As an entrepreneur, my weekends are rarely weekends like they are for Monday-to-Friday office workers. I often work on weekends, and actually, I think I’ve only had one full day off since the last week of October, but that’s beside the point. This weekend, I had a lot of fun and hard work over at the Fire Hall!
Perhaps at this point, I had better add **WARNING: GRAPHIC MATERIAL — NOT FOR SQUEAMISH PEOPLE OR THOSE WITH A WEAK STOMACH!**
I signed up to take an EMR course, and this Fri-Sat-Sun was our first full weekend of training. EMR stands for Emergency Medical Responder, for those who don’t know, and it’s normally about 80 hours of classroom time, with lots of scenarios to practice too. Tuesday evening was our first class, and it went well; after Friday’s class, though, I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed! An EMR friend of mine said that an EMR is more-or-less a “really good first-aider,” but I think he under-played it! We have to learn quite a bit of anatomy and diagnostics — or at least, how to figure out what might be happening to the patient. I’m surprised at some of the examples our instructors are giving us — the things they can figure out, on the scene of an accident or if someone is gravely ill, with very little diagnostic equipment or tools — perhaps just a stethoscope and a blood glucose meter. The rest is done by feel, by looking, by listening and asking questions (if the patient is conscious).
I’ve got to tell you — I enjoy helping people and stretching myself, but this is taking it to a whole new level! If you know me, you know I’m not afraid to try new things, get outside my comfort zone (what comfort zone?!? :)) and “get my hands dirty.” But this is people’s blood! Yikes. We watched a video to learn about anatomy, and the doctor hosting it was just digging around inside the cadaver, to show us this organ or that artery. “Way under here… is the spleen!” It was crazy! She was so comfortable with it, I was just overwhelmed. The blood and body parts were not a problem; it was just overwhelming what we needed to know, and that we might be the ones diagnosing these problems on a scene. Obviously, a doctor at the hospital would make his or her own conclusion too, but we would make our observations, act on them, and pass them on to the docs.
Don’t get me wrong; EMRs are very limited in what we can actually do. We don’t start IVs or give medications (except ASA or oral glucose), but we do insert airway tubes, administer oxygen, and take blood pressures, for example. That’s a lot more than a first aider just feeling for broken bones or doing basic CPR! EMRs work on ambulances and provide basic life support. Sometimes, they work with an EMT or Paramedic, and as such, there are a whole bunch of medical terms we have to know. In most places (cities), they would do a minimum on scene and then transport the person as quickly as possible to an ER (Emergency Room), but out here, we have over 400 km of highway to cover, and as such, transport times can be very long and we might end up doing several reassessments and treatments to keep the person going until we get to the hospital. There are even bone fractures that a patient here might not survive, simply because of the transport time and capability of our hospital. We have an operating room, but there are only some procedures our doctors can do, and they aren’t fancy emerg surgeons! When there’s a procedure they can’t do, the patient must be flown out via medevac to Grande Prairie (about 45 minutes by air, and they can’t do every surgery either) or Edmonton (about 1 and a half hours away). I am learning more about the health care system than I ever thought I’d know.
One crazy thing I’ve heard lately is that the Alberta government is handing the emergency medical care in High Level over to a private company, rather than take care of it themselves. It seems a little weird, since such an arrangement costs more, and has less-integrated and less-professional care. I might be writing a strongly-worded letter about this little bit of strangeness! Why should us northerners have less-professional EMRs and EMTs responding to calls, and they’re using less-modern equipment!
Soon the fire department will be helping out though, by officially being part of a Medical Co-response system that allows us to go to medical calls when the ambulances are busy or if there are multiple patients. That’s why a bunch of us volunteer fire fighters are taking this EMR course, put on especially for us by Alberta Health. We have medic-bags on most of our fire trucks, so we can do quite a bit once we know how!
Suffice it to say, I’m learning lots in this course, feeling a bit overwhelmed, but I think I will enjoy it and I know I will be able to help a LOT more as an EMR than as a first aider. Oh, did I mention, we had to cut class short yesterday due to a call-out to a bad MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident)? Yes, my day was 5 hours of class, 3 hours on the call, and then a workout. But man, I slept awesome!
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