A college sophomore learns how to save lives in emergency situations
By Jessa Fogel
The pagers went off in the office around 11 p.m., a harsh interruption in an otherwise peaceful study session with my chemistry textbook. Over the piercing noise, I heard my primary’s voice, “Dispatch reports unresponsive male patient. Let’s go, guys!”
We arrived on scene to what was indeed an unresponsive patient, condition undetermined. It was my first shift working with the college EMS crew and since I wasn’t an EMT yet, my tasks involved filling out forms and serving as a liaison to any bystanders. I dutifully surveyed the patient’s friends for medical history, watching the primary and secondary in my peripheral vision; they were opening his airway, applying oxygen and taking vitals. I was envious, even as the secondary held an emesis bag to the patient’s face as he regained consciousness. I couldn’t wait to become EMT-certified so I could be the one helping. But as a student-athlete on the cross-country ski team, neither of the two college-sponsored EMT courses fit into my schedule. My only option was to get certified over the summer.
Summer is actually a critical time for competitive skiers to train; I would have to fit the course around my workouts. Fortunately, I found out about the SOLO School of Wilderness Medicine in Conway, N.H., which offers a four-week accelerated Wilderness-EMT program. It sounded like my best bet; faster certification meant less interruption in my training.
From the beginning, there was rarely a dull moment at SOLO and my four weeks there flew by. Our instructors made the most of our short time frame; classes were typically from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., during which we covered everything from traumatic brain injuries to emergency childbirth. It seemed the only quiet time I ever had was when I woke up at 5 a.m. for a run or a visit to the local gym before class. Despite the sleep deprivation, I somehow enjoyed (or at least accepted) this routine; perhaps it was the anticipation of seeing the sun illuminating the White Mountains or spotting a wild turkey on the roadside that stopped me from hitting the snooze button on my alarm.
Although most of our class time was in front of a chalkboard, our instructors also emphasized learning outside the classroom. I particularly liked “scenarios” in which a group of students would act as patients — complete with grisly moulage — while the rest would act as the emergency responders, assessing and managing the patients’ injuries. It was during these scenarios that we tested the skills we learned, such as taking vitals, splinting injured extremities or wrapping a hypothermic patient.
Our final step was passing two exams at the end of the course: a skills-based, practical test consisting of five stations (patient assessment, backboard, long-bone splinting, oxygen administration and cardiac arrest management), as well as a computer-based adaptive exam. Our last week of class was devoted mainly to studying and practicing our skills so that we were well-prepared for test day.
Our path to EMT certification also included a clinical component which involved taking shifts at one of the local ambulances, the hospital or even at Storyland, a children’s theme park. It was during a clinical that we got experience with real patients, assisting the doctors, nurses and EMTs on staff. Hospital shifts were of particular interest to me as a pre-med student; shadowing the doctors, I witnessed a small vignette of life in that profession.
Of course, as humans, we’re rarely satisfied with what we have. Now that I’m finally the EMT holding the emesis bag, I’m beginning to envy the surgeon holding the scalpel. And, yet, I have my doubts; my experience at SOLO showed me that medicine is tough. It’s mentally challenging, emotionally stressful and it can make you question yourself and your abilities. But it’s also irresistibly fascinating and hopelessly addicting and I know that wherever my career path ultimately leads, medicine will always be part of my life.
Jessa Fogel hails from Bow, N.H. A sophomore in college, she studies biology but is also interested in French, history and government. An avid outdoors woman, she hopes to attend medical school.