By his count, Jonathan Damato has brought at least a dozen people back from the dead. Over 20 years as a New York City paramedic, those are the moments he remembers most. The ones that called him to the job early on and kept him coming back, a year into a pandemic, in one of the world’s worst hot spots. “Clearly, we’re masked up, you know, you’re protected, but you’re exposing yourself to this every single day,” he says.
Damato remembers seeing his first Covid-19 patient, an elderly man whose vitals seemed to defy medical logic. Based on his blood oxygen levels, the man should have been unconscious; instead he was just a little short of breath, chatting and sitting upright. In so many of those early cases, Damato says, it was impossible to know how to respond. He and his colleagues barely understood the disease, hospitals were already overflowing with patients, and the medical crews couldn’t get their hands on enough protective gear. “A lot of the crews got nervous and panicked,” he says.