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Letters from the Homefront: From Student to EMT

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

Anderson Co. Fire Truck. Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department Inc. #2
Today’s contributor worked for several months with the Baltimore City Fire Department. Pictured here: Anderson Co. Fire Truck. Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department Inc. #2, 1951, PP30-160-51. Hughes Studio Photograph Collection, PP30, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.

June 12, 2020 – On this day, Owen Sahnow from Baltimore writes:

Starting in January, my campus EMT squad started asking any patients with any flu symptoms “Have you been out of the country in the past two weeks.” Assuming this was going to go away soon, we all viewed it as sort of a joke. As the number of infected grew and started entering the US, people began to stress. My plan for spring break was to bike from Pittsburgh to DC, then take the MARC train home. I went with members of the outdoors club at Carnegie Mellon where I study Theatrical Design & Production. Our trip back was riddled with news updates about the ever-evolving situation. We weren’t seeing the craziness firsthand because we spent the majority of the day on the trail. When we pulled into DC after six days on the trail, nothing seemed to be different except the buzzers at Shake Shack in Union station were sprayed down with disinfectant.

School was officially put online for the fourth quarter that week. Wanting to retrieve my effects from my dorm, my father and I road-tripped back to Pittsburgh. Some of my classmates who live cross country were not so fortunate and unable to come back. We shipped all of my roommates’ stuff to him in Boston.

At this point, the general feeling was changing and it could be seen. The hotel we stayed in was at 1/6th capacity. The stores and restaurants were mostly abandoned with indoor dining being against the executive order. Main drags of town felt deserted and surreal.

Online theater school was underwhelming and I had trouble concentrating. During a morning of not paying attention in drafting class, I googled the phrase “COVID-19 EMT Jobs Baltimore.” I found a job listing through a contractor to work for the Baltimore City Fire Department. Baltimore was worried about a spike of COVID cases and had this contractor put 16 supplemental ambulances on the street. Thinking the job would be transporting Corona patients, I decided someone has to do it and it might as well be me for $25 an hour. Turns out they were just normal city ambulances. I started work before school ended and logged on average 50 hours a week. I got firsthand experience dealing with big city emergencies, the homeless population, and inefficient bureaucracy. We were supposed to wear goggles, an N95 mask, and a surgical mask to extend the life of the N95 on every single patient interaction. The goggles fogged up so no one wore them because they couldn’t see.

At the end of the contract on Jun 1, things were starting to open back up. The largest difference from before is masks are worn everywhere by everyone inside buildings.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions. We also do not edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting or to remove personally identifying information, if applicable. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story of your own, click here.