Paramedics are the first line of defense in our healthcare system. This week is #ParamedicServicesWeek – a week to honor and thank paramedics for their service and their heroic work during this pandemic and all year round. Paramedic service providers protect and assist us every day, often putting their own lives at risk. We sat down with Hamilton Paramedic, Vanessa Koprich and asked her to share some of her experiences during the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s undoubtedly a stressful time for frontline emergency teams. What are you doing to practice self-care and look after your mental health?
It has been noticeably more stressful at work, and anxieties are high. The time off to decompress between shifts is crucial. In order to take good care of myself, I have been reaching out to my friends and family more than ever before. Facetiming has been the best way to stay connected with my support groups. My colleagues and I have vent sessions and I chat more frequently with friends and family – about anything and everything! I have also recently tried yoga, which has been challenging, physically. For a shift worker, it can be difficult to keep energy and motivation levels up.
What are the little joys you look forward to in your day?
Now that warmer weather is here, just being outside has been an incredible mood-lifter. Listening to the birds sing, watching neighbors enjoy family time outside, and cutting the grass, all bring a smile to my face. Getting a text from someone out of the blue is awesome too! But visiting with my dog, Karra, is the ultimate stress-reliever!
What is one thing you wish more people knew, whether about the spread or what they could be doing to help?
I wish more people understood that wearing gloves in the community will not stop the spread of the virus. Handwashing and social distancing is the best way to keep the virus at bay. The same stuff that sticks to your hands also sticks to gloves. Using gloves properly would require a change of gloves after touching anything, removing them using proper doffing procedures and handwashing in between every glove change. Could you imagine how many pairs of gloves you’d need to get groceries? Probably 30 to 40 pairs in order to be effectively clean? Gloves are one-time use and should be disposed of appropriately and immediately. Please, just wash your hands!
Is there one patient story that inspires you to keep going, even when the COVID chaos is at its most overwhelming?
One story has stuck with me these past weeks. I wouldn’t say that it’s inspiring as much as it is impactful. We were called to a house where two siblings had come together to care for their elderly mother, who was quite ill. We arrived to find an extremely well-cared-for woman, lying comfortably in her home-care hospital bed. She appeared to us to be a bit short of breath. Of course, this concerned the family. We examined her, performed several tests, and concluded that she was likely very close to dying. She was completely unresponsive. Typically, in this situation, we would carry her out of the house, perform life-saving interventions as we drive with lights and sirens on to the hospital for further care. But for this special patient, that was not to happen. We were informed that she did not want to be resuscitated but that she wanted to be allowed to die a natural death. At this point, we had to focus on communicating and educating the family so they could make the decision that best suited their mother. Transportation to hospital, which is usually a relief and a beacon of hope, meant that there was a good possibility they may never see their loved one again, as visitors are not allowed to accompany patients during this pandemic. At best, only one family member would be allowed to visit due to COVID-19. Assisting the family as they navigated this difficult decision was heartbreaking, but in a way, it was also inspiring. Understanding that this elderly woman was able to choose her fate completely. After a very long discussion and a consult from a physician, the family decided to keep her at home where she appeared to be comfortable, warm, and in familiar surroundings. Most comforting of all, she was with her family. They were incredibly grateful to have us present while they made their decision. Knowing that the family was at peace and confident in their decision, made my heart full.
How have the people in your community shown appreciation for all you do? What holds the most meaning to you?
The community around us has been incredibly supportive and they have really shown us gratitude. I have been a paramedic for 15 years and I have never had so many people tell us ‘thank you for what you do’ while walking into a call, or even on break picking up a coffee. It is an awesome feeling! Many local businesses and clubs have donated meals to on-duty paramedics, snacks, or generous discounts on their products. There are stores that offer paramedics priority access helping to make our few days off a bit more efficient so we can get home and decompress. The generosity shown to frontline workers has not gone unnoticed and rest assured we will ‘pay it forward’ any way we can. In fact, I am sure the majority of us have not been taking advantage of many of the offerings due to modesty and the belief that we are no different from everyone else. As much as community support means the world to us, if everyone else has to wait, we will too. That is one of the things I love most about my colleagues. Gratitude, modesty, and the unwavering support of one another are the traits that span our profession.