This Is What It's Like to Be a Paramedic in NYC During COVID-19

"We just try and be honest with them and let them know that this may be the last time that they see their family members"

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More shifts. More calls. More death. More telling family members they might not see their loved one again.

This is what it’s like to be a FDNY paramedic during the worst global pandemic in 100 years, working in the epicenter of the U.S outbreak and running up to 6,500 medical calls a day. FDNY EMS Rescue Paramedic Joshua Rodriguez of Division 1 / Station 4 is nine-year member of the department who joined as an EMT at age 19, following his first job as a lifeguard.

He's already fought COVID-19 and won. He had a fever, backache, headache, but his lungs were fine. Now he's using his energy to help others, heading to emergency call after emergency call, sometimes having to treat whole households.

“I’m walking into a house and I’m seeing three or four family members who are all sick. And it’s just me and my partner and I know the next ambulance can be 10 or 15 minutes away because we’re all so strapped. Everyone is so busy," he said.

The paramedics first have to assess everybody to see who is the sickest and needs the most urgent care. Normally, this will be the person who is breathing the hardest. The situation often means the paramedics have to make hard decisions, like who they can take to the hospital, and who is well enough to stay home.

Rodriguez says one of the hardest things is treating a person while their whole family is watching, knowing the possible outcomes.

“The hospitals aren’t allowing visitors so now I have to treat this family member and I have the whole family there watching, worried, concerned, knowing that I have to you know… this virus is taking people’s lives.”

“I have to sit there and explain to them, they need to say what they have to say to their family member because I don’t know if this patient is going to come back from the hospital.”

He said it hurts to see how scared the patients are knowing that they’re going to be at the hospital alone. “We try to do the best to reassure the family members but we also can’t lie and tell them that they’re going to be ok if we don’t know they’re going to be ok.

“We just try and be honest with them and let them know that this may be the last time that they see their family members."

Rodriguez has the highest training and certification one can get as a member of FDNY EMS. The work has been tough, and in the time of COVID-19, it's also isolating, but he's taking on more and more.

“I can’t go home and hang out with my friends, I can’t go home and see my family. I haven’t kissed my partner since this all started," he said. "It’s a lot of alone time when I get home, which is why I you know I pick up more shifts. I get to come to work and do what I love, I get to you know keep busy," he said.

Team coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rodriguez has shaved his head so the virus can’t be stuck in there when he comes home from work and so he can get his N-95 mask on his head faster. He said the work takes a lot physically as well as mentally.

“Each job can be stressful you know can be labor intensive plus doing it with full PPE with full N-95 mask on you know and a gown. Sometimes I have two pairs of gloves on each hand. “

Despite the harrowing day to day work, Rodriguez wants people to know that the city is resilient and resourceful, and that the people in it are tough.

“We are getting through it," he said. “It’s hard, it’s taking a huge toll but we’re getting through... And we’ll still be here, EMS will still be here, and no matter what we’ll keep coming back.”

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