On the front line of COVID-19: Kirsten Funk ’21

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how Kirsten Funk ’21 of Menasha, Wisconsin, does her job. She is majoring in chemistry-biology with a minor in health and works as an emergency medical technician (EMT) basic for Ripon Guardian Ambulance.

She provides emergency care to patients, moves them to a cot, assesses their vital signs and applies interventions as needed. After a call, she cleans and sanitizes equipment and completes a report about the call.

Since COVID-19 emerged, she and her coworkers have to take more precautions when entering houses, Funk says. They have to wear more personal protective equipment (PPE), such as goggles, gowns and N95 masks. Then, if the patient had symptoms of COVID-19, additional information must be recorded and more cleaning measures taken.

“Working on the front lines during this historic and troubling time is not only rewarding but also scary,” Funk says. “As a front-line worker, you are potentially harming yourself and your family. Walking into residences and helping patients who may or may not have current symptoms is my job, but (it is) also frightening when you are unaware of where a patient has been or what they have been exposed to. Our dispatch does its best to screen the patients over the phone before we arrive, but we only gain as much information as the patient is able to give or is willing to give.”

She says it is difficult to put on all the PPE necessary to protect herself and her coworkers before she can assist the patient. “I am used to only applying gloves on most of my calls, and I perform this as I am approaching my patient,” she says. “Now, I have to apply gloves, masks, goggles and gowns for some of my calls. These additional steps require more time in which I would have been evaluating my patient.”

Assisting and helping people in need is what she loves most about her job. “This work is exhilarating and rewarding,” she says. “Patients are calling the ambulance because they are unable to get themselves to the hospital. Being able to be the one who is there to reduce their pain or to assure them that everything is going to be OK or even bring them back to life is a job that I will always be grateful for. The hands-on experience and the emotional strength that I have gained from this job is nothing that a person could be taught.”

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