I have been proud to work alongside my colleagues
Paramedic, Bridlington Ambulance Station
This year we’re working with Mind’s Blue Light programme to support the mental health of the UK’s emergency services, and to share stories of their experiences during the pandemic.
Mark Wright is a paramedic for Bridlington Ambulance Station. Here, he shares his experiences of working through the pandemic, and his hopes for the future.
I have been a member of the Ambulance Service for almost 20 years. I joined later in life, and I was looking for something that enabled me to help people. I am a paramedic and have worked on a Rapid Response Vehicle for the past 12 years.
I had previously worked through the swine flu epidemic and was used to some of the infection control measures that I expected to use for Covid-19 patients.
We were fortunate enough to already have respirators as the pandemic started and I remember much joking around during familiarisation, little did we know!
If what happened today is going to be what its like, how long could we continue?
For me, Covid arrived suddenly one Sunday. All my incidents that day involved critically ill patients suffering from respiratory symptoms. I arrived home hours late and stripped off at my front door. I remember thinking that if what happened today is going to be what it’s like, how long could we continue? Would the Ambulance Service break down and would many of us not survive?
Shortly after we started to hear that some of our colleagues were falling ill, and several were in hospital. I realised that Covid was spreading so fast, and I saw that it was older staff such as myself who were at the highest risk. As the news came through that colleagues and friends had died, I genuinely believed that I would not survive the year. I made a plan that if I fell ill, I would isolate in a room near the front door of my house so it would be easier for ambulance colleagues or funeral directors to remove me. I had written letters in my head for my family but felt it was tempting fate to put them on paper until I fell ill.
The past 18 months have aged me physically and mentally. I have been proud to work alongside my colleagues as the work has been so different to what we were used to. Going into houses that have Covid patients in and taking patients away from their loved ones when you knew that it would be the last time their family saw them takes a toll on you.
I have been a Blue Light Champion for some years and have an interest in resilience, so I utilised my knowledge to support myself. I am fortunate to have a supportive family that understand the emergency service life, I kept in contact with friends and colleagues from around the world via Zoom, I tried to learn as much as I could about Covid, I started reading fiction books again, and we also got a new dog at the end of the first lockdown. She was supposed to be a foster dog but latched onto me and never left! Having Aggie meant I had to go out for walks no matter the weather or inclination! So much has been written recently about the therapeutic worth of dogs and Aggie has become my own personal therapy dog!
What I am hearing and seeing in so many Frontline NHS Staff is burnout and compassion fatigue.
During the first wave, there was a lot of fear and uncertainty but that changed by the second wave. We had become used to PPE and able to recognise Covid almost as soon as we walked into a house. However, feelings and attitudes had changed in the general public and in staff. Tiredness and fatigue was setting in. We started to get resistance to wearing of masks and social distancing from members of the public and this has been so difficult to deal with.
What I am hearing and seeing in so many Frontline NHS Staff is burnout and compassion fatigue. The burnout is from the relentless stream of patients and the new ways of working and continuous cleaning of equipment and vehicles. The compassion fatigue is from seeing so many patients seriously ill and dying. It is so much harder now to empathise with what feels like a minor issue even though it’s important to that person.
Many colleagues are now talking about leaving or taking early retirement when the pandemic is over.
Something good needs to come out of the pandemic. What has been shown is that life is so important, and I hope the focus of organisations will shift more to their staff. I had always said that NHS staff are also (future) patients as well, and this was borne out by so many NHS staff having to be treated by their own colleagues.
My hope for the future is that our efforts and losses were not in vain.