Health and Human Sciences Student Serves as EMT during Pandemic

Vincenzo Stellato, a junior health and human sciences major, wrote this letter about his experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Dear Fellow Lions,

My summer has been as unexpected as yours, I’m sure, as we all navigate a world suffering from this pandemic. And if I may say up front: I’m grateful for my time at LMU. Many universities do not offer an undergraduate medical terminology course, so I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to take that class at LMU. Let me explain.

Since I was 16, I have been a New Jersey State certified EMT; I started as a volunteer but stopped when it was time to go to college. Last December, I decided to renew my EMT license, in case I wanted to work again in the future. What a smart decision that turned out to be because, little did I know, we had a pandemic coming up around the corner. The very week that I found out that we would not be returning to LMU from our spring break I applied for an EMT position in my town. I knew that I had to help out in any way that I could. They hired me on the spot because of the lack of EMTs they had from people quitting due to their concerns of the safety of themselves and their families with the coronavirus.

I was required to take a class in identifying COVID-19 symptoms along with enhanced decontamination procedures required after all calls now. The beginning of this pandemic was a true nightmare. Every single call with just a tiny respiratory issue required us to suit up with full Tyvek suits, p-100 duel filter respirators, gloves, and goggles. We went from daily tracking how many cases in each county in our state to almost completely giving up hope when our hospitals were flooded with coronavirus patients. There were times when hospitals quite literally stopped accepting new patients, and we would have to transport them to other, surrounding hospitals to avoid exceeding maximum occupancy of patients.

I have had dozens of confirmed coronavirus patients along with possibly many more unconfirmed cases. Luckily, things here in New Jersey have calmed down a lot. We still get COVID-19 patients here and there, but it is nowhere near how bad it was during the beginning of this pandemic.

I am working for a private agency along with a second EMT job at a municipal agency. I am part time at both jobs but ended up working full-time hours along with being a full-time student during the spring semester and I’m currently taking two summer classes.

My responsibilities include, but are not limited to, pre-hospital care and assessment, which can range from helping someone who is unable to get out of bed to go to the bathroom all the way to life-saving maneuvers; keeping our ambulances and jump bags stocked with the necessary materials required to perform prehospital care at the highest level; and driving the ambulances in emergencies and non-emergencies.

I was asked how I handle the patients’ fears during this pandemic. This question is a tricky one for me because many times we walk into residences and health care facilities blindly, not knowing if our patient has COVID-19 or not. Typically, if it is known that a patient has COVID-19, especially during the beginning of this pandemic when fear and the busyness of our hospitals was at its height, we would only transport coronavirus patients to the hospital if their condition was life-threatening. Otherwise, we would advise them to stay home, contact their primary care physician, quarantine, and call us back if their condition worsens.

While, of course we would never turn anybody away who wants to go to the hospital, all we can do is inform them on what the hospital can do for them. Subsequently, they typically agree to stay at home. Again, this was when our hospitals were extremely busy with COVID-19 patients and people were doing everything they could to stop the spread of the virus.

However, with life-threatening coronavirus patients, I can certainly understand how one could be scared when not only are you unsure of what to expect from the virus’ effect on your body, but when health care professionals such as myself, along with doctors and nurses, are coming to treat you with full Tyvek hazmat suits, dual filter p-100 respirators, gloves, and goggles on. It can be extremely frightening seeing an individual dressed like they are about to go to Mars while treating you all while you are having extreme difficulty breathing.

Therefore, as for reassuring my patients with COVID-19, I am sad to say that this was not my primary concern. My primary concern was to keep my patient’s alive while doing my best to improve their condition and ensure that their condition did not worsen. Although, I can only imagine how scary it must have been for these patients to go through this experience alone since visitors were not allowed. Hospitals here have just started allowing visitors now but only one at a time, with a temperature taken prior to entry and ensuring they have no symptoms.

In the hospitals, patient care was extremely strict. COVID-19 patients were blocked off in their own rooms. The only human contact they had was a nurse or doctor entering the room in full hazmat gear when medication was to be administered. Even communication with the patients was non-contact. The emergency room staff would hold up a white board outside the room’s window to communicate with the patients. I saw nurses get fired for wearing contaminated clothes outside of the room because they forgot a blood sample or something in the room and just quickly popped in to grab it and leave. This whole experience has been crazy.

My time at LMU as a health and human sciences major has been extremely beneficial in my time out in the field. I must have a great understanding of the human body’s anatomy and physiology along with an abundance of knowledge in medical terminology. Luckily, LMU offers an amazing course called “Medical Terminology” that has proved to be quite useful out in the field. Likewise, the anatomy and physiology courses that I have taken from LMU, the summation of A&P courses I have been required to take from being an EMT, and from my high school experience have also been very useful.

Fellow Lions, I feel sometimes like we’re being tested during all this. So, I am grateful to have this opportunity to be of service during this health crisis, and I have a better understanding of what “being a person for and with others” means.

Be safe, be well.

Yours,

Vincenzo Stellato ’22