“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
This quote from television icon Fred Rogers perfectly encapsulates life during the COVID-19 outbreak.
With this pandemic going on, it continues to affect our daily lives. It has caused thousands of deaths worldwide, and as cases continue to rise schools, workplaces, and public gatherings spaces remain closed. With the ongoing impacts, there are individuals who are making sacrifices for the better good.
An N95 mask hanging around their necks, and blue latex gloves stuffed into back pockets, Alexander Cervini of the Brockport Fire Department, and Jose Perez RN, of Unity Hospital of Rochester, have been tirelessly working on the front lines against COVID-19. But, Alex and Jose’s training has never prepared them for something like COVID-19.
Alexander Cervini, 27, has been a member of the Brockport Fire Department for eight years, and a New York State EMT for six years. Cervini is a Brockport resident and never imagined himself working as a firefighter. He explained that a friend of his signed him up to become a volunteer, and he soon after fell in love with the job.
A lot has been changing in fire departments and hospitals across the world to safely combat COVID-19. The Brockport Fire Department has faced several difficult decisions on how to modify day-to-day operations while keeping their staff safe, as well as the community.
One procedure that has been greatly affecting the Brockport Fire Department is cardiac arrests.
“Now for a cardiac arrest, we have to be in full PBE gear. Or, at least protective pants, gloves, masks, eye-wear, and a protective gown that goes over everything. If we have them available. Right now gowns, masks, and gloves are in such high demand it’s been incredibly difficult and very tiresome.”
“We are also limiting the number of people that are allowed to be working on a cardiac arrest. They could take around 5–6 people, rotating doing chest compressions, and now we are only allowed two people.”
Cervini, who has been a firefighter and a registered EMT for eight years, further told us that every day there is a new update on procedural policies within his department to ensure the safety of the department and the community. Policies regarding how the fire department handles cardiac arrests have had the deepest impact on Cervini.
“When I’m on an ambulance, if your patient is having trouble breathing, we want to give you the medication but we are told not to by our head of director. We don’t want to aerosol all of that into the air. You feel bad because you have the stuff to treat them, but they would rather wait until you get to the hospital,” Cervini said.
A recent policy was put in place that stated instead of trying to work through and revive a cardiac arrest patient, you could only attempt to revive them if they had a shockable heart rhythm. Cervini believes that this policy was put in place far too soon, and that is his reason to believe that the policy was rescinded within two days.
“The policy basically said that you walk into a call, and if they have a shockable rhythm, you work to revive them. If they don’t, then you’re done,” Cervini said.
At Unity Hospital, Jose Perez, 27, is working every day to keep the community healthy. Perez has been a registered nurse for 3 months at the hospital in Rochester, N.Y.
In an email from the hospital where Perez is employed, it reads “In Monroe County, there are 1,414 confirmed cases as of this morning,”
“My hospital Unity hospital we have a confirmed close to 30 confirmed positive cases, and 12 potential, most of these positive cases are people at home because there is a supposedly, an 80% chance that you have no symptoms or minor flu-like symptoms. Hospital cases are not as great as the stay at home cases.” Perez said.
Healthcare workers have been on the frontlines of this epidemic and making sacrifices for the community.
“It is more sad now than it was before to be in a patient’s room who is passing away because you can’t be there, we have taken the role of caregiver, nurse, and family member and that has happened to me on two occasions. I’ve been in patient’s rooms passing away and I had to be the one to fill the roles and say it is ok and give a prayer or what the patient may feel is appropriate whether they are Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish.” says Perez.
Perez emphasized the importance of self-isolating and the consequences if not taken seriously.
“Until it happens to you or a loved one that you know you won’t realize how difficult that is to not be close to someone when they’re passing away so take it serious.” he explains.
As New York began experiencing increasing cases of COVID-19, the state has encouraged people to self-isolate to prevent and stop the spread. Self-isolation is not for everyone, with limited daily activities it can provoke physical and mental health issues.
Jose expressed that “Everyone has been feeling depressed and lonely…it’s been lonely you are thinking a lot to yourself which can be a good or bad thing.”
“Me as a healthcare worker I take it upon myself to be more isolated than most people I literally only go out of my house to do laundry and food shopping, that’s it. I haven’t gone to see my friends simply because I don’t want to put them at risk.” he further explains.
“Anyone as a nurse, you jump into the burning building, no matter what, its instinct, you see someone who needs help and you help them without considering your safety”- Jose Perez
One patient, he will never forget.
“A patient who had fallen and broken her hip, she also had symptoms like shortness of breath. We’ve had to put her in isolation, she has surgery to fix her hip because it was an emergency surgery. This patient got surgery because the bone was causing a lot of blood loss inside. She had to have surgery to not lose a lot of blood but she was having symptoms of what was corona but after surgery, she coded, when a patient codes and there on isolation everything has to go in the room, a crash cart, defibrillator pads, IV solutions, blood sugar checks, sometimes they need a ventilator or a BiPAP, which is the machine that when a patient gets a tube in their lungs it breathes for them. EKG Machine, EKG is something that checks the electrical function of someone’s heart. All of this has to go into the room at one time, everything is rushed in, at the same time you have to grab all this stuff and put on the protective equipment. So it is very fast-paced, you get trained to do all of this.” he recalls.
“I took care of the patient, she, unfortunately, didn’t make it. But I’m in this room with the surgical mask on, the face shield, the gown, gloves, all of that. She ended up being put on a ventilator and she ended up passing away a few hours later.”
“I got put on a list of potential exposures” states Perez.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has forced seemingly everything to be shut down or postponed. However, one thing this horrible disease could not stop is the human spirit. Essential workers like Cervini and Perez are putting themselves at risk every day to keep others healthy. If Rodgers had been alive to see them during this crisis, he would be the first to highlight how people all across the world are working to get life back to normal.