As the COVID-19 crisis continues, Barry Christensen doesn’t take any chances when he responds to a 911 call or is required to transfer patients between hospitals and nursing homes.
The paramedic of 39 years makes sure he is well protected with N95 masks, gloves and gowns. The coronavirus pandemic is a game-changer for his job.
“Every call is a risk,” he tells Global News from an Urgences-Santé ambulance at its Operation Centre in LaSalle.
The first responder says while the priority remains saving lives, he says other issues concerning his own personal safety now run through his mind.
“Is everything on properly? Is there a tear? Did I take it off properly? Did I clean it properly?” he said of his personal protective equipment (PPE).
Christensen works in all the COVID-19 hot zones: public and private long term care facilities, hospitals and private homes. He’s dealt with many patients who’ve tested positive for the virus.
“I’m not scared, going into calls. But it’s something in the back of your mind,” he said.
The paramedic has not been tested for the deadly disease, neither has he experienced any of the symptoms, he says.
There are 995 paramedics at Urgences-Santé. Eight have tested positive and are currently in self-isolation.
Urgences-Santé has received 4,500 calls related to COVID-19 since March 13.
The number of other, non-coronavirus related calls have dropped by 15 to 20 percent — a significant decrease that is not necessarily welcome.
“I’ve had someone with chest pain and had fainted and absolutely needed to go to the hospital but she refused to go because she didn’t want to be exposed,” he said.
There have been reports across the country of patients who arrived at hospital too late because they resisted calling for help due to fears over COVID-19.
Dr. Anmol Kapoor, a Calgary cardiologist, says there’s been a decline in the number of patients suffering heart attacks showing up at hospitals in Canada.
Kapoor recently had a patient who had a heart attack at home and waited to receive treatment. By the time the patient arrived at the hospital he was in heart failure, he said.
“He should have gone to the emergency room. He should have sought medical help immediately. He should not have stayed home,” Kapoor said.
For his part, Christensen says dealing with COVID-19 is unlike any other health risk he’s been through, and he worked through the Ice Storm of ’98, 9/11 and SARS.
The paramedic hopes his health continues to hold up so he can keep suiting up to help others as the coronavirus crisis continues.
–With files from Brian Hill
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.