“You’re about to wrap a seat belt around his neck; I don’t think that’s going to be very comfortable.”
A statement like this in EMT lab is likely to be followed by a good-hearted chuckle and merry declaration of “That’s what we like to call a neck tourniquet” by the instructor, who always sat a few feet away shaking his head with a smile as he watched us anxiously try to strap one of our classmates to a spinal backboard in under 10 minutes. That’s no easy task, folks. Have you ever tried to wrap someone up with three straps tight enough that they didn’t budge an inch when the instructor came over and hefted them up by the side of the board? Don’t even get me started about what it’s like to be the “patient” in that scenario.
My whole purpose of this blog is to tell you how it is. I always wondered coming into medical school what it would really be like. I literally had no idea, and that was a terrifying thought. So, I’m going to try to recap at least one session each month. This month, I want to talk about our spinal immobilization lab. So, I’ve already said that EMT lab can get a little crazy at times as all of the coffee consumed during morning lecture finally kicks in and the energy is released. Recently, we got to strap each other to spinal boards. Not only was it a tad awkward, but it was much more difficult than you would expect. I mean, just imagine trying to strap your friend down on a board when they are wiggling around and babbling on about their pet dog Foo Foo still trapped in the burning house. Then, your partner, who is holding the patient’s cervical spine in line, shouts, “Shut up you! Foo Foo is probably cooked to a fine steak by now, so get over it!” causing an eruption of laughter throughout the room. And all the while you are frantically trying to strap wiggling “Mrs. Johnson” down to a board in under 10 minutes while the instructor scrutinizes your every move.
Understand, we would never verbally abuse a real patient, but everyone always takes a lot of joy in causing the greatest amount of chaos possible for the person actually practicing. Meanwhile, they are trying to hold in their laughter as well. One time, when it was my turn to strap someone into the KED (basically the spinal immobilization equivalent of a corset), as I tried to figure out how to work the head gizmo, my patient stood up and waddle/ran for the door saying something along the lines of “You’ll never catch me!”
Yes, our medical school is anything but ordinary, but that is why I am currently having the time of my life. This entire EMT lab in all of its outlandish craziness is meant to prepare us for our final practical exam where we show the world that we can actually function as respectable Emergency Medical Technicians. All of the dramatic acting was crucial in that preparation for the first two practical tests. We had no idea what to expect as we walked in to find our examiner and a coughing standardized patient. I’m sure I looked like a deer in the headlights, frozen to the ground with my hands shaking a little. But, I assure you that nothing the practicals could have thrown at us would have been as difficult as the scenarios our own classmates threw at us. The practical seemed like a piece of cake after dealing with their imaginations.
Needless to say, it was a chaotic day, and not a day when you want to volunteer as patient. Have you ever been strapped to a spinal board? I hope for your sake that you haven’t. It’s not fun, especially when your inexperienced classmates are the ones doing the strapping. There are a lot of “I’m sorrys” and “is that too tight? Can you breath?” Also, I found that male students become horrified at the prospect of putting a cervical collar on you when you have a lot of long hair. They get incredibly frustrated and have near panic attacks, calling the instructor over for advice while all the while trying futilely to not pull your hair. Then, after your hair is all kinds of different directions and your ribcage has been crushed by a seatbelt, they have to tape two foam blocks to you head to secure your neck. Well folks, my eyebrow almost became a tragic casualty that day. Then to top it off, the instructor came and hefted me up on that board sideways to show my classmate the effects of not strapping in someone tightly enough, as I slid down the board to be caught quite uncomfortably by the three straps holding me on the thing with a big “humph” and exclamations of “Okay, okay, put me down!”
With all of that said, I actually had a blast that day. We are all hard on each other and laugh at everyone’s mistakes, but we do it to prepare for the real thing and we are always quick to offer advice and guidance. We might complain about EMT training from time to time, but I for one am extremely grateful for it. I think it has brought our class closer together, and fostered this priceless sense of teamwork and support. I’ve heard horror stories of students at other schools competing for class rank and withholding critical study tools in an effort to best their classmates. I assure you that our class would never do something like that. We are in this together, and we are constantly posting helpful links on Facebook to make sure no one falls through the cracks.
Other schools may see the EMT training as a delay in our “real” medical education because we spend all of our time strapping people to spinal boards instead of diving straight into the meat and potatoes of anatomy classes. However, I know that when I am thrown into my third year and have to take the history of my first real patient, I will be way ahead of other students because I have already done that over 20 times. EMT training is giving me valuable patient encounters and teaching me how to save lives from day one. I’m learning things that I may very well have to use in the near future, and I will be able to do more than look at a patient and say, “Oh yeah, they most likely have an injury to their liver.”
I am only a week away from my first ambulance ride as an EMT-in-training, and I am both extremely excited and terrified. But, I would not trade my education thus far for any education I could receive elsewhere. I love my school, and I am truly enjoying my medical education. And that’s not just a sappy plug that I was asked to insert. I said that I wanted to provide prospective students with the truth, and, so far, that’s my view of my experience.
Copyright 2014 USC School of Medicine Greenville