This interview, by Janet Thomas, with San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services paramedic Ryan Nelson is the second in a series about essential workers.
What/who inspired you to take up this work?
It started as far back as middle school. In 9th grade I swam and played water-polo. I did life-guarding initially for class and in high-school it became a job. Then later, after a training I did in the Mountaineers Basic Climb Course, I became a volunteer with Tacoma Mountain Rescue. After a bit of time, I took the EMT class and moved up in the ranks with mountain rescue. I loved the EMT class and tried to find a job in Tacoma but I was under 21 and not able to drive the ambulance. As far as the people who inspired me to become a paramedic, I would say San Juan Island EMS Chief Frank Wilson, Paramedic Weyshawn Koons, and Paramedics Jan Clark and Jay Hurlburt. These four amazing people pushed me to step up and into a very different role in EMS. I can't imagine I'd ever be a medic without their encouragement and mentor-ship over the years.
How long have you been with SJI EMS?
I started as an EMT with San Juan Island EMS after moving here in June of 1997.
Where did you do your training?
Both my EMT-Basic training and my EMT-Paramedic training were at the Allied Health Program at Tacoma Community College.
What has surprised you the most about being an EMS provider?
I am surprised about how much it has shaped my views and appreciation for life. Life is short, try to live the one you want.
What is your history re: living on San Juan Island?
In 1997, I came here on a break from college to visit my brother who had recently moved here to help a friend start a business. I remember taking some food to the South Beach overlook and sitting down on the hill below to eat when a pod of orcas swam around in front of me. There was no-one around and I sat there wondering why I lived in Tacoma and drove every weekend to places like this to get away. In June, after my first year of college, I packed up my stuff and drove up here. I volunteered with the Town of FH Fire/Ems and District 3 Fire and then moved back to Tacoma for two years while going to paramedic school and working for Rural Metro Ambulance. When I was hired by Skagit County Medic One, I moved back to San Juan Island part-time and then full-time in 2008 when I was hired as a paramedic at San Juan EMS.
Do you have family here on the island?
My older brother lives here. I live here with my wife, Briana, and our dog, Ollie.
How do you personally deal with the trauma, stress and sadness of your work?
I like to get out and do the things I enjoy. I try to clearly separate my personal life from my professional life. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. I've had the very best and the very worst days of my life in this job. The difficult calls usually affect me days later. If I'm having a tough time, I reach out to other emergency responders as they fully understand the stresses and challenges of a traumatic event.
What do you want the public to know about EMS on SJI?
No matter the challenges faced by our agency and our community, there is an amazing core of people who are doing the best possible job in the interest of serving our island community.
Do you imagine being an EMS provider for the rest of your working life?
Sure do. I can't think of another career as rewarding as this one.
Do you experience challenges regarding the confidentiality requirements of your work?
Not too often. On the island, there are plenty of people who are concerned about their neighbors' well being. Usually, it easy enough to let folks know that they, too. would appreciate respect and privacy if they were hurt or sick. I'll happily greet a patient who approaches me but I don't seek out people directly when I see them. I don't want to put anyone in an awkward place. That said, my favorite moments have been when patients approach me outside of an emergency and we get to catch up.
When you are not at work, what activities do you enjoy?
Hanging out with my family and friends. Activity wise, I'm pretty much hooked on kite-surfing. I love mountain-biking and surf-kayaking but it's mostly to stay in shape for when it's windy enough to kite-surf. A couple years ago, I started getting into amateur radio and I enjoy working out the challenges of communication without internet or cell phone.
Other thoughts you wish to express at this COVID 19 challenging time?
I think it's important to be patient and respectful because we are all in this together. I hope people will follow our county/state public health recommendations and take them seriously enough to protect themselves and each-other.
- Move to Phase 3 will be decided county by county; June 13 earliest date San Juan County would be eligible
- Definition of a close contact updated
- 1118 tests performed, still 15 positive results in San Juan County
- What can you do in Phase 2 in the San Juan Islands?
- San Juan County is NOW in Phase 2
- Additional counties approved to move to phase two of Gov. Jay Inslee's Safe Start plan
- Two cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) in Washington state
- Letter posted asking state for waiver; Most camping and overnight moorage would not be allowed in the islands in Phase 2
- Happy smiling people hanging about in the Town of Friday Harbor
- $150K of Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grants distributed to 21 island businesses
- Updated: San Juan County eligible for a waiver to skip ahead to Phase 2 under new criteria
- Inslee announces restart of all medical services in Washington
- What does the face covering order mean?
