How to Save a Life
When I envision fulfillment, the image of donning a white coat and guiding people through the toughest times of their lives immediately crystallizes in my mind. This summer, I took steps towards realizing that vision by completing a Denver Health EMT course. For 10 weeks, my daily life was split straight down the middle; viral research during the day transformed into learning about pathophysiology and taking histories at night, which inadvertently exposed me to the clinical and research-based aspects of medicine simultaneously. To my elation, this grueling routine further fueled my desire to become a physician and help others live happier, more fulfilling lives.
While my training did consist of the traditional didactics a student experiences in other college-level courses, the “skills” nights and clinical rotations set it apart from anything else I had taken before. In addition to learning about vital signs, multiple casualty incident triage, and how to safely deliver a baby in the field from a plethora of expert instructors, we practiced how to assess and interview patients who were confused, in pain, or otherwise completely unresponsive. By the end of the course, we could confidently enter a room and take the preliminary steps to treat a heart attack within 10 minutes. While we needed to know the skills to pass the practical portion of the NREMT exam, I knew that this knowledge would also be invaluable both when I worked as an EMT and as a medical student.
There are plenty of EMT courses offered around the state, but none offered such a visceral glimpse into the life of a pre-hospital care professional like Denver Health. By riding along with some of the best paramedics in the business and rotating at a Level 1 trauma center, I was exposed to both the best and worst experiences healthcare has to offer. During the former shift, I vividly remember the adrenaline rush that washed over my body as we turned on the lights and sirens to save a 100-year old lady who had fallen; while I was practically having a panic attack in the captain’s chair, the medics were coolly donning gloves and formulating a plan of action. To my surprise, I became involved in every call of the 10-hour shift. Whether it was spiking an IV bag, taking a blood pressure, or gathering the equipment that was appropriate for our specific mechanism of injury, the hands-on nature of my ride-along made what I was learning in the Rita Bass Auditorium real. Unfortunately, I also learned that the life of a medic is not as glamorous as the TV shows and movies portray it as; in short, we had our fair share of hostile encounters and sad prognoses. The calls made realize that sometimes people don’t want your help, even if they need it, and in other cases it is simply too late to save a life. Despite the sobering nature of my ride-along, it did nothing to deter me from wanting to become someone who takes such challenges head on to give others the best quality of life as possible.
The day after I was wheeling in patients to the Denver Health E.D., I found myself on the other side of the fence experiencing what it was like to be an E.R. technician. These men and women were masters at finding veins for IVs and controlling high-stress situations. This time, instead of maneuvering to set up a 12 lead ECG in the back of a bouncing box on wheels, I was constantly popping in to patient rooms to practice taking vital signs and histories. The ebbs and flows of intoxicated and otherwise only slightly injured patients were punctuated by a gang related stabbing and flight for life delivery, both of which I observed from beginning to end. With regards to the former incident, I saw the 15-person trauma response team effortlessly stabilize the teenager and prep him for surgery. I then immediately went upstairs to meet the helicopter and take the patient, who was still covered in dirt, grime, and blood from the rollover accident, down to imaging to get a series of MRI scans. In both cases, the outcomes were favorable; despite the severity of their injuries, they survived long enough to enter the operating room. These miracles were the result of teamwork, as no one doctor, nurse, or technician could do it alone. Upon reflecting on my shift, I realized that a collaborative environment such as that of which I observed in the Denver Health E.D. is one of the many reasons I want to go in to medicine.
This EMT course served as both a stepping stone and a window from which I could peer into my future. In short, without the support of a PLP Passport Fund, I would have been unable to pursue such a rigorous and rewarding training. Ten weeks of instruction, observation, and practice have provided me with the confidence and ability to save someone’s life, and I intend to use the knowledge to directly improve the lives of the DU community by becoming an EMT for Stadium Medical during the school year. Whether it is splinting the ankle of a DU lacrosse player or watching over students at concerts, PLP and its donors have empowered me to make the world a better place. Thank you for investing in my future; this experience will undoubtedly be a key contributor to my success in improving the wellbeing of those around me.
Post written by: Austin Johnson
This project was made possible through the awarding of a Passport Grant made possible by the generous contributions of PLP Alumni and Friends. Thank you to all who empower PLPers to do amazing things!