COVID-19 has changed all of our lives. In this short series, I will be sharing people’s stories and experiences of the pandemic. This, is Covid Conversations.
A year has passed since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first Covid-19 lockdown. On March 23rd ,while reflecting on the 365 days which have passed and the hundreds of thousands of lives tragically lost, people were encouraged to light a torch or candle to commemorate those no longer with us.
However, we must also consider those who are still here, but whose lives will be changed forever. Health care and front-line workers have experienced the chaos, confusion, and catastrophic casualties of the past year, and done so with extraordinary dedication and selflessness. One of these such groups are paramedics. They worked tirelessly while the infection rate was at its highest in order to protect those who were most vulnerable. It became a team effort, a real ‘hands-on-deck’ operation, and many student paramedics, whose final year exams were cancelled, were called back to London to assist on ambulances.
Jessica Male, 22, from Southampton, was one of these students. After being advised to move back home when lockdown was first announced, Jessica was one of hundreds called upon to return to the capital and provide essential support.
“It is the busiest the ambulance service has ever been and so they called upon third year paramedic students to help,” said Jess. “We were one day of training to show us what it would be like, and then we were sent out.”
“I worked with a range of people, some were paramedics and we also had some firefighters helping us. It was everyone rallying together to try and help as many people as possible.”
“It was bizarre,” said Jess, while reminiscing on the past year. “I remember during the training session they were telling us how many patients were having to be left at home due to the hospitals being so busy. People who normally would have been blue-lighted in the ambulance were being left in their homes. We were leaving people who we knew were going to unfortunately die. It was quite terrifying.”
Student paramedics were amongst many in medical professions asked to help manage the uncontrollable infection rates of COVID-19. Retired NHS staff, student nurses, and junior doctors were also deployed to support hospitals with overflowing COVID patients.
While reflecting on the year which has passed, Jess also recognises the long-term implications of the pandemic on our future.
“Health anxiety is now a massive thing. Mental health services are going to be inundated with calls and trying to catch up with months’ worth of cancelled appointments.”
“People are also more reluctant now than ever to go into a hospital, for the fear of getting COVID-19. Sometimes I have to say to them, you are more at risk staying home and not getting help, than going into hospital and getting the virus. It is a tricky balance, and a really hard decision for some people to make.”
The twenty-two-year-old believes that social media sites and online news had a damaging effect on people’s perception of the virus. “So many people get their facts from social media and inaccurate news articles,” she said. “Some people believe everything they read online, and it is really dangerous. It was so hard reading about people thinking the whole pandemic was a hoax when we have had colleagues die from the virus.”
It takes a certain type of person to be a paramedic. To be able to remain calm and logical in the most destressing of situations, and the COVID-19 pandemic was an extreme example. “For some people who call us, it is the worst day of their lives,” said Jess. “But for us it has to just be another day so that we can do the best job possible. You have to go to each new job knowing they are going to get the best version of you.”
Now a fully qualified paramedic, Jess is one of hundreds of students who have been put through the most challenging work simulation to date. One that no one saw coming, and that we hope we never have to experience again.