story courtesy TEP | photo courtesy Matthew Fuson
The Tennessee Equality Project (TEP) is seeking stories of LGBTQ people in Tennessee who work in the health field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first story comes from Matthew Fuson (pictured above) who serves as the LGBT Liaison for the Nashville Fire Department. Here’s his story on working on the frontlines during COVID-19 as a first responder.
As a Critical Care Paramedic for the Nashville Fire Department since 2005, I’ve witnessed and responded to many disasters ranging from the flood of May 2010 to the more recent March 2nd-3rd tornado. I’ve also worked multiple large-scale events in Nashville such as the NFL Draft, the CMAs, the Nashville Predators playoffs, the 4th of July, and the New Year’s Eve celebrations, as well as many other special events that make this city such an amazing place to work and live.
With all of that said, during my almost 15 years with NFD and having lived in Nashville my entire life, I have never experienced such a drastic change in my work/life balance. Responding to 911 calls in general has changed from simply putting on a face mask and shield for every patient encounter to the complexity of donning all of the additional PPE needed to care for a positive or potentially positive COVID patient. This PPE is hot and cumbersome which reduces our movement and as you can imagine makes treating patients in the dynamic environment of a scene or in the ambulance en-route to the hospital even more challenging.
With all of the additional PPE, I’ve found it also changes the ability to communicate. The mask and face shield not only make it difficult to talk but also to be heard and understood by those we are caring for, their family, and even my coworkers. Additionally, the extra layers of PPE make non-verbal communication almost non-existent. Not to mention how frightening I must appear and sound while wearing all of the PPE. One of the biggest challenges I have noticed is I go home after every shift with a sore throat from trying to talk and project my voice from behind the mask.
Once my shift ends, the fear and questions begin to set in as I give my handover report to the oncoming crew and prepare to go home to my fiancé, Stu. I am constantly asking myself, “Am I unknowingly bringing this virus home with me?” The mental game COVID-19 plays on me is something I have never experienced. The fear of knowing that even though I have no fever or signs and symptoms to watch out for (according to the CDC), I could potentially be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, which weighs heavily on my mind. Even though I wear the appropriate PPE for each patient encounter and immediately afterwards decon myself, my equipment, and my ambulance, I constantly fear a potential gap in my PPE measures that could have been missed. All of these worries and concerns lead me to the same fear, “Am I unknowingly bringing the virus home?”
Additionally, my once normal means for destressing no longer exist. I can’t mentally decompress by going to the gym and working out or swimming laps as I once did. I can’t go out with my co-workers to relax and talk over the shift anymore because they too have sore throats from talking behind their masks all day and because they share the same fears of unknowingly exposing their loved ones to the virus.
So, for now I go to work caring for the citizens of Nashville. I go home hoping the virus didn’t follow me. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to tell stories of how I lived through the Corona Virus Pandemic just as I do for past disasters such as the May 2010 floods. These events have changed and shaped how we respond to 911 calls and other health emergencies. I am confident that through these experiences future generations of health care workers will learn how to keep themselves and their coworkers, their patients, and their loved ones at home safe from what has now become part of our daily lives.
*If you are an LGBTQ person working in the health field and want to tell your story of working during the pandemic send it to Jeremiah at email@example.com. Thanks again to Matthew!