Sharing Our Stories: Alumnae Stories from the Pandemic
Stephanie Cayne, Class of 1989, serves on the AADC Board as Secretary. She is a teacher who has seen major changes in education during this crisis, but here she focuses on her work as an EMT. Here is her story, shared on June 4, 2020.
While teaching consumes much of my time, it is also balanced by my love for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Prior to COVID, I was committed to riding on a Thursday night crew that included fellow volunteers – an EMT, a probationary member, and a high school cadet. At the start of our shift, we would grab dinner at a local deli and then hunker down for an evening of responding to calls. Secretly, we would hope that we could finish the meal without interruption, but that doesn’t always work out.
When the call comes out from dispatch, we respond. En route, we log the call and get the necessary equipment ready. Typically, the “probie” grabs the blue bag, which contains the equipment, and we don gloves when we make patient contact. We focused more on patient care than on layering up the Personal protective equipment (PPE). We took the necessary precautions to be safe, and we rendered care. That is what we did before the onset of COVID.
COVID changed the world and the way we did EMS. Patient care is still important, but the focus on PPE has grown exponentially in an effort to keep both caretakers and patients safe and prevent the spread of the virus. In the beginning, there were small changes, like wearing a mask if the patient was identified as having COVID. As we learned more, we stopped having the high school cadets ride because of the risk, and we modified protocol so that only one EMT in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) could enter the patient’s home, assess him/her and treat in the back of the ambulance in an effort to minimize exposure.
We would receive notifications almost daily about hospital diverts. Emergency rooms and ICUs were full, but the calls kept coming – some COVID and some not. In an effort to manage the flow of patients, isolate the COVID patients, and maintain sanitary conditions, hospitals were changing their protocols constantly; sometimes we were told to call ahead, other times we checked-in at the door of the Emergency Department and then waited to be called in with the patient. There was no standard practice – but, then again, this was no standard virus.
In order to protect ourselves and our patients, it was imperative that we sanitize and sterilize our ambulances and our equipment after every call. We used sprays, special machines with UV light, and other products that were being developed and promoted in an effort to reduce the risk of COVID contamination.
When we entered the building, there was a basket of masks – we were to wear them when inside the building. Those masks were replaced by the n95s we wore when going on a call. It was the kindness of the citizens that provided masks and meals and other supplies to help us navigate these uncharted waters. As we learned more about the spread of COVID, we also received updates to protocols regarding the treatment of patients, not just COVID patients. At some point, we couldn’t distinguish COVID from non-COVID patients. As we learned, signs and symptoms differ from patient to patient, and as such, there were standard protocols established for CPR during this pandemic to minimize the risk to health care providers and others. We, as health care providers / EMS, do what we do because it is a calling and a love.
Two months ago, I stopped riding and doing what I love because the risk to my family became more than I could bear. I would remove my outer clothes in the parking lot outside the building and throw them in a bag. When I got home, I threw everything into the wash and then went straight into the shower. However, that was never enough. My mom told me she couldn’t lose another child (Editor’s Note: Stephanie’s beloved brother Jason was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001).
I worried a lot every day that I could potentially affect my family, especially the one person who was most at risk – Mike, my fiancé. It was our plan to ride together – Mike was a paramedic and I convinced him to join the squad with me. Early on, I thought we could park the ambulance in the driveway and respond to calls from home. But, COVID put the kibosh on that and my life partner had to sit this one out. And for his sake, later on, I did, too.
Come June, the school year will end and my sixth-graders will go on to become seventh-graders. Two of my children will celebrate graduations at home – one from high school and the other from college. And the world will continue. Eventually, I’ll be riding again as an EMT and the kids will return to school. Until then, I pray for relief from this chaos and better days.