Editor’s note: Bernard Robinson, is a regional director for Northwell Health’s Center For Emergency Medical Services, and a Valley Stream resident. He oversees the daily operations of one of the largest EMS agencies on the east coast.
The dramatic miniseries “Band of Brothers” details the bravery and fear shared among the members of US Army’s Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division in World War II. The company faced extraordinary circumstances, which called for extraordinary individuals and teamwork. Each carried another through seemingly insurmountable odds on D-Day and other battlefields.
As emergency services workers on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic, I share the same camaraderie and uncertainties as those heroic men did so many years ago. There’s a sense of pride within my unit. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from, you are eager to volunteer, sacrificing yourself for the greater good and helping carry people through the illness.
When Covid’s pace accelerated and overwhelmed New York, anxiety rose among the ranks of our staff, who were frantically dealing with regular calls, 911 calls and transferring patients out of the health system’s hospitals to balance the load. At the height, we moved 75 to 100 patients daily, which isn’t surprising considering Northwell Health has treated more Covid-19 patients than any other health system in the US. There were a lot of sleepless nights.
Then, I became ill — a health scare like I’ve never had before, and I consider myself relatively healthy. Having Covid-19 curbed everything I knew of living, especially breathing. And despite being hospitalized for five days, afraid to sleep at times and now considered “recovered,” I have re-entered the battle against this deadly virus.
Because working in emergency services is more than a profession. It’s a calling. If my family — my wife Connie and two boys, Elijah, 21, and Christian, 19, — is my world, my CEMS brothers and sisters are my oxygen. Returning to work was never a question in spite of my family’s reservations.
I was exposed and unknowingly contracted the virus during a patient transport on Monday, March 23. Back then, I put aside my administrative duties as regional director to assist in the field. We covered overnight shifts to help facilitate transfers. There were a lot of sick patients, all of whom seemed to need to be ventilated.
For me, the coronavirus started as a dry cough. Nervousness immediately settled in and four days later I tested positive. Literally, every known symptom had emerged. The fatigue was the worst. Every two minutes I needed to sit still and catch my breath. COVID-19 was as debilitating as advertised.
Ultimately, I quarantined myself in my basement, away from my family and typically busy household. I went to the hospital twice. After the first visit, I was diagnosed with pneumonia due to Covid-19 and was released. That night, I was extremely frightened, blowing through seven oxygen tanks just to breathe. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it and refused to sleep.
My wife was nervous. My boys were scared. No one or family should experience this.
The next day, I was admitted to North Shore University Hospital, where I stayed for five days, participated in a hydroxychloroquine clinical trial and was treated with prednisone, oxygen, albuterol and other medications. Breathing was my main issue, but it improved and I was discharged on Easter morning. It was a blessing to watch a streaming service at my church before heading back to the basement. It was good to be home and feeling better, which is when I realized I needed to recover as fast as I could and get back to work.
That day came on Tuesday, April 21, just one month after testing positive. It’s been slow progress. Toward the end of each day, my energy level tends to run down — the lingering effects of the virus. I’m immensely proud of the way our department has responded. Our team has protected themselves and helped thousands of people through this crisis, risking exposure during every Covid call.
I’m now mostly performing administrative duties and yearn to be back in the field. Covid-19 incidence has been slowing to a manageable rate and New York is planning to safely reopen. I’m still in uniform, though, and want to join everyone out there, ready for battle with my Band of Brothers.