At Large in Ballard: Resilience 101, Part 2 -- "Ambulance Girl"
It has been over a week since I attended the “Ballard Prepares” emergency training in the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s set room at Crown Hill Neighborhood Center. I would be remiss if I didn’t share the experience and its lessons. For starters, carry earplugs -- not everyone can handle the BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive” played at high volume before 10 a.m. However, along with other mnemonic devices shared that day, I will never forget the right beat for doing compressions during cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
After spending an unreal day in the company of almost 100 folks pumping dummies and practicing the Heimlich maneuver on one another I am almost disappointed that I have not been able to apply my new skills yet. I rushed to the scene when Martin burned his hand overfilling the French Press, but I wasn’t needed. I can also understand his refusal to let me feel the cartilage give during compressions (“snap, crackle, pop” as our trainer repeated), but not even a practice splint?
When I bemoaned my languishing new skills to my ever laconic daughter, she told me it sounded like a movie she’d watched called “Ambulance Girl” in which a middle-aged woman is obsessed with becoming an EMT. Ouch!
The class started with an introduction by Tracy Connelly from the City’s Office of Emergency Management. Then she and Ballard District Chair Catherine Weatbrook turned the training over to Carrie from Prevention MD. Standing on a table, wearing sequined jeans, Carrie preached first response techniques with the fervor (and rhythm) of an aerobics instructor. Her fellow coaches were her daughter, who has inherited her mother’s blond hair and matter-of-fact approach to anaphylactic shock, a young man who survived choking on a penny, a comparatively normal nurse and a former Special Forces military officer, now an EMT.
The room was filled with faces familiar from various meetings and organizations, East Ballard Community, Crown Hill, Sunset Hill, Ballard Chamber, young, old, and in-between. The coaches took us step by step through dealing with witnessed versus un-witnessed collapse. We learned to tap and shout, make eye contact to yell, “Call 9-1-1” and “Get an AED and bring it back” (automated external defibrillator). The trainer shared graphic stories of what happens when defibrillator paddles encounter nipple piercings or too much chest hair. Let’s just say one delivers shock and one burn.
After several hours, many participants looked like they might succumb to shock themselves (one of the three major causes of death we learned, along with cardiac arrest and blood loss). One young woman cringed whenever a trainer said the words ‘‘compound fracture.” After administering CPR to our trainer’s satisfaction we tried not to choke on hot dogs, even as shouts of “Clear!” echoed throughout the room.
Then we broke into smaller groups to visit various themed stations. At the choking table volunteers donned vests with an air pocket on the front. We judged our Heimlich maneuver success on whether our efforts shot an air pellet towards another group. I made the mistake of asking what you do if the victim is wider than the circumference of your arms, and soon learned firsthand. We piled our baby dummies back on the table after clearing their airways. At the splinting table we learned how to secure long bones. I saw a participant climb up on the table and then lie down for a full body scan before splinting. We didn’t get to do that in my group.
At her station lead trainer Carrie showed photos so participants could assess the scene to determine proper actions; teaching peppered once again with real life scenarios from her years in the field. She admitted that her life is a continual ‘what if.’ What if the 520 Bridge is impassable? What if that man has a cardiac arrest, what will it take to access the chest, will she need to remove hair? Will she able to do compressions from the side, or will she need to be able to straddle him?
The final station was on tourniquets and wounds. The former Special Forces officer stopped circulation to his left arm for almost the duration of the demonstration. We watched it turn white and confirmed that it no longer had a pulse. He told us that in combat soldiers are trained to be able to do their own tourniquet and then keep marching.
The class was running late and people were escaping the world of emergency response and Gilbert & Sullivan. We could already feel muscle cramps from our compression practice and we were looking at one another differently. Could I drag them from a car while keeping their spine straight? Would I need duct tape to remove the chest hair in order to be able to shock him back to a heart rhythm?
For almost seven hours we interacted with strangers in new ways, outside of our alleged Pacific Northwest comfort zones. “Are you choking? Do you want me to help you?” Then we were released with certificates, ready to practice on family members, who really didn’t need or want our help. But comforted, and more confident, that we would be able to help if needed, no matter how much our own pulses raced.
In the almost empty room an older woman and I practiced bandaging one another at the last station, presuming what our trainer identified as venous rather than arterial bleed. We twisted the stretchy gauze on alternating wraps so that the additional pressure would stop blood loss. I held the woman’s soft hand in mine, being gentle so as not to bruise her delicate skin. Then she reached for my arm and did the same for me.
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