PARAMEDICS: Wednesdays, 8.50pm, Nine Network/9 NOW on demand
Paramedic Steve Gelagotis not only knows first-hand what it is like to work in marginalised communities, he also knows what getting COVID-19 does to you.
"I got Covid last year while I was translating Greek for family members of patients on the service," the 28-year-old says, this despite wearing a mask and following protocols.
"It lasted three weeks, I lost nine kilos, I had issues with my heart, and had to do strength training to get back to fitness after two months off work."
He says the service is getting more mental health calls, often where there is an underlying problem, but he admits the pandemic has certainly put a strain on healthcare services.
"Often people just want someone to talk to."
Steve says Victorian hospitals have been so busy recently, but the government has given the service funding to hire more paramedics.
"Waiting at hospitals is very hard; it's a challenge wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) all the time. Anyone who is short of breath, has a runny nose or fever we treat as Covid until proven otherwise."
"We all knew something like this would happen, but you can't prepare for it. We are tired, it is hard when you have to deal with the after effects. Then you hear of people not doing the right thing, and we're the ones who have to pick up the pieces."
Steve has joined the Nine Network's real-life medical drama Paramedics, having been on the job for five years.
He and partner Emily, along with fellow show newbies Marley and Tanie, Michaela and Simon, join familiar faces Natalie and Leonard, Cam and Matt, Mike and Eamon, as the cameras follow them on calls ranging from a woman who fell off a stool trying to change her lightbulb, to life-threatening situations.
Gyton Grantley has also joined as the show's narrator.
Steve, who is openly gay, says he was accepted with open arms into the service.
"I have never heard something negative [against me]."
He is on the paramedic diversity inclusion council and involved in cultural events, women in the workforce, is an advocate for LGBTQIA and is available to help everyone in the service.
"We work with such good people, we all look after each other," he says.
Steve was originally studying a degree in sports medicine, during which he went on a placement to the Northern Territory.
"I worked alongside a community nurse, in the middle of the central desert, six hours from Katherine, where I did sport and recreation with the kids.
"My degree was so dry, and I saw what she was doing working within a marginalised community.
"It was an eye-opener, and I decided I wanted to be a paramedic, working in intervention before patients reach the hospital."
Of course the pandemic has brought with it a new set of circumstances.
The paramedics must wear masks and so they all have buttons with their name and face on them.
"We are having to wear an extra layer of protection and I miss human contact. I love talking to people; you find out so much more about their medical problem when you find out more about them."
Steve says it was business as usual during Victoria's original lockdown, but this time people seem more hesitant to access health care and so other situations result.
"We had to attend to one patient who didn't take his meds for six months because he was scared to go see his doctor."
He says the hardest cases are dealing with people who have called for assistance but then abuse you when you try to help them.
"Some of them are vulnerable with mental health issues, or alcohol is involved. De-escalating those situations is hard."
To decompress after a hard shift, Steve spends time with his family and friends, goes to the gym (when they are not in lockdown), or takes his dog for a walk.
"The beach is my happy place," he says.
"We get offered cookies but we can't accept. Our whole community is very supportive. There is even a tab for us at the local cafe."
He says no one gets upset when they see the cameras.
"We say we're filming a doco and if they don't want to be seen the camera is turned off.
"Patient care is at the forefront of our minds. We forget the camera is there. It's very much filmed from a distance.
"This is real and gives people a little insight into what we do."