As I said last week, I’m currently working offsite with several hundred people, which means that we’re required by law to have a medic in the building, Usually, it’s boring AF for the medic, and the days are long, but last Monday, we were all outside enjoying the sun at lunch when we noticed a woman holding her throat. Someone asked, “Are you OK?” but she shook her head and croaked out “Choking!” She seemed like she was in a lot of distress, but before I had the chance to Heimlich her, someone yelled, “Get the medic!” which seemed a much more efficient (albeit disappointing for me) way to go since I’ve never actually done the Heimlich manoeuvre despite being trained how. And let me tell you–I have never seen another human being move so fast. We ran into the medic room and yelled “Someone is choking outside” and the guy was out of there like The Flash. I could almost hear him thinking, “This is my moment!!”
But the whole situation reminded me of the time I got an opportunity to take a two-day first aid certification course. I’d always wanted to do this, mostly because of my fascination with the Heimlich manoeuvre, and an almost compulsive desire to perform it on someone, or at least perform it CORRECTLY. It was a course set up exclusively for my workplace, so one morning, some of us went to a nearby hotel to learn all about CPR, bandaging wounds, what to do if you’re hit by lightning, and field surgery. I think my expectations were a little high, especially around the surgery part, because we were only being certified as Level C “first aiders” and not actual medical doctors. I DID learn about being hit by lightning. If it happens, you’re probably toast and that was a terrible pun.
The instructor, Dave, was a very interesting and well-experienced former fire captain, who had some amazing stories to tell about traumatic situations and injuries, the vast majority of which seemed to have happened to his own family and friends. And himself most of all. By the second day, we’d heard all about how his wife had been in a car accident and permanently crushed her foot, his daughter had broken her femur, his grandson had almost choked to death on an Arrowroot cookie, his son came close to dying in an avalanche, and he himself had almost bled to death after being sliced open by a broken bottle during yet another car accident. I think my favourite story was how he stabbed a steak knife completely through his palm getting it out of the dishwasher. Dave was serious injury karma, and I was convinced that at least one of our group was NOT going to make it to the weekend. But we did, and here are some of the highlights of the training:
1) On each table, there were several CPR mannequins. They were just heads and torso but their mouths were wide open, and I kept picturing them lined up like some sort of bizarre (and strangely sexual) choir. We decided to name ours “Phil”. Phil was a good sport and let us merrily pound away on his chest, yelling “Come back to us, Phil! You can do it! Phil, you’re alive!! We saved Phil!!”, and high-fiving each other.
2) I realized that I had some colleagues with obvious drama backgrounds, as we had to roleplay various incidents in our groups. For our “practice exam”, my group was given the scenario that one of us was lying “supine” on the floor, having slipped and fallen down the stairs, and couldn’t feel her legs. It seemed really straightforward at first, but then the scenario said, “Suddenly she begins to vomit. What do you do?” We were given a chance to practice the scene, then we had to perform it in front of the whole class, which made me super anxious because I’m a terrible actor and get really self-conscious. Things were going quite well—we were doing everything according to the book and had just gotten her into “recovery position” when one of my colleagues got a little carried away by the drama and yelled, “Oh no—she’s stopped breathing!” We all paused and just stared at her, including our hapless victim. I was like, “WTF, JANET?! That’s NOT in our scenario! We just saved her! No more acting!” but Dave was super enthusiastic and said, “Ooh, I love it—keep going!” Personally, I was fine with letting her die and failing the course, but our group was full of over-achievers so she survived.
3) We also had to perform CPR on a baby doll. After being instructed on how to do it, we each had to get up and demonstrate what we’d learned in front of the class. The first few people tried to determine responsiveness by calling “Baby, Baby! Wake up!”, so everyone else, including me, followed suit, until one of our male colleagues got up, frantically ran to the doll, and yelled, “Samantha! Samantha! Wake up! Oh no, my baby girl is unresponsive!”, and everyone after him called the baby something different. I was like “What?! We’re allowed to NAME the baby?! Why didn’t someone tell me?!” because I had the perfect name ready. It’s “Shane”. See? It works for a boy OR a girl. Or a warehouse worker who can blaze for dayz.
Aside from all the thespian-y stuff, I DID learn some pretty cool things, like when people stop breathing, they go very pale, and their nipples lose colour. We watched a video of a man in England being revived with CPR, and Dave pointed out that “the English are a very pasty bunch even when they ARE breathing, so if you’re not sure, check their nipples”. And yes, I also learned the Heimlich manoeuvre, which came in really handy at dinner a couple of nights later, when Ken started to choke.
Me: Are you OK? Do you need the Heimlich manoeuvre?!
Ken: No—cough—I just swallowed the wrong way.
Me: Stand up! Really, I’ve got this. Prepare to be Heimliched!
Ken: No! I’m fine—do I need to show you my nipples to prove it?
As a side note, let me just say that the night before training started, as I was leaving work, my director said, “Have fun at first aid training,” and I responded with “It’s going to be great—Heimliching EVERYONE by the time it’s over, just wait!” She smiled and said, “All right then.” Yep. Say “Heimliching” out loud. Not the way to impress your boss. What WOULD have impressed her was if I had saved the choking woman, but NO, the medic had to go and do his job. But I don’t know how well-trained he was because he didn’t check her nipples.