Back in January 2020, life was relatively normal for Derbyshire paramedic Lauren Williams. That was until Lauren and her colleagues found themselves in a global pandemic, and life as a paramedic was turned on its head.
Lauren, 30, based at Willow Row Ambulance Station in Derby, was starting her fifth year with EMAS. She had joined as a student paramedic in 2015 and says she is lucky to wake up each day and do something she loves.
She said: "Our first experience with COVID came when we were allocated to a patient displaying symptoms in the early days of the pandemic.
"It was very serious, and both my crew mate and I were genuinely frightened. It was the first time we had to apply a respiratory hood and follow strict instructions from management, and it suddenly became very real."
In the coming weeks, the instructions progressed from wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for patients displaying flu-like symptoms, to wearing PPE when attending any patient, without fail.
Lauren said: "It was a stressful and confusing time with a lot of anxiety on the frontline, but one that we felt was easy to adapt to and something we could manage.
"We had a lot of support from our management teams and colleagues but looking back, I think most of us felt like there was a false sense of security of what was to come."
This hit home in April when Lauren and her crew mate were both sent home after developing COVID symptoms.
Living alone and struggling to do simple day-to-day tasks, it became a very frightening time for Lauren.
She said: "I realised the severity of how bad COVID was when it hit me that I was so out of breath - I was struggling to climb the stairs.
"If I was sleeping, I would set an alarm every hour to make sure I would still wake up. I was terrified I was going to die.
"I consider myself fit and healthy, but I think a lot of young people are naïve to the fact that COVID can really impact them, and the detrimental effect it can have on their health. As the last year has progressed, I have started to see a lot more people in their 20s and 30s becoming seriously ill."
Following her experience, Lauren decided to move in with her partner Arun and his family in the summer of 2020, although this again brought anxieties to the forefront.
"My partner’s family are Indian and so incredibly at risk. With us all being part of the BAME community, we knew that COVID could have the most serious consequences for us.
"They had been shielding the entirety of lockdown and part of me felt guilty for going to work while living there. Thoughts kept running through my mind about what could happen. What if I brought COVID home to them? What if I made them ill?
"As a family, we have seen so many friends and those close to us dying from COVID. It feels like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. I just hope that they will be offered the vaccine soon and I would encourage others in the BAME community to take it up when offered."
As we make our way through 2021, Lauren, who has received the vaccine, feels quietly positive about the year ahead.
She said: "Life has changed a lot and some days it can feel frustrating, much of the time mentally exhausting but I am so lucky to have a supportive partner, friends, family and colleagues who get me through. I am immensely proud and privileged to work for the ambulance service and to be able to help those who need it.
"I know there is a long road ahead of us in the fight against COVID but it is so important to recognise that we are all playing our part in keeping each other safe and we are all in this together. There is light at the end of the tunnel."