Mark Smith joined EMAS 11 years ago in non-emergency Patient Transport Services, and for the last 8 years has worked as a paramedic based at Skegness.
Regardless of his years of experience working in emergency critical care, Mark says that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the scariest challenge in his career so far.
He said: “The anxiety and fear amongst colleagues heightened hugely and I became constantly worried that I would catch the virus and take it home to my family.
“My whole routine changed overnight where I was constantly working my way backwards around the home making sure I was wiping down surfaces I had just touched such as door handles.
“I would take my uniform off as soon as I got home from a shift and bag it for washing before I would even say hello to my family. There was a constant feeling of paranoia due to battling against something that is very real but invisible.”
Despite wearing personal protective equipment and following the guidelines, on Christmas Eve the fit and healthy 51-year-old who had no pre-existing medical conditions, discovered he had caught COVID-19.
He said: “I was on shift and my crew mate commented that she had noticed I had been coughing constantly from behind my face mask and at the time I just hadn’t noticed it as I wasn’t feeling that unwell.
“I decided to do a test when I got home using the asymptomatic testing kits we were supplied with and it came back with a positive result.”
Mark woke up on Christmas Day and said that his symptoms felt really bad. His skin was painful to the touch and even the slightest eye movement was too much to bare so he booked in for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test later that day.
This confirmed that Mark had COVID-19.
“By this stage I had completely lost my sense of taste and smell and every time anything was in contact with my skin it felt like it was on fire. I really didn’t feel like eating anything as I couldn’t enjoy anything. To lose your sense of taste and smell on Christmas Day is just rubbish.”
“The next few days were also a challenge. I am usually a very active person who likes to go for runs and bike rides, especially during lockdown, but I was overcome with fatigue and struggled to gain momentum to even get up.”
Despite experiencing the horrendous effects of COVID-19 first hand, Mark feels very lucky that his condition didn’t decline to the point of needing an admission to a COVID ward in hospital, but not being well enough to perform his paramedic duties has been frustrating for Mark.
He said: “It has been hard being stuck at home while watching the current situation unfold in the news regarding the pressures facing the ambulance service and the wider NHS.
“I know I’m doing the right thing for myself, my patients, my family and colleagues by staying at home to recover but I have felt guilty for not being able to be out on the frontline to help my crewmates.”
Mark’s wife Samantha also had COVID-19 and she was very poorly as a result. Despite recovering from the virus himself, he says his main priority was taking care of his wife in the hope she would start to recover soon.
“It’s horrendous to see someone you love who used to be so active and outgoing suddenly struggling to perform basic tasks without it wiping her off her feet. She is really struggling with her breathing at the moment too.
“I’m her husband but I’m also a clinician, so I keep listening to her lungs to check that everything is ok as well as checking her oxygen levels. Her health suddenly deteriorating is my biggest fear at the moment.”
What’s Mark’s message to people who aren’t taking it seriously?
“You may be one of the lucky ones who is asymptomatic and doesn’t become ill with COVID-19 but you could be passing it to more vulnerable people who could be become very ill and even die.
“Even though I have had COVID-19 and have recovered relatively well does not mean I will be letting my guard down as I am not guaranteed immunity. I’m now on a gradual return to work and I will continue to wear the correct PPE.
“If you don’t think of yourself then at least think of the ones you love – I was constantly hoping that my wife started to make a recovery when she became really ill as I dreaded to think of the alternative.
“Give yourself and your family a fighting chance by staying at home and have the vaccine when it is offered to you – I definitely will do.”