Healthcare is Human: The Security Guard Who’s a Steady Presence in a Chaotic Pandemic

Officer Paul Blackman has been a frontline hospital worker throughout every phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Molly Humphreys/Healthcare is Human

Paul Blackman says that working in the pandemic, “has been stressful. It’s been a learning experience, for sure. The main thing is stressful.” 

But look at Paul and you can’t possibly tell his stress level. He is calm and collected, with an unflappable presence. Exactly the temperament needed by a security guard. In a hospital. In a pandemic. 

He works at the Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and even though he has a serious job, it’s clear Paul rises above the stress and challenges of COVID-19. 

Officer Paul Blackman speaks to the Healthcare is Human podcast producers in the lobby of the Berkeley Medical Center during a time when no visitors were allowed in the hospital. Photo: Molly Humphreys/Healthcare is Human
Officer Paul Blackman speaks to the Healthcare is Human podcast producers in the lobby of the Berkeley Medical Center during a time when no visitors were allowed in the hospital. Photo: Molly Humphreys/Healthcare is Human

Looking back to the early days of the pandemic, Paul says, “I believe we were taking the proper precautions.” But spring 2020 seems like an entire lifetime ago. At that time, COVID was new and expectations unclear. Uncertainty was a real issue for healthcare workers then. Simply coming to work was fraught with anxiety and personal risk. 

“The biggest fear when you work in this environment is taking something home with you,” Paul says. “I have a wife, daughter and granddaughter at home – so I take extra precautions.”

“At the height of the pandemic, I get home and take off my clothes in the basement or the garage. I change into something else and then jump in the shower. All of this is before I kiss my wife or hold the baby or do anything,” Paul remembers. “There is a whole lot of a scrubbing going on.” He laughs about it, but he’s completely serious. These were – and still are – the habits needed to work the front line of a pandemic. 

On his left arm, Officer Paul Blackman has a tattoo of his family tree. Photo: Molly Humphreys/Healthcare is Human

Paul says the pandemic has changed his daily routines. “It has forced everyone to be more family-oriented. Because you can’t just hop in the car and do what you used to do.”

”We went and got a fire pit,” Paul recalls of the pandemic summer of 2020. “I still cook on the grill but it’s for the immediate family. We’ve spent a lot of time together.”

“I cleaned the garage. I painted the shutters. Everyone has a honey-do list now and you actually get it done because, for a while, there was nothing else to do. Rooms have been painted in the house.”

Officer Paul Black says he doesn’t believe life will go back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic, but that will change life for years to come. Photo: Molly Humphreys/Healthcare is Human

Paul’s role as a security guard is critical to enforcing the extraordinary visitor restrictions inside the hospital that are the result of the pandemic.“You learn how different people look at the same obstacle,” he says. “How people respond to this situation. The wearing of the face mask. The sanitizing. Wiping things down.”

“There are some people that don’t want to wear masks and politics come into it,” Paul says. “They think they are invincible.” But through it all, Paul says he’s focused on the day-to-day tasks of his job at the hospital, trying to keep his spirits up. “I have seen the bad side of this virus and I don’t want to be on that side of it.” 

Officer Paul Blackman’s right arm tattoo is a permanent reminder of how life can change in an instant. Photo: Molly Humphreys/Healthcare is Human

“[So] I would say – take advantage of your time together. Because I have seen, at the height of no visitors [policies], people in this hospital alone,” he says. “When things happen, you don’t want your last moments to be thinking about things you said. Or things you didn’t say. It’s gone in an instant and there is no way to take it back. You don’t want those last moments to be full of regret.”

“I don’t believe there is going to be life “AC” – after corona,” Paul says. “Corona is going to stay with us.”

Healthcare is Human is an independent podcast produced by Ryan McCarthy, Shruthi Sreekumar, Molly Humphreys and Kym Mattioli out of Martinsburg, West Virginia. Listen to their latest episodes on their Soundcloud or keep up with their latest work on Facebook.

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