Opinion: Virus shows that society’s ‘other’ is really all of us

Atlanta first responders at a call on April 15, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Allow me to paint a scene for you: It was a clear night around 1 a.m. on a Wednesday, with few clouds in the sky. I’ve been at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta since 9 p.m. that evening, working an EMS standby, meaning that we were on site to bring patients to the hospital if needed.

At the start of the shift, my partner and I, along with the crew from another unit were briefed on the personal protection equipment (PPE) and protocols for precautions to avoid coming into contact with COVID-19. The PPE included a rather flimsy-looking gown with the standard N-95 mask and gloves. Prior to and after de-gowning, we were to add a few pumps of hand sanitizer and afterwards, wash our hands. We were all there for the night shift from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., and it just so happened that this was the night that the passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship arrived at the airbase. Before settling down into their quarantine area for the next 2 weeks, the passengers filed into the air hangar where they were all simultaneously screened in rows of tablesby medical personnel. Their vitals were obtained and some were momentarily kept separated in a holding area (military tent). At this point, my partner and I were told by a military officer to prepare transportation for 3 passengers who would be taken to a hospital, however the officer changed his mind at the last minute. After the screening was completed, all of the passengers filed onto buses that shuttled them to their quarantine holding for the next two weeks, which looked similar to standard apartment buildings on the airbase.

Watching these passengers arrive, there was a sense of otherness which resulted from a polarization of two groups: those who do not have the virus and those who do have it.

The passengers, who ranged from young adult to senior citizen, felt very much like an “other,” as in diametrically opposite to the unafflicted. However, after coming into contact with patients with COVID-19 weeks after this EMS standby, the groups seem to have blurred into a heterogeneous mixture.

Up to date, I have been in contact with two patients with suspected COVID-19 and both have been middle-aged females. The first patient worked in hospitality. We found her lying on the ground, and I had supported her from behind to sit up when she drooled on my hand and breathed in my face. She felt feverish and had deep, labored respirations. Along with the firefighters, we got her into the ambulance and transported her to the proper hospital to get treatment. The second female worked at a hospital, alongside other healthcare providers who had confirmed cases of COVID-19. We found her drinking in her apartment, trying to make herself feel better. My partner and I assumed that she had to get enough liquid courage into her system to call for help.

Thanks to our modified dispatching system which had only recently developed , we were notified beforehand that this woman had a high index of suspicion for COVID-19.

Before we went to knock on her door, my partner and I donned our full PPE, looking like lunch ladies by the end of the process. We were able to convince her to go to the hospital with us, helping her into the back of the ambulance and leaving the vents on. Talking with this patient drove home the point that it is we — all of us — who are getting affected by this pandemic. There is no other group, it is us.

The reality of the COVID-19 outbreak is that those who are at a higher risk of getting afflicted are those who are trying to contain the affliction. As evidenced by media portrayals, the rhetoric of commentators, and reactionary government mandates, we are fighting nothing short of a war against COVID-19. Similar to all the wars in history, the ones who are getting in harm’s way are those on the front lines and we are grateful for the opportunity. It is all of us who are getting affected, and though we are putting ourselves at risk, at least we have our jobs, and therefore the choice to put ourselves at risk.

Deana Truong has been an Advanced EMT for more than 3 years. She is a senior at UGA, majoring in philosophy and cellular biology.