It’s faith and a sense of altruism that keeps flight nurse Derick Robinson going.
“It’s a job I enjoy and I enjoy helping people anyway,” he said. “I was raised that way and always had a servant’s heart.”
Robinson works at Life Saver 3 in Cusetta and while his location hasn’t transported many COVID-19 patients, he’s seen an influx of transports who are severely ill because they’re too scared to go to the doctor’s office or hospital.
“A lot of people we’ve taken here recently are people who hadn’t been to a doctor and are afraid to go and when they do go to the (emergency room) or call 911, they are severely ill,” Robinson said. “When you ask the family, they say, ‘We didn’t want to come.’ It’s very understandable; it’s unprecedented times. People don’t want to get out.”
Life Saver air medical transport is one of more than 350 bases nationwide and a branch of parent company Air Methods based out of Denver.
Robinson has worked with the company as a flight nurse for 13 years and said call volume has increased even though other bases around the country have slowed down.
“It ebbs and flows,” Robinson said. “But it’s not a lot related to COVID.”
Despite the minimal number or coronavirus patients, Robinson said he and his team still wear N95 masks, goggles and flight suits.
“If we do have a COVID patient, we have to wear Tyvek suits over our flight suits,” he said. “That’s been a challenge, especially as it starts to heat up. But it’s a necessary thing.”
Robinson said the company’s home location keeps up with every flight and his boss is very thorough about checking in with employees.
“She will always follow up,” Robinson said. “Even if (a patient) is not anything related to coronavirus symptoms, she still follows up. We’ve had some bases that took patients from a four-wheel accident, for example, and came back to find out the patient has COVID. Then the whole base gets it but they never knew.”
By comparing coronavirus patients with employees from other bases around the country, Robinson realized symptoms are presenting differently in some areas.
“It’s just hard to explain what the norm is because our co-workers have flown in other places and it’s totally different in the South,” he said. “The different symptoms they’re having, we’re not having here and vice versa.”
Robinson works with a team of three for each flight including himself as a flight nurse, a paramedic and a pilot. Life Saver 3 is based in Chambers County but covers Tallapoosa, Randolph, Macon, Lee and Russell counties along with some locations in Georgia depending on the circumstance.
“We’re kinda all over the place,” Robinson said. “And it’s neat when you think about: My wife works at Lake Martin Community Hospital, a small rural facility, and you see some of these bigger hospitals and the procedures they’re using are also being used in the smaller places. It’s a learning tool for everybody. I call it learning on-the-job training.”
Robinson’s wife Ginger is a registered nurse in Dadeville, where Robinson works at times as well. The couple has four kids, 15, 12, 8 and 4, at home to worry about when working the front line.
“The 15-year-old has had to grow up a whole lot here in the last two months,” Robinson said. “He’s responsible for keeping up with his little brother while we’re at work and daycares are closed.”
Although some daycares have reopened, the Robinsons have chosen to hold off sending the youngest back until they see some things slowing down.
“One, I don’t want to bring it home to him or he go to daycare and get it,” Robinson said. “Then my wife and I would be out of work for two weeks to take care of him. We really limit our access as to who we go around.”
At home, the Robinsons have been teaching their children proper handwashing, which they believe is the biggest key to staying safe at this point.
“You need to wash your hands often,” Robinson said. “The 4-year-old doesn’t understand it and the first few weeks they all didn’t understand what was happening and why we were coming home and not letting them touch us or hug us until we showered.”
While the older children caught on more quickly, the youngest two struggle with not greeting their parents immediately when they return home.
“I’ve tried to explain to me children that this is history,” Robinson said. “This is unfortunately your Pearl Harbor to those baby boomers. It’s hard to compare the two or 9/11 to the generation before you.”
Robinson is glad churches are starting to open back up and things are slowly getting into a sense of normal regardless of what that might look like.
“It will never be normal again but we can try to go back to some sort of normalcy to where people can get out,” Robinson said. “A lot of people are going stir crazy.”