Declaring Patient 100 Deceased Life as a NYC EMT During an Unprecedented Global Pandemic

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Declaring Patient 100 Deceased Life as a NYC EMT During an Unprecedented Global Pandemic

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December 20th, 2020, started as an “ordinary” day for myself and my colleagues. 1600 hours rolled around, and my partner and I clocked in for our sixteen-hour tour. We had finally adjusted to our new routine of working a mandatory sixteen hours as opposed to twelve. As emergency medical technicians, we were at the forefront of the COVID-19 Pandemic in New York City. Our region was hit hard by COVID-19 and seemed to be the epicenter of the pandemic for longer than one could ever imagine. For NYC EMS workers before the pandemic, it was common to see around three thousand calls for service daily across all five boroughs. Once the pandemic struck the call volume rapidly overwhelmed the city's EMS resources as they answered a record seven thousand calls for service daily. My partner and I made small talk as we awaited the arrival of the outgoing crew. The day shift arrived back at the station exhausted, defeated, and depressed. They informed us that during their sixteen-hour tour, they had answered twenty calls for service; fifteen of which were for critically ill patients. After some small talk, we exchanged medication kits and radios as it was our turn to serve the great city.

Immediately after logging on to the computer system and giving the dispatch center an in-service signal, we were called for a priority one assignment. Our unit was called to the scene of a thirty-two-year-old mother diagnosed with COVID-19 who had stopped breathing. As we arrived at the scene, I donned my four-day-old n95 mask, as well as a makeshift gown made from a garbage bag with holes cut for my head and arms. As we made our way up the five flights of stairs the sound of the screams grew louder. We entered the apartment to find a woman lying on the couch who was clinically deceased. For the next forty-five minutes, my partner and I worked feverishly to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, defibrillation, endotracheal intubation, as well as intravenous cardiac drug administration. Despite our efforts, the patient continued to show no signs of life, my partner and I locked eyes and nodded at one another, knowing we had done all that we possibly could have for this patient. I switched the cardiac monitor off and looked down at my watch as I said, “Time of death 1705 hours”. Our next responsibility was to inform the patient’s husband and children of her passing. While you train for many hours to show empathy after death, this task never gets easier. My partner sat in the kitchen with the family, while I prepared the paperwork for a death pronouncement. My partner delivered the life-shattering news and did her best to console a grieving family.

After returning to our ambulance to decontaminate our equipment and restock for the next assignment I opened my logbook to record the death encounter. My heart sank as I turned to the next open page which was page number one hundred. In less than one year, I had pronounced one hundred patients deceased from COVID-related illnesses. In my short career before the pandemic, I had only pronounced about fifteen patients deceased. It was at that moment that the true magnitude of the pandemic sank in. COVID-19 had decimated the way of New York City life, the previously bustling city remained shuttered as many remained in indoors in hopes of preventing illness. Before the pandemic, I had known the city as a connection of vibrant neighborhoods filled with culture and joy. COVID-19 had robbed our great city of its life and color; for the next two years, the city appeared black and white as a shell of its previous greatness.
These thoughts quickly fled my mind as my unit was once again called to another high-priority assignment. We were called to a sixteen-year-old man diagnosed with asthma, who had recently contracted COVID-19 and was struggling to breathe. Our days were filled with assignments like these, often with no rest, and zero opportunities for a meal break. Nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues and I were exhausted, and our mental health and morale were at an all-time low. Many of my collogues fell ill, and four of them died because of COVID-19. We had often asked ourselves and one another; “Why Us? Why are we still doing this job? and when will this end?” While these times were challenging, we understood that we had been called to work in EMS because of our passion for caring for those in need. Day in and day out, we found strength and resilience in one another. My colleagues and I had implemented daily peer support groups in which all were welcome to come and speak about their experiences. While COVID-19 seemed to pull the world apart, it pulled EMS staff closer together. Enemies quickly became friends, and seemingly overnight we all became family. Our perspectives were unique as we were the only healthcare providers to enter the homes of the ill, and feverishly worked to care for them under less-than-ideal conditions.

As the number of COVID-19 cases began to decline with the introduction of the vaccine, my colleagues and I felt we could breathe a sigh of relief. As quickly as the pandemic entered our great city, it seemed to vanish even faster. Each shift brought hope as we watched businesses reopen, and the streets were once again filled with color and culture. While we experienced new variants and spikes in COVID-19 cases, we felt that our great city had become stronger and more resilient. While COVID has changed our way of life, one thing I will never forget is the comradery we built amongst the emergency medical services personnel. To this day my colleagues remain a second family in which I can confide after a difficult shift. While COVID was one of the greatest challenges faced by New York City, I feel that it has made us stronger and more resilient than ever.

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