In her book, “First Responder: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Love on New York City’s Front Lines,” released Tuesday, ambulance EMT Jennifer Murphy writes, “People forget you’re a human being the second you put on a uniform.” “They refer to you as a hero. Offer you superhuman abilities that you may or may not have. Bravado.
Determination. Adaptability. I’m not a brave woman by birth. Bravery is an ability that must be displayed. It’s something I had to get used to in order to survive on the highway, where the stakes were so high.” Last spring, when the city was hit hard by COVID-19 and the streets were packed with ambulance shrieks, the stakes were never higher.
Murphy was one of the first responders who put her own health and safety on the line to support others in the early days when masks were not readily available. She contracted COVID at one stage but was unable to get a test. Although Murphy refuses to be labeled a hero, public attention did make a difference.
“At long last, people noticed us,” she writes. “The sirens compelled them to look out the window at what we were doing on the street. What we’d been doing all along, invisibly and alone, for years… What a rush it is to be seen after being unseen for so long.” She recalls the fear and anger of trying to aid in what was mostly a hopeless situation at the time.
When a sobbing nurse arrives at the hospital with a patient, she tells Murphy, “We’re out of beds.” “We’ve used up all of our ventilators. We don’t have enough personal protective equipment. It’s all about COVID. It’s too much for me. “It’s death after death after death,” says the narrator. Despite the fact that the book is full of pain and loss,
It’s also full of admiration for Murphy’s work and the people she helps, including a dying COVID patient who demands to be hugged (against her better instincts, she consents). “I had a thing for her. It was awe-inspiring. Maybe that’s why it’s considered a calling to be a first responder. Because all holy began with a call.”