‘So much different than it was before’

As they get second doses and a second wind, EMS personnel reflect on the pandemic’s emotional toll

Corinne Westeman
cwesteman@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/27/21

While it’s hard to tell under all their gear and masks, Clear Creek’s EMTs and paramedics probably look a little older than they should. “We all aged twice as much,” Director Bryon Monseu …

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‘So much different than it was before’

As they get second doses and a second wind, EMS personnel reflect on the pandemic’s emotional toll

Posted

While it’s hard to tell under all their gear and masks, Clear Creek’s EMTs and paramedics probably look a little older than they should.

“We all aged twice as much,” Director Bryon Monseu said. “We aged two years instead of one.”

And, it’s no wonder.

Five of the 15 full-time personnel contracted COVID-19 — mostly from non-work sources — along with four part-timers. Everyone spent last spring figuring out new procedures while call volumes were low, and used them when case counts exploded in the fall.

“We’re used to adapting,” paramedic and Idaho Springs resident Brook Anderson said. “… It’s so much different than it was before.”

There was fear of not only contracting COVID-19 themselves but also of spreading it to patients and loved ones.

And, all the while, EMS personnel saw what lack of self-care can do to individuals, families and communities, such as the increase in domestic violence and anxiety-related calls.

“The brunt of society’s lack of self-care falls on first responders,” paramedic John Manasjan said. “People need to learn to take care of themselves.”

Still, having most staff members fully vaccinated is a victory, with Monseu saying, “Now, we have more energy; we got our second wind.”

‘We’d handle it and we did’

Anderson, a 17-year paramedic, was excited to get her second vaccine dose on Monday. She said helping with last week’s drive-thru clinic in Dumont was a nice change from running calls.

Anderson, who also works for Aurora Fire Rescue, said that — on a scale of one to 10 — her fear of contracting COVID-19 was a five.

Wearing all the personal protective equipment helped mitigate those fears, she said, explaining how she and her colleagues wear the maximum amount of equipment when dealing with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient. They also started having fewer personnel respond to each call to reduce the chance of spread.

Just like the staff members, Clear Creek EMS as an agency also had to adapt throughout 2020, Monseu described.

When call volumes were low in the spring, it staffed down. When crew members were out sick, the captains and part-time staff filled their spots in the ambulances.

Manasjan recalled how, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, the lack of interaction with coworkers and Clear Creek Fire Authority personnel was alienating.

“It’s understated how interaction is a necessity to feeling healthy,” he said.

Manasjan and his shift partner Aiden Fontana, a full-time EMT, both contracted COVID-19, albeit from separate, non-work sources. Manasjan said he contracted it from a friend while Fontana got it from his roommate.

Manasjan added: “I knew, inevitably, I would get it. … I just had a feeling.”

Fontana recalled learning about the exposure while working at the COVID-19 testing site and got tested before going home.

“We knew if we got it, we’d handle it, and we did,” Fontana said of him and his colleagues.

‘Emotional for everyone’

Twenty-eight days must feel like nothing after almost a year of waiting.

On Jan. 20, many Clear Creek EMS personnel received their second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and then helped distribute it to hundreds of seniors and first responders at the county’s drive-thru clinic.

“It means everything in the world; we wouldn’t be able to (vaccinate) 500 people in a day without them,” Tim Ryan, the county’s public health director, said of the EMS personnel. “They’re incredibly valuable. They’re fun to work with, have great senses of humor, and they know everyone.”

Despite the strange and strenuous year, there hasn’t been an unusual amount of turnover at Clear Creek EMS.

Monseu, a Silver Plume resident, felt his agency was better for the experience but acknowledged moments of strain, saying, “It’s been emotional for everyone.”

Staff members had their moments to vent about subjects ranging from politics to the weather, and all their colleagues understood, he said.

Manasjan and Fontana described how therapy has been an invaluable tool for them, even before the pandemic. They’ve recommended their coworkers also seek out mental health professionals, with Manasjan saying, “Everyone in health care should have (to) learn how to articulate how things are affecting you.”

They also recommended that Clear Creek residents prioritize self-care, which Manasjan described as: “Becoming aware of your state of mind and taking accountability for it.”

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