COVID-19 in B.C.: Dire days and the ‘toughest decision’

Just after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, paramedic Megan Lawrence responded to a 911 call in Vancouver involving a traveller who had returned from overseas and wasn’t feeling well.

Lawrence suited up for the first time in the full personal protective equipment, or PPE, that was now mandatory for possible COVID-19 calls: N95 mask, face shield, gown and gloves. When she stepped out of the ambulance to walk into the patient’s home, she was surprised by what she saw.

“I remember seeing all the people looking out their front windows and watching me and staring at me kind of with a bunch of fear. And that was really when it sunk in that this is something that is completely real,” said Lawrence, who has worked for the B.C. Ambulance Service for eight years. “We’re now more or less associated with something of fear because we are responding to people who are sick.”

All that protective gear is hot and restrictive, and sometimes the face shield gets fogged up, so it has taken some time to learn how to breathe regularly and work efficiently while wearing it. While Lawrence, 30, does feel secure in her PPE, which is designed to keep out any droplets that come from a COVID-19 patient, she still gets nervous.

“You can’t not be worried about yourself and what is going on. It’s a hard thing, COVID-19. It’s an invisible virus. … And we are so used to just seeing things in front of us and knowing what we are going into and knowing what we can deal with,” she said.

“It’s that fear of unknown. But once you are in your full PPE, I know I’m safe.”

Lawrence, who says she has good support from her husband, her employer and her union, self-isolates at home when she’s not at work, and worries about how long this threat will drag on.