Story by Sara Paul
As the cases of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 reaches 139 in Warwick, with 76 deaths and more than 3,533 positive cases in Orange County as of Mon., Apr. 6, Warwick EMS have some unique insight into the current pandemic.
Members at Risk
The Warwick EMS currently reports that one member has tested positive for COVID-19. Two-year member, Eileen De La Mota, tested positive on Wed., Mar 18. The Warwick resident is unsure where she may have contracted the virus.
“With folks being asymptomatic it could have been from an EMS call or even walking through the supermarket,” she guesses.
Eileen knew something was wrong when she started to experience flu like symptoms and respiratory issues just five days prior to being confirmed positive. On Fri., Mar. 13, after she left Urgent Care in Goshen, NY, she arranged for her children to stay with a relative.
As the days passed breathing became extremely difficult, describing the feeling, “… as if someone had their hands over my mouth and nose and only allowing tiny breaths.”
De La Mota was admitted to St. Anthony Community Hospital (SACH) on Fri., Mar. 20 learning that she also had pneumonia. She was treated and released on Thurs., Mar. 26.
Now, almost healthy at home, she is still quarantined from her kids, who have not shown any symptoms of the virus. Via videoconference with her primary physician, she has been ordered to remain in quarantine for seven more days and then, of course, practice social distancing.
She is thankful to corps members, church family, neighbors and friends for bringing her supplies and food to her door with notes of encouragement.
“I am truly blessed to have such wonderful people in her life,” she said.
EMS Calls Down
According to EMS members, the typical call for response volume seems to be a bit low, an unofficial statistic that may be due to fears of exposure to health care employees and facilities.
“People who would normally go to the hospital are afraid to,” said 16-year EMS driver and EMT Dennis English, adding that some recent responses to homes were met with wary family members. “Some people are afraid to let the crew in the door for fear for what they think we may be carrying on us.”
Responding to Individuals Exhibiting Symptoms
In a normal, healthy societal climate, EMS must remain calm and cautious when responding to emergency calls. During these recent weeks of uneasiness, first responders have added precautions when approaching a scene.
“In the past few days, some patients have exhibited possible symptoms. With one individual, we had a strong suspicion, but he proved to be negative,” stated English, who would like to avoid answering any known coronavirus calls, as his 102-year-old mother-in-law lives in his home.
Long-time EMS member Chris Kane explained that though members are given alerts regarding the details of the calls and possible need for precautions like face masks and gloves, he is taking no chances.
“No matter what the call is, I’m wearing a mask. That’s for my safety as well as for the health of the people whom I am responding to and coming into contact with,” Kane stated.
Interaction with Hospital Staff
Transporting patients to local emergency rooms at St. Anthony Community Hospital or Orange Regional Medical Center is routine. Hospital staff and EMS workers exchange greetings, information and usually a smile. Dynamics have not changed too dramatically, however there is an observed eeriness, a tension.
“The nurses are staying upbeat, but you can tell they are afraid,” observes English, who acknowledges that, “… we answer a couple of calls a day, but they are there an entire shift. I tip my hat to them because they are remarkable.”
While being treated for COVID-19 at SACH, EMS member Eileen commented that the nurses were “amazing and extremely compassionate.”
“My doctors were honest and did everything to help me recover so I could get back home. Every single person that worked on me and treated me at the hospital was a godsend,” Eileen said.
A Welcome Responsibility
As is the case with most essential employees, first responders and other individuals who are determinedly braving the storm up close, Warwick EMS members are proud to step up for duty.
“It’s a shame that our services are needed, but you feel good when you come home and realize you really helped somebody… and a real high is when you know you saved a life. It’s powerful,” English said.
Kane states humbly before reporting for duty on another lengthy volunteer shift, “Everyone has a job to do, and this is our job. We have dedicated members working long hours, and it’s important that we all take care of ourselves as well as others during this difficult time. We’re pulling together, and we’re going to be ok.”
Anyone interested in joining the Warwick EMS, can call 986-4136, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.warwickems.com, or stop by the Bay at 146 South St. Ext. Junior Corps members are welcome and must be 14 to 17 years of age or a graduating senior.