Reflections on COVID-19 and the impact on Health Care Professionals from a Retired First Responder

By | 21st May 2020

Guest post by:

Rob Bull, B.Sc (Bio), B.Sc (For), B.Ed (Sec)
Retired Police Officer and Firefighter
Avid Interprofessional Supporter and Health Care Professional Advocate

In retrospect, my experience as a policeman and fireman dealing with life and death situations was very minimal compared to the daily struggles that doctors, nurses, allied health, support, and custodial staff are facing currently with COVID-19.  My calls dealt with fatal car crashes, occasional suicides, drownings, fatal fires, SIDS deaths, environmental disasters such as tornadoes, major gas explosions, floods, murders, sexual assaults, and drug overdoses – but these were certainly not a daily occurrence. Not like this pandemic!  I only had to protect my team, myself, and the victims, and if all went well when possible I never had to worry about my personal protective equipment (PPE).  We always seemed to have enough. For example, if we wanted better firefighting gear such as helmets, gloves, boots, we were given it. So, unlike some of our front line health responders in the war against COVID-19, I was extremely lucky. Some health professionals have worn green garbage bags, some have reused masks and gloves, while others are still waiting for PPE and disinfectant. They face daily consequences of the virus and at what cost? Possibly risking their own life or the risk of passing it their family members. The acute physical wear on the bodies and the mental anguish on their minds and hearts of these teams must be unbearable at times, and we must acknowledge and support health professionals around the world.

It is a different world but nothing of importance seems to change. Who will be there to save the frontline health team should they get sick? They are the last outpost.  It is not hard to imagine the turmoil our health response teams face. Fatigue from hours spent working oneself, sanitizing the environment, constant monitoring of patients, frustrations with PPE, anger due to mismanagement and politics – and what is the truth, no one knows. What is known is that the situation is far beyond anyone’s control, and it requires everyone to work together.

As individuals we all face trauma differently. Some bear well their burdens and some not so much.  My experiences of 35 years in the frontline emergency were like crossing a brook on rocks. I did pretty good, but as I got near the other bank, rocks got slipperier and I started losing  my way. I slipped on one of the last rocks, and I went down with a big splash. After some time, I got to my feet with help from family and professionals, and I am slowly still working my way back – however I may never be able to walk as perfectly well as I did before. Memories that have haunted me and serve no purpose, I am relegating to an incinerator.  I am trying to take away some good from other experiences. Take the positives from the negative! For me one coping skill at a time. Let me explain.

A little over a decade ago, our fire crew responded to a train station accident. The accident was a man jumping in front of the train just before it pulled into the station. After we responded, it was the first time in my career (and unfortunately near the end) when protocol involved us speaking and debriefing about potentially traumatic experiences. For the first time, a chaplin spoke to us to review the traumatic situation. It did not involve too much talking on my end, but I know now just being able to be listen or to talk is all about emotional healing and coping.

So, trust in your faith and your family and your team, but most importantly trust and look for guidance in the professionals whose education and experience, ideally in an interprofessional environment. These areyour resources for maintaining balance for today. Whatever you do!  Do not wait, just check in. Let people know you are not 100% and just need a shoulder to rest on.