FORT DEVENS, Mass. –
Spc. Kelsea LeBlanc is a 68W, Combat Medic with UAMTF 804-1. LeBlanc is a resident of Attleboro, Massachusetts, and shares her story, in her own words, about being called to support the whole of government response to COVID-19 with UAMTF 804-1.
I am a paramedic/firefighter on the civilian side and was at the firehouse going about my normal business. On March 26th, I received multiple texts advising me to pack and get prepared to be called to respond, but no information as to where or when. I just knew that I was to go home and pack and get ready to go. I had always known there was a chance of needed activation in the Army Reserve, something I had never experienced before. Whenever I was away from home, it was for training. This time it was real.
I’ve lived with my grandmother my whole life and was initially unsure how to relay this information to her, knowing she would be sad, and not knowing when we would see each other again. I had many emotions and thoughts. I was excited to be a part of this historic effort. I was nervous about what I was going to see. I was sad leaving my family behind. But I was able to tell her I was going to go make a difference in people's lives.
Forty-eight hours later, I got word I would be heading to Fort Devens in Massachusetts for organizing. I quickly packed and spent my final few hours with my family. On the 28th, I got picked up in the morning by one of my good friends, a fellow Soldier, and we made our way. I said goodbye to my grandma, and my journey began.
After a week at Fort Devens, that felt like a month, not knowing when we were leaving, I was anxious. On the April 6th, we were told we were going to be responding to New York City, and manning the Javits Center. At this point I was feeling excited and nervous. Excited to finally get to a destination, and still nervous as to what I was going to see.
After a few hours of sleep, this was finally the morning we made our way to NYC and hotel. I found my room and made myself at home. This was going to be my home for an unknown amount of time. Over the next few days, command organized teams and who was going to be where. I was assigned to night shift, which I had never worked before.
This was it, this is where my journey really started and 1,730 rolled around that night quicker than I thought it would. I got ready for my shift and met my team downstairs in the hotel lobby. When we got to the Javits Center, the normal routine was to get scrubs, change in the locker room, and meet back up with my team.
We all met up and walked to the Personal Protective Equipment, (PPE) donning station for the first time. While going through putting PPE on for the first time, I was so curious about what was behind the walls I could not see past. Yes, I had some minimal exposure to the coronavirus working as a paramedic, but I had not yet seen anyone actually sick yet.
We made our way past the walls and I was finally on the floor. It took a few minutes to actually sink in where I was and what I was looking at. Hundreds of pods, with very sick people behind those curtains. All I could hear was oxygen concentrators running because many people needed extra help when it came to breathing. My team was assigned pod 3 for our first shift. We made our way over. As we walked by these pods, I would look in patient’s rooms to see what they looked like. Although there were the patients who did not look as well and needed oxygen to assist them in breathing, I saw some people who looked good. One was face-timing on his phone, one was watching a show on their ipad. It gave me hope to see those patients where it was likely they would get out of here and go back to their families and their normal lives.
I worked as a tech, so I got to do a lot of IV’s, blood draws, EKG’s. I enjoyed taking care of these people. It made me feel good about myself. I did have one patient, an elderly female that I adored. It was very sad for me when I went in to check on her one time and she was sitting up at the edge of her bed telling me she was hungry, I went and found her food. When I checked on her about an hour later, she was emotional, she took both of my hands into hers while crying, and said “please don’t let me die” about three times. I told her I am going to do everything I can for her and that I thought she was doing really well. I reassured her that she was not as sick as other patients and that I thought she was on a good road to recovery. I then left the room, eyes watering. Things like that get to me, I care deeply for my patients, I look at them as if they are my family. I care about them and continue to think about them.
My overall experience at the Javits was good. My time there only lasted a few weeks, as patient admission numbers there continued to decline, eventually bringing an end to the Javits Center being a place for patient care.
Those of us who were at the Javits Center were tasked to Queens Hospital center, working alongside civilian medical providers. My questions and nerves returned, what was I going to see there?
As people's names were being called out for team and floor assignments I wondered where I would be placed. My name eventually got called. “SPC LeBlanc, ICU”. I felt immediate excitement. I was going to be where the sickest of the sick patients were going to be. Little did I know that it was going to take a toll on me.
Work in the ICU was a little different than what I have ever experienced. I am not used to bedside care, I am used to being a paramedic and working in emergency medicine. My first time on the floor, it was a lot to take in. Bells were dinging constantly. As I looked up and down the hall, there were stacks of IV pumps on top of each other with tangled IV tubing running into the patient’s rooms. I would look at the patients, sad for them and their families, because they were not allowed to be together.
I had a patient that I would go in and hold her hand. But with her, she would hold mine back. She would open her eyes here and there, but it would make me smile when I could feel her squeeze my hand too. Those moments grounded me when I was having a hard time. They would remind me why I was there.
As overwhelming as it was, I learned a lot. Things I had never even seen before. There were events that really hit hard emotionally. I ask myself why. I got mad at the virus. I had so many questions. Yet, I went about my days and finished my shifts.
My last shift in the ICU was a couple days ago. I am thankful for what I have experienced. It has been an event of a lifetime. I am grateful to everyone who has helped me get through this process. I am lucky to have had the command we had, my friends here that have become family, and the opportunity to have been in these patients lives to try and make a difference.
I am happy to share what I have seen as I sit in my hotel room completing the required quarantine. I am really looking forward to getting back to work and seeing my fire brothers and getting back on the trucks. But work has given me two weeks off, so I am going to make the most of that time and unwind.