Monday, October 15, 2007

Responding to an emergency - there's more to it than clearing the airway or stopping bleeding

I’m now more than halfway through my CERT training. My previous posts: here, here, and here.

Our focus last Thursday evening was on “Disaster Medical Operations,” which included head-to-toe assessments. I’ve “borrowed” the following video from the Petaluma Neighborhood Emergency Response Team since my camcorder didn’t record properly:

My team member for head-to-assessment was Laura (photo).
While I played the victim, I noticed that Laura not only splinted my broken elbow but also talked to me soothlingly, reassuring me that everything was going to be okay. When she played victim with a broken leg, I noticed that I would say things like, “Oh, no, your leg bone is sticking out through your skin,” not exactly calming.

The important lesson that I learned during this session is that assisting in a disaster means more than opening an airway, stopping bleeding, or treating for shock. It’s crucial that the words we use show that we are calm and that things are under control. Thank you, Laura!

At the end of our session, a young fireman, Jason Boaz, came into the room. (photo).
We started talking and I learned that his sister, Dr. Cynthia Boaz, a professor at the State University of New York at Brockport, was writing articles about the current turmoil in Burma and other subjects. Jason handed me an article his sister had just sent him, Some Thoughts About the True Miracle in The Andes, now published at

As I read the article that evening, I thought, “How timely!” It was about a plane crash in the Andes 35 years ago last Saturday and how Nando Parrado, was able to save 15 other survivors against incredible odds. How did he do it? He brought his spirit to the task of saving lives by walking out for help in street clothes at elevations as high as 17,000 feet in subzero weather for 11 days.

At one point, Nando thought death was inevitable, but he chose to keep walking. Dr. Boaz ends her article with, “Although he didn’t know it at the time, in choosing to continue walking, Nando not only saved his own life and those of 15 other men, but he pulled all of us one step further down the road of human evolution.”

I expect to be in Nando’s shoes, but I know that reading about his courage in the face of such incredible odds adds to my determination not to limit my response in an emergency to a mechanical approach based on a checklist but to bring my courage to the task as well. Thank you, Jason and Cynthia!

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