When your heart stops, he gets started

A New York City paramedic reflects on the early days of the pandemic, the inequities of his city, and the truth about being a "hero"

It has been a time of death and forgetting. So much carnage from this pandemic, hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens gone, and life somehow goes on. It isn’t pleasant to remember. It’s not even over, anyway. And yet remembering will prove important. Important for learning something from our many entwined failures. Important for seeing submerged truths that a crisis brought to the surface.

Today, in that spirit, I bring you the unvarnished and searing voice of Anthony Almojera, a New York City paramedic, who offered the below testimony in June of 2020, close to the worst of it in the city he loves so much. It is part of a larger collection of testimonies in the journalist Eli Saslow’s new work of oral history, “Voices from the Pandemic.”

“Six minutes”: the testimony of Anthony Almojera

Nobody wants to know about what I do. People might pay us lip service and say that we’re heroes, but our stories aren’t the kind anyone actually wants to hear about. Kids in this country grow up with toy fire trucks, or maybe playing cops and robbers, but who dreams of becoming a paramedic? That’s ambulances. That’s death and vulnerability — the scary stuff.

We’re taught in this culture to shun illness like it’s something shameful. We’d rather pretend everything’s fine. We look the other way.

That’s what I see happening now in New York. We just had 20,000-some people die in this city during the spring, and now the weather’s getting nice out, and already crowds are lining back up outside restaurants and jamming into bars. This virus is still out there. We respond to 911 calls for COVID every day. I’ve been on the scene at more than two hundred of these deaths — trying to revive people, consoling their families — but you can’t even be bothered to stay six feet apart and wear a mask, because why? You’re a tough guy? It makes you look weak? You’d rather ignore the whole thing and pretend that you’re invincible?

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