When Alex Pavon leaves work, she does so in fresh hospital-issued scrubs that she’ll change out of as soon as she gets home and put into decontamination, then it’s immediately into the shower, trying not to touch anything as she moves around her apartment. Only then, will she consider briefly seeing her family, with whom she’s very close, but mostly she spends her limited free time alone—practicing yoga in the living room, hiking or backcountry skiing solo. This is Pavon’s life now, as an EMT during the coronavirus pandemic.
You may recognize Pavon from her much more recognizable role as a pro rider for Juliana Bicycles, but her ‘real job,’ the one she does behind the scenes without any fanfare, is a full-time EMT for the emergency department at the hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she lives.
This month, she was supposed to be on a photo shoot for Juliana in California, and gearing up for a season of racing and traveling, starting at the Sea Otter Classic and continuing with a handful of Enduro World Series races, but instead she’s kitting up daily for a race with much more dire consequences.
“I came back to work yesterday (Sunday), after being off for five days, how much things have changed in five days is astonishing—everyone’s in masks, glasses, working in negative-pressure rooms in full gowns.”
Pavon is accustomed to seeing the aftermath of car crashes or stitching up cuts or seeing broken bones and head injuries, but now she finds herself on the frontlines of a global pandemic that’s surging in the U.S. “We’re seeing a pretty big increase in the number of cases,” Pavon said over the phone during a break in her shift on Monday afternoon. “Last week we had two confirmed cases, and we tested 150 people on Saturday. The number of hospitalizations we’re seeing is going up rapidly, and it’s probably going to keep doing that as we keeping getting more tests.”
With limited test kits in the U.S., the hospital in Flagstaff is testing based on a tier system of patients’ symptoms. All elective surgeries have been canceled and critical care workers from other parts of the hospital are helping the ER staff up in anticipation of a continued rush of people sickened by the fast-spreading coronavirus. Everyone is triaged first at a ‘decon’ tent set up outside the ER and staffed by workers in full protective garb before anyone comes through the door, and if people are admitted, they must come in alone unless they need a caretaker; no visitors allowed.
“It’s the quietest I’ve ever seen it. People aren’t coming in for their stubbed toe as much. It’s quiet, but it’s eerie. It’s eerily quiet,” she said.
For Pavon’s part, she spends her shifts starting IVs, drawing blood, collecting sputum or doing EKGs. “It’s just a lot of exposure time even if I’m not sticking a swab up someone’s nose.”
And no, Pavon is not just seeing elderly patients with underlying conditions coming in with the virus. It’s people in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s who are sick enough to be admitted to the ICU, and cases aren’t just from population centers, either—there was an outbreak at an isolated Navajo reservation.
Pavon gets people underestimating the seriousness of the virus—she did the same until seeing the swift uptick in person—but, from the frontlines, she urges everyone to slow the spread and stay home as much as possible to protect vulnerable people they may unknowingly be infecting, and to let hospitals try to get a handle on the crisis.
“The next two weeks are pretty crucial,” she said. “It is pretty wild. I definitely didn’t think it was going to be this big of a deal, but holy f*&k, it is.”
If people want to help, Pavon suggests donating to your local food bank to help those who will be affected by the economic collapses as a result of the virus. And if you happen to be someone who stockpiled N95 masks, do the right thing and bring them to the closest hospital—protective equipment is still desperately needed by frontline medical workers.
One silver lining Pavon has seen to the current social-distancing climate is the sense of community that’s sprouted up on social media, and through virtual hangouts. She in fact, will be hosted one herself on Wednesday on the Juliana Bicycles Instagram Live feed, where she led a home strength body weight workout.
This article originally appeared on Bikemag.com and was republished with permission.
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