A New Year and an Accomplishment

I’m glad 2018 is over. It was a difficult year on many levels, with some wonderful moments scattered about. I’m neither optimistic or pessimistic about 2019, but rather I’m working on the idea that I can handle whatever happens this year, even when it feels like I can’t…and that there will be many good moments again. I am ready to be surprised by what happens.

One thing I accomplished in 2018 that I am very proud of is that I took an intensive EMT course. Ever since I got involved in NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) in San Francisco to be better prepared to be useful in the case of an earthquake or other disaster, I got the bug. I went on to join the California Disaster Corp, which involved a bit more training, but I still had this nagging feeling I wanted to take it further. But I also didn’t see it as a career transition, so it seemed silly to take the time and spend the money to do it.

After over 7 years of telling myself that, I finally took the step. Part of what prompted me what that my nephew who is in college did the training, as well as becoming a volunteer fire fighter. And the daughter of close friends also did it. I decided if they can do it, I can do it. It was really just a matter of deciding it is a priority for me, and even if it makes no sense, I could make the decision to set aside time and money to do it.

I signed up for a three-week intensive course in Wilmington, North Carolina because the timing and price felt right. And I was able to get a friend to sign up with me! We stayed on the “campus” (really a stretch to call the place a campus) in cabins with no electricity of heat…just two bunkbeds, for three weeks. The classroom (doubling as kitchen, warm place, study place) was where we spent most of our time. And intense it was.

I haven’t taken so many notes since grad school, and although I’ve had a few tests over the years, the every other day tests were a little overwhelming. Our textbook was 1,581 pages. And the amount of information we took in every day was mind-boggling. Took in may be too strong a word, and the first days definitely had me wondering if I could hack it. The number of acronyms alone made my head spin: CPAP, COPD, AMI, ALS, CHF, and on and on.

After 6 straight days of classes and practice, we had a Sunday off. Off for studying and getting ready for the test on Monday morning. My friend and I did a “jail break” and went into downtown Wilmington for breakfast. Real food, not cooked in a microwave! And then we went to a cafe to study, and with the help of the Khan academy and just talking things through I finally felt like, yes, I can do this.

I got the hang of the written tests and realized I would be able to pass those if I put in the time. The practical test is what now scared me. I have done scenarios a lot of my disaster training and I know that feeling a going totally blank when you are presented with a situation. I thought I had triage down when I was first doing NERT, but the first time I entered a room in a disaster scenario it felt like I knew nothing. My mind was blank. After doing it again and again over the years, I finally got the hang of it. But this test was going to happen at the end of the course and we were learning about so many diseases and symptoms, medical and trauma, from infant to geriatric. I just had to believe that enough would sink in.

We had two 12-hour ride-alongs with paramedics. Those days were long and exhausting, but also a great window into that world. They say 80% of calls do not actually need an emergency response, really the heroic, save a life stuff you see on TV and in movies is only a tiny part of the job. I wasn’t surprised, but it was still different seeing that play out in real time. and seeing first hand how broken the health care system is in this country.

Besides all the learning…and I did actually learn a lot in the end. It just took me a little longer for things to sink in than I remember from when I was younger. But the unexpected learning from the course was being around such a diverse group of people. Not diverse racially…it was an almost entirely white class, but diverse geographically, age-wise and for lack of a better was to say it, culturally. I know I live in a bubble in San Francisco, and for the most part I like it that way. But it was also good to be in class with people who are very different from me. There were lots of gun enthusiasts. There were lots of people who had been or are still in the military. Except for myself and my friend, I’m pretty sure no one cared about recycling. But we all had this common goal, and for the most part everyone was respectful and supportive and kind. I stayed curious and heard some great stories. It became clear that everyone is trying to make life work and do the best they can.

There were a few really young people who had figuring out college wasn’t for them. There were people trying to figure out next steps after getting out of the military or finishing college. There were a few who wanted to up their skills for a current job, like the police officer from Florida. There we some older people, like us, who were thinking of a career change or just wanted the skills. It was inspiring to see all these people working hard and wanting to be helpful in the world. It was inspiring to see people out of their comfort zone, but putting their best foot forward. And it was inspiring to me personally to see that I could do it: learn, live “rustically,” be flexible, be adaptable and get it done.

It was also great to come back to a warm house, a well-stocked kitchen, a car, a washer/dryer, and all those good things. I still have the national exam to take on March 12. I don’t need to take it since it’s very unlikely I will work as an EMT, but I want to finish this process up and put a nice bow on it. And I want to let NERT and the California Disaster Corps know that I am ready with a new level of training when disaster strikes.

P.S. Our main instructor was a southerner full of character and I jotted down some of my favorite expressions he used. Here are a few:

  • “That juice is/is not worth the squeeze.”

  • “Liquor cycle”: a moped that doesn’t require a driver’s license for people who have had too many DUIs.

  • “Document the snot out of it.”

  • “Redneck root”: turning your computer off and on.

  • “Best medicine is O2 and diesel fuel”…the diesel being what drives the emergency vehicle.