As EMS we have Covid-19 as a pandemic, but we also have a pandemic of crime and attacks against paramedics.

This is a story about Grant Williams of Cape Town as told to Anton Taylor and Kobus Marx

‘My name is Grant Williams. I was born and raised in Cape Town. I’m an emergency care practitioner, currently working for Life Health Care. I’ve been with them for about seven years. I’m running on a response vehicle in the Cape Town area.

At the start of each shift we get thoroughly screened. I luckily work for a company where they provide all the PPE, so I’m very fortunate when it comes to that.

At the beginning it was something strange, and it’s something we have to continuously adapt to. We have a constant influx of new information regarding Covid-19, so something that we’re doing today might not be the best. We’re sat with numerous Covid-19 patients and we have to sit with our daily amount of trauma cases. We are now treating every patient as a possible Covid-19 patient. So, we take precautions for every patient.

Something that I do find difficult during this time is that people aren’t always honest about their symptoms, about whether they came into contact with Covid-19, or whether they have it. I think they are scared of the stigma of having tested positive for Covid-19. So, often they’re scared that once you have Covid-19 you get treated differently. So that’s something which I find when I arrive on scenes. They often don’t wear face masks.

As EMS we have Covid-19 as a pandemic, but we also have a pandemic of crime and attacks against paramedics. It causes an emotional stress on paramedics, because we don’t know what’s going to happen. Are we going to get attacked? Are we going to get robbed? It’s easy to attack a paramedic. We’re soft targets. You might think it’s a safe area that you’re going into, and there’s a guy who could be waiting for you around the corner with a gun, waiting to rob you. So how do you give the patient the proper care that they need, when you’re busy loading into the ambulance, getting out the area as soon as possible, because you’re scared for your own life?

My biggest concern is me getting infected and being a carrier and having my wife infected. My wife is a teacher. So, if she goes to school and infects students… If people die… That’s my biggest… if somebody becomes sick, or dies, because I had it, and I got it on duty and passed it on. That’s my biggest concern. What makes it easier is knowing I have all the PPE available to me.

One thing we also ensure is that we clean all the equipment after every single patient. We clean the vehicle after every single shift. But then another concern is that because we spend a lot of time on cleaning, that could delay the next call. Because before we can even run to the next call, we have to make sure our equipment is clean enough to not cross-contaminate another patient.

My wife and I are the only ones who stay in our house. We don’t have any family staying with us, which makes it easier, and also more difficult, because I don’t see my parents and in-laws as often as I’d like which is not as nice. I know I’m quite high risk of being a carrier. So I try not to see them often. The only times I do see them is when they need emergency assistance with something

Very recently, my dad was hospitalised due to to Covid-19. He spent probably about two weeks in hospital, the majority of that in ICU, on oxygen, which was very stressful, and draining, and the thought had crossed my mind: ‘Could I have been the reason that he tested positive? Did I give it to him?’ But I had no symptoms. And also I wasn’t in contact with him before that, fortunately for me. But due to his job that he does, he transports nursing staff from another hospital, and that is the most likely cause of him becoming positive.

I think I get enough sleep. We work 12 hour shifts, so I’m definitely at home for 12 hours. Obviously I don’t sleep for those 12 hours because I have to go home, spend time with my wife, because you don’t want to just concentrate on work only.

When we are trained as paramedics, we’re told that often patients don’t say thank you… or can’t say thank you… because they can’t speak. Or maybe at that stage they’re too stressed and just thinking so much about staying alive to say thank you. But there have been cases where people have said thank you; where even after the fact, they come back to the hospital, and come back to make contact and say thanks for what we have done. And that one thank you in how many calls you do… it makes all the difference. It gives you motivation to carry on, it gives you that feel-good feeling; that you are actually making a difference. So it’s really appreciated when people do say thank you. But we’ve kind of got used to the fact that not everyone says thank you all the time.

You ask about how normal people treat me. I think it’s more of not how they treat me, but how I treat myself when I’m around other people. I do try to keep my distance as much as possible, on-duty, and off-duty, from people, purely based on the fact that I consider myself high risk, as almost every day I come into contact with somebody who is positive with Covid-19. So it’s me who tries to keep my distance from others.Outside of work… I think it could be a lot better. Obviously there is no socialising because I feel I’m high risk and my wife is an educator, a teacher, and obviously when schools are open she’s also at risk. The fact that there is no socialising happening… it’s difficult. Because sometimes you need to visit people, to see people, and talk about how things are going. You need that. So… It can get quite hectic.

We do get offered counselling from my company, but the majority of time I get home from work, I normally just talk about my day to my wife. I tell her about how things went, and vent. I find that helps a lot. I like to call it a little bit of a debrief. It does carry over to the rest of the family, when we have video calls – I tell them about my day. And that’s also the time that people give advice. They might not be able to give advice on what I do as a paramedic, but, they could give advice on how to handle certain situations. I’m also very spiritual. I ensure that I pray often, just to also say thank you, for whatever has happened, whatever is going to happen. So those little debriefs with the family, and going to church, even if it’s talking to ministers, that also helps.Our current church is still having church services via social media. So at least I can watch from anywhere, and be part of the church service, and I can make contact with ministers via phone calls.

I feel there are a lot,of good things in my life. Firstly, my wife. She’s very supportive. So, I’m very thankful for her and what she’s been doing. Also, my family. I still have both my parents, and with what happened to my dad: he was hospitalised, and he was able to get better, so I’m thankful for that. And what keeps me motivated is the fact that I need to support my family. I need to support my wife, I need to look after them. I need to be the man of the house.

Another thing keeping me motivated is the fact that hopefully when the inter-provincial travel opens, I can see my brother, and sister-in-law, who are currently staying in the North West province. And the fact that I’ll be an uncle soon, as they are pregnant. And obviously godfather to my nephew, so I’m very looking forward to that as well.

My family is very important. That is something that is a blessing. And even though I’m high risk, I’ve got a job. I can go to work every day. I have an income, where lots of people have lost their jobs. So, I’m thankful for that.

Obviously I’d like for my family to be successful in whatever we do, and to do things to the best of our abilities all the time. So, I’d like success, and also for the future to have children and to start a family of my own, and motivate them in doing the right things in life.For the future of South Africa, I’d obviously like to see all the wrong things, like corruption, gender based-violence, crime, all those things to come to an end. I’d also like crime against paramedics to stop. That just causes unnecessary stress on us, emotionally.

I would just like to say thank you to all the people who are following the rules and regulations to the T. Thank you.’

Thank you for your bravery and courage!