I was an Akron Fire Department paramedic — the front page of the Oct. 22, 1985 Akron Beacon Journal astounded me. Gregg Aschelman, an Akron Fire Department paramedic trainee, had filed a grievance with the union because he feared contracting AIDS — a death sentence with no cure.

He claimed he was unprepared as well as unwilling to accept the burden. Aschelman voiced the anxiety, apprehension and abhorrence which others within the department felt concerning regarding the HIV positive/AIDS threat. 

The watch office is where emergency alarms are received. In the mid-1980s to ’90s, every Akron watch office contained the addresses of AIDS/HIV positive patients — a daily and dire reminder that disease and death lurked. In over 28 years on the fire department I encountered patients who bled rivers, defecated, urinated and vomited — all avenues by which AIDS is transmitted. 

However, I treated only two patients who admitted they were HIV positive or had AIDS.

Lorraine Day worked as an orthopedic trauma surgeon at a San Francisco hospital; she wanted prospective surgery patients to face mandatory AIDS testing which never happened. Therefore, Day donned an industrial respirator, double shoe covers, knee-high boots, reinforced disposable gowns, additional sleeve covers, face shield and double or triple latex gloves during surgery.

Her concern escalated and she began dressing for surgery like an astronaut prepared to soar to Mars. When basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced he was HIV positive, fellow players Mark Price, Karl Malone and Gerald Wilkins wanted him banned. Their fear was real. 

The bubonic plague raged through Africa, Asia and Europe in the 14th century, killing about 50 million people (about 25 to 60% percent of the European population). Even now with treatment 10% of the people infected with bubonic plague die, according to the World Health Organization.

The 1918-1920 Spanish flu infected 500 million people worldwide, killing an estimated 17 million to 50 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now the coronavirus stalks citizens worldwide. The elderly and immunocompromised are most susceptible. On March 11 the World Health Organization’s director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

 “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” Ghebreyesus said.

Thus, President Donald Trump has decreased travel to and from European locations; the NCAA canceled their its moneymaker in March Madness; and Gov. Kay Ivey has closed all schools. The methods used to counteract the virus’s spread — sweeping, startling, unprecedented. 

March 11 USA Today reported infections beyond China have increased 13-fold in two weeks; in the same time period, the countries hit have tripled. There have been more than 118,000 cases spread over 114 countries, according to WHO. More than 4,000 people have died.

Amid the escalating hysteria, it’s imperative to self-educate. WHO website defines coronavirus as a large family of viruses transmitted between animals and humans. How does COVID-19 spread? It spreads when someone with the virus or a carrier coughs or exhales and emits droplets then someone else inhales the droplets, or the droplets land on objects and surfaces and people touch the objects or surfaces.

Furthermore, the CDC recommends to stay at least 6 feet away from others by practicing social distancing.

WHO discourages healthy people from wearing protective masks. However, they encourage people to wash their hands often using an alcohol-based solution or soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because contaminated hands use those pathways to enable the virus to invade your body.  

I protected myself as a paramedic while treating patients infected with diseases and viruses. I followed the safety regulations our department established and practiced self-care. Be wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove in protecting yourself from COVID-19.

Marc Greenwood is a Camp Hill resident and weekly columnist for The Outlook.