Covid-19 takes hugs out of paramedic’s first-aid kit

Jeannie Stockigt with her partner, Marco Rustin, trying to make a heart around the number of their crew ambulance.

Not being able to hug someone when they need it is one of the toughest changes paramedic Jeannie Stockigt has had to make to her job since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The 37-year-old has worked for Province’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) since 2007, mostly in the northern suburbs. She is passionate about racing to the aid of the injured and the ill, she says.

But it’s a tough job: there’s not only the physical toll, one aggravated by the thugs who target emergency workers as they go into crime-plagued communities (by April 30 there had been 19 such attacks on ambulance staff since the start of the year, according to EMS spokesperson Deanna Bessick) but an emotional one too, and Covid-19 hasn’t made it any easier.

One of the cruelest blows the pandemic has dealt, Jeannie says, is the denial of something we all rely on as humans for comfort in times of great pain: touch. Being a paramedic for Jeannie is not just about checking for a pulse or administering advanced life support, it’s also about reaching out physically to those left behind when their loved one doesn’t make it. It’s about hugging the woman who just lost her husband of 45 years; it’s about holding the little girl on her lap and letting her cry about her mom not waking up again. But those are things Jeannie can’t do now during these stark days of physical distancing.

“To give comfort or add a personal touch, a connection such as a hug or a hand on the shoulder, are gestures of support that can say so much without using a single word.” 

Unlike some of her colleagues, Jeannie says she gets a lot of support from her family and friends, but she doesn’t like to talk too much to them about her work. “I believe that worry would not benefit them and serve no purpose. Handling each call to the best of my ability allows me peace of mind when I go home after shift.”

Jeannie rides a motorcycle to and from work. It takes about 15 minutes without traffic. Safety is always a concern for her and being vigilant when traveling is extremely important. She misses riding for the fun of it, for the camaraderie between friends when they go out for a bike ride. Instead she reads a lot in what little spare time she has.

She quotes Ronald Reagan – who said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone” – when talking about Covid-19 and how best to beat it. “Each of us has the ability to stop the spread, to break the chain reaction of this pandemic. Help someone by washing your hands, by keeping your distance and by wearing a mask when you go out in public. Help someone by staying healthy.”