“Medic One from dispatch. Need you en route to 305 Booker Street. Going to be in the lobby. Female having difficulty breathing.”
That succinct radio call sent emergency medical technicians Ethan Rhodes, Elizabeth Balladarez and Michael Balencia to the lobby of Texas State Technical College in Brownwood, steering a wheeled stretcher topped with bags of medical equipment as they walked.
The EMTs quickly found their patient — Stephanie Young, who instructs in the college’s Emergency Medical Services program. Young sat at a table, clearly in distress.
“When did this start?” Rhodes asked Young as the EMTs gathered around her, pulling out equipment and beginning an assessment.
In her office at TSTC a few days earlier, Young explained the workings of the EMS program, which began in the fall of 2016 at the Brownwood campus.
Rhodes, Balladerez and Balencia are among 15 students who are enrolled in the EMT Basic class that Young teaches. An EMT Intermediate class will be taught in the spring semester, and the hope is to have an EMT Paramedic program beginning in 2020.
Young, who previously worked at Lifeguard Ambulance, was hired by TSTC to start the EMS program on the Brownwood campus.
“We had an EMT program in the past, but it went away for awhile,” young said. “We brought it back in 2016.”
TSTC staff including Young have portrayed patients in simulated calls, giving the EMT students the chance to practice skills including radio communication — using small hand-held radios that broadcast on a frequency that’s not heard by anyone else — as well as communicating with the patient and assessing and treating the patient.
Young also sometimes uses rescue dummies that are bloodied up with makeup moulage to simulate non-responsive trauma victims.
“I was sitting here working onmy laptop for school, and it just hit me,” Young told the EMTs as they questioned her in the TSTC lobby. The matter-of-fact voice she uses in the classroom was filled with anxiety.
“The weather has been acting up lately, making it hard to breathe.”
“Is there anything wrong? Is this normal?” Rhodes asked Young as he prepared to use a stethoscope to listen to her breathing.
“I have asthma,” Young replied. “Some days are worse than others. Today’s been bad. I left my hand-held nebulizer at home.”
In her office, Young explained the differences between the Basic, Intermediate and Paramedic levels of an EMT.
• Basic — “a lot of what they do is provide support in the back of the ambulance for the paramedic,” Young said. “So they do things like administer oxygen. They can also do CPR, analyze an (automated external defibrillator), those types of (basic life support) things. They might get IV equipment ready for the paramedic to start an IV,”
An EMT Basic can also give a limited amount of medication, Young said.
• Advanced — takes on additional duties including giving an increased amount of medication and start IVs.
• Paramedic — “It’s amazing, in today’s age, what a paramedic can do,” Young said. “They can do 12-leads (EKGs) in the back of a truck and know if someone’s having a heart attack and where they’re having a heart attack at. They can give an enormous amount of medication. They can perform needle decompressions to the chest. They can do intubations, IVs — drugs are endless.”
“Is oxygen helping?” Rhodes asked the role-playing Young.
“It’s helping a little,” Young replied.
“We’re going to get you some Albuterol,” Rhodes told the simulated patient.
Balencia transmitted information over his hand-held radio. “We have a 30-year-old female …”
At the receiving end of the transmission was Tim Scalley, a flight medic for Air Evac Lifeteam who helps Young with the class. Scalley, standing a few feet away from the student EMTs, had played the role of the dispatcher when Young’s medical “emergency” had started.
“More times than not, I use someone in the building to be a patient, so all of the staff here are used to being patients for us,” Young said.
In an earlier simulated call, Young portrayed a domestic assault victim. “I pretended like I’d been beaten,” Young said.
The role-playing included an angry husband who came at the EMTs with a baseball bat.
“Once the scene was safe, they came back,” Young said. “They had to learn to communicate with me and calm me down, because I was crying and scared. We made it to where furniture was turned over and so we try to make it as real as possible.”
Young the “patient” told the EMTs she wanted to go to the emergency room to get check out. The EMTs strapped her onto the stretcher and began to wheel her away.
“Oh, my laptop, my laptop …” Young called out.
The EMTs retrieved her laptop and carried it with them. The EMTs also assured Young they would contact the school where Young’s children attend and make sure arrangements were made for picking them up after school.
“One of the hardest things for (students) when they come into EMT Basic is communication, talking to people,” Young said. “They’re shy at first. It’s really hard for them to go up to a patient or even touch patients, because they’re like ‘I don’t want to invade your space.’
“It’s not about invading someone’s space. It’s about helping somebody. They have to get past that.”
The ambulance simulator has helped with that challenge, Young said. “It puts them in the back of the truck with them, having to talk while they’re en route to the hospital, and so they’re having to learn to engage in conversation. They can’t just go sit in the truck and not do anything.”
“I’m nervous that you’re going to drop me,” Young said as the EMTs prepared to load the stretcher with her on it into the back of the ambulance simulator.
“We’re not going to drop you,” Rhodes assured her. “We do this all the time.”
Minutes later, in the back of the ambulance simulator, Rhodes told Young, “We’re just going to keep an eye on your oxygen, keep you on the breathing treatment.”
After the simulated call ended, Young asked the students to assess their own performance and asked if there was anything they could have done better. She congratulated them for doing a good job.
The students said Young had thrown them off when she started talking about getting someone to pick up her children at school.
“I wanted to throw you off, because that happens,” she said.