There is no TV, email, phone calls or text messaging during class. No news has come to us about world-changing events. There may well have been a zombie apocalypse and we would not know unless someone had knocked on the door of our classroom. Even then we may have told them to go away – we are busy.
Ironically, our classroom is in the middle of a gorge in the Nantahala Forest – a recreational mecca.
Over a million people visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center each year. My classmates and teachers from last semester guide them through the rapids of the Nantahala River and on the Zip Lines that criss-cross the mountain tops. The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad has a one hour layover just outside our classroom on the Nantahala Gorge excursion. We hardly notice.
Our day begins with a 10-question quiz….every day. My panic attack came last week after I changed two of my answers making them wrong, resulting in a barely passing grade. Of course, Jono knew the exact statistic regarding our gut reaction and encouraged me to stop changing my answers. The next day I earned 100% on my quiz.
In between lectures, we have practice scenarios. On Thursday, we were divided into teams of two with half the class serving as patients and proctors and the other half medics. We were given 5 minutes with each patient to conduct the primary assessment and diagnose the problem. Jono called it “speed dating.”
Hannah was my partner when I was dispatched to a lovely suburban home where a 17-year old boy had been walking aimlessly in his back yard for hours. In less than 4 minutes I had concluded recreational drugs were the culprit and convinced him to tell me exactly which drug he had taken… K2. Hannah, the patient, and the proctor (all 20-something classmates) looked at my reaction and said, “You have no idea what that is, do you?” I did not.
Test Question: Your first priority in providing emergency medical care to a patient who has overdosed on an unknown medication is to:
A. administer activated charcoal.
B. identify the medication taken.
C. administer high-flow oxygen.
D. establish and maintain a patent airway.
The next scenario was a mother whose infant would not stop crying. It was Hannah’s turn for the 5-minute countdown. The mother said the baby had been fine and was happily crawling around on the floor before the crying began. Immediately, I suspected the baby had eaten something and saw the bottle of chewing gum pretending to be Ibuprofen lying in the corner. This didn’t occur to Hannah who doesn’t have a 31-year old child to her credit. Clearly we will each bring our own set of skills to this new endeavor.
Not everyone wants to be an EMT. Hannah is a pharmacology student, Victoria’s major is psychology while Dan is a biology student and, of course, my goal is to teach Wilderness Medicine. Nonetheless, we will all train to be an EMT and my first rotation was at a nearby EMS station.
Melissa, the resident paramedic, took me under her wing and we sat in the Ambulance for hours as she explained every item there. Just as we finished, a call came in and we were up. She pointed to the jump seat behind the driver and said to strap in. A few minutes later she told me to find a reflective safety vest…. it was a car accident and we would be standing in the middle of the road. There was a light, steady rain.
The vehicle was in a ditch and had completely flipped onto its roof. The victim, a 24-year old female, had crawled out and was sitting in a nearby truck crying. She had worn her seatbelt, and although she nearly went unconscious several times from hyperventilating, she only suffered a few scrapes and bruises. We left her in the very capable hands of the Emergency Room doctor.
One day, Jono reminded us that even though we are learning logical approaches to administering care, everyone will develop their own system. That does not make one system right and others wrong. We will be most successful if we do what works best for us. How true.