BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - She worked for months transporting and treating COVID-19 patients while carefully wearing layers of PPE and following all of the protocols to protect herself from the virus, but on September 24, paramedic Christy Bullock was helping transport a patient suspected to have the coronavirus when “I was real close to her, and she sneezed in my face before I got the mask on her. And I texted my boss and my husband and said ‘if I’m ever going to get COVID, I just got it.’”
That patient tested positive hours later, and four days later Christy woke up with a fever and went to her doctor for a COVID-19 test that came back negative, just like the next half dozen tests over several days.
“Every test came back negative but my labs were getting worse, my breathing was getting worse,” Bullock reports.
Finally, an infectious disease doctor admitted Christy to the hospital and tested a piece of her lung tissue - it was COVID-19 positive.
“Their theory is that, because the sneeze was so close to my face, and a sneeze is really powerful--their theory is that it just bypassed all of my nasal passages and went straight into my lungs and that’s why the couldn’t find it,” says Bullock.
Christy spent the next week in the COVID unit. “I could not stand up, it was rough.”
Bullock recovered and returned to work eight weeks later. She used sick days, vacation, and short-term insurance she pays for to cover her time off, but when her boss encouraged her to file a workers’ comp claim, that’s when her frustration began.
“They called me to interview me, and I say interview - it was more like an interrogation. He [an insurer’s attorney] asked me if, in the 2 weeks before I got sick, if I had sanitized my groceries when I went to the grocery store. And I knew then where this was going.”
Her company’s insurer denied the claim, saying there’s no way to prove she didn’t get COVID somewhere else, including while she was in the hospital.
“It sent me into such a tailspin - I ugly cried for hours,” says Bullock. “It’s such a slap in the face and so demoralizing. I haven’t been to family gatherings, I haven’t done anything like that.”
Unlike 17 other states, Alabama law doesn’t cover COVID-19 as a work-related illness, even for frontline workers.
“Until we change legislation, it’s not gonna be better for the people that are risking their lives to take care of other people,” says Bullock.
”We call these people frontline workers and give them all the accolades for putting themselves on the line to take care of our sick loved ones,” says Beasley Allen employment attorney Kendall Dunson. “But yet when they need the coverage that they’re entitled to, we make it so hard that they can’t receive it. And that’s a very tough situation to be in.”
“It’s time to walk the walk and not talk the talk,” says Bullock. “Because you’re gonna have many many many more people like me. It’s Russian roulette every call we go on, and it’s Russian roulette if you get COVID because you don’t know what’s going to affect you. You could have the sniffles, you could die, and anywhere in between.”