‘It’s still one of those things I find hard to sleep with.’

Adrian, 21 | Ventura, CA

We met Adrian at the COVID test site facility in Oxnard College. He’s been working as an EMT since he was 18 years old and is in the pursuit of firefighting. “I wanted to see what career path would be good for me that combined hospitality, customer service, my interest in the medical field, and then also my interest in camaraderie and teamwork. I put all of that into this type of online calculator – it said firefighter.” He added, “I think those healthcare roots are from my mom, I love her to death.” Accompanied by his girlfriend Karla, we sit on the baseball field bleachers of his local park in Ventura. It’s his day off from work and he’s eager to tell his story.

I still remember 2019 in December. I was on Facebook and I saw a conspiracy website post “Deadly Virus Escapes from Wuhan, China Lab.” I became the guy at my station that was always looking at the coronavirus world meter. I remember looking at it when it was just thousands of cases and everybody's like, “Come on Adrian. Stop looking at that. What are you doing, dude? It's just a little flare up.” It was really tripping me out because I had this bad inclination for it. And then we start hearing about, you know, fire stations up in Cal that got infected.

Early on, I felt like there was a lot of good that was happening when I was looking at the actions of our governor, our healthcare system, our county hospitals, you know. I was like, man, they're doing the right thing. But then slowly but surely you started seeing them doing things that were severely counterintuitive to stopping the spread of COVID. Once I started finding out information about New York accepting COVID patients into the skilled nursing facilities, I lost it.

My mother has been working in an assisted living facility since I was five years old with people who have dementia and Alzheimers. She’s one of those people who’s destined for that kind of career. When I was a kid she loved taking me to work. My mom would let me talk to some of the veterans and they would tell me all kinds of interesting traveling stories. I was always a history fanatic, so talking to people who grew up during WWII was the coolest thing.

Unfortunately, at these assisted living facilities a lot of people aren’t trained correctly on how to deal with infectious diseases. And I knew my mom would eventually be around COVID patients after seeing what was going on in New York. Unfortunately, the Ventura County EMS system, the way they run things, they started requiring us to transfer COVID patients in our ambulances as well. That was the big red flag.

I remember looking my supervisor in the eyes and saying, “We’re taking these COVID patients back to these nursing homes, but they don't have the proper protective equipment or training to be able to take care of all these loved ones. Our hospitals are not overrun.” And the sad part is no one fucking knows about this. No one knew grandma and grandpa were in a room next to a COVID patient. You have a healthcare professional that's already being worked their ass off, and you're expecting them to be able to work with minimal resources, utilizing the same equipment that they're trying to use to take care of multiple patients.

So many unnecessary deaths happened because of those early decisions that weren’t thought through. We have a local facility called Victoria Care Center. I don't know how many times we’ve taken COVID patients there and then they have an outbreak from that patient that we took there. And now we have to go rescue all the patients that just got infected from this one person.

It’s tough because some healthcare professionals understand how wrong and illogical it is, but they kind of hit this brick wall where they’re like “Yeah, it’s wrong. And I get it, it’s tough. But I just don’t know what else to do.” And I feel like that’s what’s heartbreaking. I did my best. I try my best to do the right thing, but it’s still one of those things I find hard to sleep with. I almost feel like I have blood on my hands because I had to discharge a COVID patient into these facilities.

Going to my gym, BSF Fitness, helped me deal with the emotional stress from the ambulance. In order to cope with it you need those healthy outlets. My gym has been under fire in nationwide news because they refused to stay closed. They’ve received thousands of dollars in fines. But they feel health and fitness is essential, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

There were other healthcare workers and first responders at my gym, a couple Oxnard City Firefighters. A lot of people felt ashamed of it or they felt that it was wrong so they’d keep it secret. But I didn’t feel it was wrong, I stood by it. I knew it wasn’t going to make more grandmas and grandpas die. It was going to help me do my job better. It’s kept me safe.

I can’t lift a 400 pound woman with my partner and some firefighter if I don’t work out, you know what I mean? Me doing pushups in my apartment is not gonna help keep me safe when I have to save grandma pinned between the toilet and the bathroom wall because she fell.

People don't understand that this virus, whether you're vaccinated or not, it doesn't just [snaps fingers] go away. That's what kills me. Everybody feels this is all temporary. We cannot let this virus dictate our quality of life because this is something that we’re going to have to live with and adapt to. You were just seeing people say “Hide inside, put your head in the sand like an ostrich.” You know what I mean? They weren't saying, “Hey, eat better, exercise, go outside, get some vitamin D, deal with your emotional stress,” you know, things that were actually gonna help.

Ventura and the Oxnard Valley

The gym has been essential to overcoming a lot of stuff in my life. With everybody’s mental health taking a toll it’s damaging to take away such an essential resource like the gym. I know a lot of healthcare workers that are alcoholics, doctors that are alcoholics because of the stress that this career puts on you. So the gym was already super important pre-pandemic. But then when you add the stress of COVID and family relationship issues that are going on...

I had my own situation fighting for child custody orders, trying to get 50-50 parental rights with my two-year-old son Ryker. Unfortunately in September I was going through a bunch of issues with my son's mother. She was making my life a living hell when it came to schedules. And in early March she actually withheld him from me for two weeks. I tried to go into the Ventura County family law self-help office but the government center was closed. And I literally felt helpless for two weeks because COVID shut down everything and made it so people in my situation were helpless. Everybody decided to break up and get divorced during this time because of the mental stress so the self-help center was getting overwhelmed and I was competing with everyone else to fix my horrible situation. I hated that feeling of not being able to be there for my son.

The consistent isolation has not been good for him. I don't want him to lack certain social experiences that he needs when he's young that would affect him later in life. Thankfully a lot of the parents at my local park are on the same page as me now and they let their kids play together. And it’s nice because Ryker is a hugger and I’m seeing him flourish.

His instinctual skills blow me away. My girlfriend Karla and I took him to a waterfall two days ago, and he was climbing these rocks that are slippery with moss. He understands the idea of creating more surface area by using his hands and his feet and positioning himself. He’s only two years old! I love tapping into that side of him and being there for those moments.

Because of our Hispanic roots, family is everything for us. With the information we have about COVID, I don’t believe that we should be sacrificing that crucial family time. And I have regrets with certain loved ones that passed away where I was unable to have those last conversations. My grandfather’s sister and then unfortunately a second aunt passed away from COVID. It’s also really tough because I know people who have lost much closer.

I feel like my responsibility now is trying to teach my family ways to keep ourselves healthy because unfortunately, my family members that did pass, they were… [deep sigh]... My goal, especially with my mom who’s a little overweight, is to get her inspired to go to the gym with me and my dad. I want her to build healthy habits. I never say anything horrible, like, “I don't want you to end up like them.” I just want to make sure she doesn’t head down that path where she could pass from COVID given her own comorbidities. I just need to be that support.

Ventura, California
Interview Date: Feb 25, 2021