An EMT Emerges

10/19/11 - Just about everybody in medicine, it seems, understands the importance of his or her role as a teacher. They do it with a gentle prodding, an observation that makes you laugh at yourself, a simple explanation, a cheerful demonstration of technique. Teachers have always had faith in me. They encouraged me and helped me prove to my frightened and shy self that I can do more than I dare to think I can. When I was learning about emergency medicine, Garfield Parker was a much-loved teacher in the Northumberland Public Schools, as well as being an officer and practitioner with Mid-County Rescue. He delivered my first lessonsthere. The experiences were big deals to me at the time, but Garfield knew they were baby steps and he watched over my performance with that amused and delighted expression teachers assume when they know somebody's potential is unfolding.

Blood pressure trainingGarfield first sat with me in the open rear doorway of Unit 42, the squad's somewhat grimey and well-used older of two ambulances. He handed me a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff, stuck out his arm, and told me to take his blood pressure.

He carefully walked me through putting the cuff on his arm. He showed me how to put the stethoscope's earpieces in my ears and how to hold the chest piece so my fingers wouldn't make extraneous noise. Then he told me to gently hold the chest piece in a specific spot in the crook of his arm. "What do you hear?" Garfield asked. "Nothing. No, wait. It sounds like air rushing."

Garfield then showed me how to turn a little knob on the on the part of the cuff that had a hose and a flexible bulb. "That closes the valve so the cuff can inflate," he informed me. "Turn it as far as it goes, but then stop. Don't make it too tight. You have to turn it the other way later on to let the air out." I turned the knob.

"Now squeeze the bulb several times and listen through the stethoscope." I did that. "What do you hear?" Garfield asked. "Nothing. What am I supposed to hear?" I asked. "Pulses," he said, "like heartbeats."

"Let the air out of the cuff now," he said, and try it again." I did. "Do you hear anything now?" he asked. "No," I replied. "Try again," Garfield ordered. I did. Still nothing. Garfield said, "I can't believe you can't hear those pulses. I can feel them in my arm. Try it again and listen carefully." I did. "There!" Garfield exclaimed "the pulses have started!" I still couldn't hear anything. Garfield said his hand was turning blue and he'd had enough. "You'll get it eventually," he said. "Take the cuff and stethoscope home with you. Practice on Ted and all your friends."

bp kitMy efforts with Ted and my friends went on for weeks. "Oh God," Alicia said. "Here she comes with that blood pressure cuff again." In spite of her complaints, Garfield was right, though. Eventually I did get it.