- Statewide Report: Distancing measures remain critical as COVID-19 transmission persists
- Update on Face covering order: It's a recommendation until county is in Phase 2, then it's mandatory
- No request made this week to state to skip to Phase 2, Might ask next week
- Directive to wear face coverings begins May 18 in King County
- Inslee issues additional guidance for outdoor recreation in Phase 1 and Phase 2
- Learn about guidance for reopening dine-in restaurants in Phase 2
- Inslee launches Contact Tracing Initiative
- County Health Officer may mandate the wearing of masks in Phase 2
- 3 more counties allowed to skip ahead to Phase 2
- Lopez Island 4th of July Fireworks canceled for 2020
- May 11: San Juan County Council and Board of Health meeting
- Next number report not until Monday, May 11
- Inslee releases more guidance on Phase I
- 5 Washington counties approved for early move to next phase of reopening
- $117K in grants awarded to 4 farms serving Orcas Island
- Anti-body Update from Dr. House
- Island Rec will be offering virtual programs this summer; In-person programs and events canceled
- Update May 15: 972 tests performed, positive count remains at 15
- Here are the 4 steps to apply for a waiver to skip ahead to Phase 2
- Inslee updates Phased Reopening Plan
- Update from state's Joint Information Center
- Health Officer extends order to May 31 keeping lodging and more closed in the San Juan Islands
- How San Juan County compares to 10 counties that might skip ahead to Phase 2; Detailed list of Phases posted
- Gov. extends his order means Memorial Day a bust, 4th of July festivities unlikely
- Inslee clarifies limits on elective surgeries
- AG tells Stine to stop selling and administering his COVID-19 'vaccine'
- UPDATE May 1: No new cases of COVID-19 in the San Juan Islands
- Partial re-opening of some outdoor recreation activities on May 5
- Inslee: $300 million in federal stimulus funding to go to cities and counties of less than 500,000 population
- April 25 and 26 updates from state Joint Information Center: new symptoms listed, new numbers, tips for parents and more...
- Inslee announces plan to allow construction projects previously underway to be completed
- UPDATED April 24: Streak keeps going, 8 days since last positive test result, Count remains at 14
- Working Washington Small Business Grant program gets additional $5 million infusion; $10 million now available to address some of estimated 25,000 applications from businesses up to 10 employees
- Everything you need to know right now about local testing
- Inslee explains his WA state recovery plan
- Help available from Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Island Family Resource Centers
- UPDATED April 22: More good news count still 14 for San Juan County; 594 tested
- Latest from Camp Murray EOC
- Mayor invites 'vaccine' seller to Friday Harbor
- COVID Symptom Tracker app can help slow the spread
- DOH reporting another new case for San Juan County: Total now 15
- UPDATE April 17: No new cases; Positive results in about 3 percent of tests
- COVID-19 survivors may help save lives by donating blood
- Looking for take-out: there's an app for that
- San Juan Island Community Foundation raised $145k for COVID-19 response
- Ferry reservations for summer postponed
- State EOC's new report: Distancing efforts working and must continue in key Washington counties
- Governors of WA, OR, and CA will coordinate reopening plans
- 3 property tax relief options offered by San Juan County Treasurer
- Voluntary testing of essential folks begins April 13 in Friday Harbor
- DOH adds additional data on confirmed COVID-19 cases
- Dr. James extends lockdown order through May 4
- WSF extends winter sailing schedules through June 20 due to lower demand
- Sheriff has not found a single vacation rental not complying with Gov's order
- Update from state's Joint Operations Center - food, emergency grants for businesses and more...
- More hand sanitizer being produced on Orcas Island
- WIAA told no sports for the rest of this school year
- UPDATED April 16: One new case; County total 14
- Delivering soon? PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and Island Hospital Childbirth Centers offer assurance
- April 7: Larsen to host COVID-19 Telephone Town Hall
- Inslee extends school closures for the rest of the 2019-20 school year
- April 4 and 5 Updates from Joint EOC at Camp Murray - face coverings, drivers license expirations and more...
- Two Orcas Island positive cases share details
- UPDATED April 4: FOUR new COVID-19 cases; Count is now 10 in the San Juan Islands
- PIMC offering their patients mobile COVID-19 testing in Friday Harbor
- County recommends 14-day quarantine when returning from the mainland
- Recap of COVID-19 News and Updates from state EOC
- UPDATED April 3: No new COVID-19 positive tests; Count remains at 6 county-wide- including a PIMC staff person
- Governor's Stay Home - Stay Healthy order extended to May 4; More guidance issued
- 2 more COVID-19 cases; 1 on San Juan Island (PIMC staffer), 1 on Orcas Island
- $120K in emergency rental assistance available for San Juan County residents
- DSHS purchases shuttered nursing home in Seattle to free up hospital beds in Western Washington hospitals
- Dr. James and Dr. House working together to find a way to expand testing
- Widespread COVID-19 testing plan nixed by lack of tests
- Medical Surge Planning: Hoping for the Best, Planning for the Worst
- All appts at DOL offices cancelled; Online form to report businesses violating Gov's order
- Stay Home - Healthy guidelines for children and families
- UPDATED April 1: COVID-19 case count is 6 in San Juan County - including a PIMC staff person
- Alchemy Art Center creates opportunities for Creativity at Home
- Property Taxes and COVID-19, from San Juan County Treasurer
- Compass Health providing free, downloadable templates and protocols as part of COVID-19 response
- Hubbard, the first positive COVID 19 case on San Juan Island, shares his experience
- First case of COVID 19 on San Juan Island; County total now 4
- UPDATE: Someone needed to do the research study: Dr. House working to test everyone on San Juan Island
- Message from King's/Marketplace to the community
- San Juan Island Fire & Rescue Temporarily Implements 24/7 On-Duty Staffing
- From Award-Winning Whiskey to Critical Sanitizer