tend to victims of motor vehicle accidents on busy streets, heart attacks, and other medical emergencies. But this is Dobies’s and most other EMTs first time dealing with a pandemic.
He said it has been very scary in terms of the lack of information regarding the virus. From the beginning of the crisis to now, scientists learn something new about COVID-19 nearly every day.
“The mystery of it is what is scaring everyone,” Dobies said. “We see people in the field everyday who fall off the cliff after low oxygen saturation.”
Dobies describes how some patients can suddenly go downhill, with their conditions dramatically worsening over a short period of time.
He has seen it happen to doctors and nurses in hospitals and worries that he might suffer the same fate, or worse, spread it to someone else.
Coping together, via Zoom
It becomes even more scary for Dobies as he worries about keeping his family healthy. With a six-month-old son and asthmatic wife, he worries about infecting his loved ones.
However, he pushes forward helping to save countless lives, putting his own at risk in the process.
To prevent fatigue from the added worries and stressors, his coworkers banded together to support each other, working to ensure that everyone is in his or her best mental state. Otherwise, Dobies said, mistakes happen.
“Our company held Zoom meetings to decompress mentally,” Dobies said.
All hands were on deck for these meetings, from Chief Mike McCabe down to deputy chiefs and EMTs.
“Everyone was involved in making sure everyone was okay and everyone can voice their opinion,” Dobies said. “And we stuck together like a family, and that’s how we pride ourselves as a company.”
COVID-19 calls persist
While the curve has largely flattened, COVID-19 calls are ongoing in Bayonne, according to Dobies, but not as frequent as they were at the peak.
Sometimes it’s difficult to determine because a call can be upgraded to a COVID-19 call once on scene. Dispatchers have been call screening to flag COVID-19 calls so that responding EMTs can be prepared. But sometimes additional information presents itself at the scene that leads to an upgrade. Dobies said that a patient could record a fever on scene that would lead to an upgraded call.
And whether the patient Dobies transported was actually sick with COVID-19 or not, it doesn’t matter. In order to factor in contact with potentially asymptomatic patients, Dobies and his coworkers go about their day as if everyone’s infected.
This is the safest approach for EMTs, their families, patients they come in contact with, and everyone else. Contract-tracing has revealed that the company’s safety procedures are effective.
Citizens’ response to McCabe’s service during the pandemic has been amazing.
“The community of Bayonne has gone above and beyond,” Dobies said, recognizing the many donations from residents and various businesses. “We have all been in shock and awe by the response.”
Residents and businesses have been making masks for personnel and donating food, among other generous actions that help keep EMTs and other staff at McCabe Ambulance going.
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