The patient has a fever, headache and cough. He can’t smell anything and he can’t taste his food. He feels too short of breath to even get out of his chair. He sits there with his hand over his eyes as if not seeing might make how sick he feels go away. His sister says he’s been ill for a week. She called 911 for him. She wants him to go to the hospital and get tested. She is counting on them making him feel better.
I am standing there in a gown that barely reaches my knees, N95 mask, covered by a surgical mask, a plastic face shield and gloves. In my hand I hold the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Medical Services Non-transport Guidance protocol, which has just been activated in the city of Hartford for any patients wanting to go to the hospital in the north end, which is overwhelmed with patients.
The man’s BP is 100/52. His heart rate is 120. He is breathing at a rate of 32. His room air SAT is 96%. His skin feels cool not hot.
He doesn’t meet the protocol. He needs IV hydration.
His sister, who says she thinks she also has COVID, wants to come to the hospital with us in the ambulance.
I shake my head.
“But we’re in the same household,” she says.
“You likely have COVID, too. Stay home,” I say. “Hydrate, take Tylenol, isolate.”
“What about my brother? I need to be with him to see he is okay.”
“They are not going to let you in the hospital.”
She looks frustrated.
I want to say WE ARE IN A PANDEMIC. If you and your brother had considered getting VACCINATED you might not be in this situation. But I maintain my demeanor.
We put her brother on the stair chair, and carry him down three flights of stairs, then stand and pivot him onto the stretcher. At the hospital, we put him in the waiting room, as directed, along with all the other people with coughs, fevers, headaches, and a pretty good idea they have COVID.
Both likely COVID patients I had yesterday ended up in hospital waiting rooms, but I talked to another paramedic who had three patients who met the protocol and chose to stay home and receive a call from a nurse, instead of burdening the system.
It is my understanding the protocol is in effect for certain hospitals in Bridgeport, New Haven and here in Hartford.
I think it is a great idea. If it works for COVID, maybe one day we can truly begin triaging (according to strict protocols) all patients in the home, unburdening our EMS system and hospitals and eventually turning 911 into a true emergency only system.