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“Star Wars” outfit keeping paramedics safe amid the pandemic

A salute to Delta's First Responders a year into COVID-19
PPE Shelby-1
Paramedics have had to adjust to wearing a substantial amount of PPE since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is among series of stories on Delta’s First Responders, a year after COVID-19 became a world-wide pandemic.

Kin Leung says he looks more like a character from Star Wars these days, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while attending to emergency calls.

Since he works in what is considered a high-risk area, the 14-year veteran with BC Emergency Health Services has already received both his COVID-19 shots, but that doesn’t mean he no longer has to wear a respirator and other PPE (personal protection equipment) from head-to-toe. It’s been that way for BCEHS paramedics since the pandemic started last March.

“You look like Darth Vader with the respirator and the PPE on,” chuckled Leung who has been working out of the Ladner ambulance station the past two years. “Really the only thing (patients) see is your eyes. It is quite uncomfortable, but necessary for us to wear. We need to be safe.”

The Star Wars comparison is about the only humour in what has been a challenging year for paramedics as they keep pace with emergency calls amid the pandemic. Basic steps that seemed rather simple before are now much more of an effort.

“It’s been a handful,” Leung said. “We have had to make significant changes to patient delivery by adapting to the pandemic.

“For example, communication with the patient is a big one for us. If we go to a call we have to wear a respirator. It’s a big challenge, especially if the patient has a difficult time understanding you, or is hard of hearing. Mostly, we do yell louder than usual and you will notice paramedics have hoarse voices now. We usually bring a pen and paper and if we have a difficult time communicating or even a lap top to type on.”

Paying attention to detail is now more important than ever according to Leung. Each emergency call not only represents a different patient situation, but environment too, not knowing how safe it is from potentially picking up the virus.

“With PPE, you have to prepare everything before you go into patients’ homes and look out for your partner too if they are putting on their stuff properly,” he said. “That one day you let your guard down or get lazy and slack off, that’s when you will catch it. You have to be vigilant on every call.

“The best we can do is educate the public. Wear a mask as droplet protection and hand hygiene is a big one too. Remember, we have loved ones to go home to.”