Saturday, July 10, 2010

Report From Ladder Company 40. And now for news you've been waiting for... Oh, WAIT!

Hi Team!!

Wow, It's been a while again since I posted and I have so much catching up to do!  I am sorry I didn't keep up because of course the longer I procrastinate, the fewer details I can remember.  (That might be a good thing.  As my Coach says, "I have a lot of words and I'm not afraid to use 'em!")  I'll give you what I can.  Grab yourself a cup of coffe or a Mountain Dew or what ever your particular brand of poison is and a snack.  This is another long one!

So,  the week of June 6-12, 2010  (Days 258-264) was definately significant!

I spent the early part of the week studying like crazy.  This was finals week!  Every day I would begin at 04:30.  I would get up, get ready for work and out the door by 5:20 then head across town to pick up my co-worker.  I always get to her house early and I bring my EMT study aids with me everywhere I go.  Now I love Katie, but she isn't always ready when I'd like her to be and it varies as to what time she actually comes out the door, which is why I arrive as early as I do.  Given my drothers (or is it spelled "druthers"?)  I would show up at work much earlier than I do!  Anyway, since I always have to wait I spend the time reading.  And usually it was the EMT manual I would read.

The last few weeks of class had gone by in a whirlwind covering about twice as much material a week as the first 7 weeks so I had a lot of information floating around in my head.  Unfortunately, having to read twice as much wasn't helping me to retain that information as well as I would have liked.  That is why I began reading the chapters a second time.  For those of you who have never looked at the Brady EMT-Basic coursebook, it is big, heavy, awkward and very dry reading!  Because I have sleep disorders, and because of the hours I kept between school and work, I found it very difficult to keep my eyes open while reading which was very frustrating.  It only served to increase my anxiety about passing the class.  That may seem silly since at mid term, I had an A in the class, but I was really stressing it.

I had already failed two size ups by Chief McC., as far as I was concerned during the quarter.   Chief McC was the secondary instructor for my class, Chief L, the Lead.  I found Chief McC. to be much more demanding of us and much more intimidating.  On the first day that Chief McC. was teaching, I was the first student to class and was waiting outside the door when he arrived to unlock it.  I introduced myself, bravely (remember, I am shy!).  He had a booming voice and very direct manner about him.  As we entered the classroom he said to me, "So what am I teaching today?"  I was surprised he would ask me that and it escaped me that he was sizing me up at the moment.  I had read the required chapters.  I had completed the corresponding sections of the workbook.  I was prepared for class.  But, could I answer him?  Not on my life.  I had to look at the syllabus to answer him.  Of course, he knew full well what he was teaching that day.  He only wanted to know if I knew and if I was prepared.  I had prepared but nervousness caused me to fail the size up.  Still, I was so nervous I didn't even realize what had just happened.  It wasn't until later in class that day, that he happened to mention to the class his little test of "a student".  At least he didn't out me!  I still felt about half an inch tall.    The second time I failed his size up of me was only a week or two later.  We were talking about oxygen, when and how to use it, safe handling, etc.  He demonstrated how to set it up and talked about minimum safe psi, etc.  Then he set the cylinder in front of me on my table (I sat in the front row) and asked me to read the gauge.  Besides the fact that he put me on the spot and I was shy and nervous, he held it in a position that was difficult for me to read it due to a) the glare of the flourescent lights on the face of the gauge and b) I was just far enough away from it that I could not read it well through either the upper or lower portion of my bifocals!  (did I mention I am an old bat?).  As I struggled to read it, Chief McC. demanded of me loudly, "What's the matter?  Can't you read it?"  I actually took my glasses off and squinted at it to read it and finally read it out, but the damage had already been done.  Fail number 2! 

Now, as it happened, I discovered that Chief McC. inspired me more, demanded more of me and I learned a lot more from him with his demanding teaching style than from Chief L.  In fact I really admired Chief McC. and longed to be a fly on his shoulder for the next year just so I could soak up every piece of wisdom and information he spewed, like I was a large empty sponge!  However, this did not make him any less intimidating to me.  I would never have admitted it though.  I did my best to anticipate what would be asked of me in class, to answer questions, etc especially when he was instructing.  But Chief McC. still didn't make it easy.  He never let us blurt out answers to questions or raise our hands like school aged children.  He would ask questions and only if he specifically called on us would we be allowed, and EXPECTED to answer, correctly.  That meant we had to pay close attention!  It was a great technique in that we DID pay attention and we DID learn.  It was not a good self-confidence builder.  In fact I was so afraid to let the Chief down again that I prayed he didn't call on me.

What I am getting at with all this long winded reminiscing is that by finals week I was pretty frazzled and not feeling as confident as I would have liked! (Read: inwardly freaking out!!)  But like any emergency, I presented as calm, cool and collected, did what I had to do and then fell apart later, when nobody was around to witness it.  Like in my car all the way home. "OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I'm such a maniac!!!!"   (That was pretty common conversation between me and the fly on MY shoulder!)  And for that reason, I was not at all confident that I would pass.

Chief McC. had talked to us quite a bit about the National Registry exam.  He talked about the kinds questions that would be on it.  He also told us that only 68% of applicants pass it.  And that in Washington state the percentage was only slightly higher than the national average at 69%.  That didn't instill much confidence either.  It DID instill a determination to work hard, however.  Chief McC. was the instuctor who wrote the exams for our class.  So I KNEW that although Chief L. administered the exams and inputted the scores in the computer, Chief McC. was bound to look them over and see how we did.  I have always been an over achiever so it was especially important to me to do well on his exams.  And although I got solid grades, I never scored as high as I would have preferred to have.  This final written exam was expected and touted to be the hardest of the class.  It made sense.  It was to cover a lot of new material as well as be a comprehensive exam of everything we had learned prior.  In addtion, the first  three exams we could go over and debate our answers if we got them wrong.  If we presented a reasonable arguement with sound medical reasoning, he would sometimes allow us a point back but we could never get the question wrong again if it came up on a subsequent test, and those questions almost always DID come back again.   We were not able to do that on the final.  The only way that a point could be given for a wrong answer on the final was if a) a majority of the class missed the question and b) if the majority of those who missed it marked the same wrong answer and c) if Chief L. reviewed that information and felt it reasonable that we would choose the answer we did.  If so, he would give everyone the point for that question and mark that question for re-write for future quarters.  Did I mention I was very apprehensive about this exam?

To make matters worse, I had totally misunderstood what was going to happen this week.  We had four comprehensive practicals to take as part of finals and we also had three or four practical skill sheets to complete yet for the class.  The way I thought I understood it was that those practical skills sheets would be checked off as part of the comprehensive practical finals.  So I thought wednesday the ninth was only going to be the written final.  Although I was sweating it some, the written exams never scare me as much as the practicals so I was doing okay, until announcements at the beginning of class where I learned I would have to perform the practicals as well that evening.

Amazingly, I pulled myself together and began the written exam, wishing I had been first to step out for the practical skills tests.  Everytime a student would return from the practicals to continue their written exam, I tried to be the first to jump up to take their place.  Although I jumped faster than most, I was also seated in the middle of a row and could not get out as fast as most.  It took me half of the class period before I finally got to be the one to go.  I was about 3/4 of the way through the written exam at that point.  I aced the practicals!  Now I felt much better and more confident.  I returned to the classroom and to my written exam and finished it.  I then went back over each question slowly to make sure that I had read each question right and marked the best possible answer.  A passing score was a minimum of 80.  Looking over the 100 questions I discovered that there were exactly 20 that I wasn't sure of the answers to!  Talk about sweating bullets... AGAIN!  I read each question a third time and reviewd my answers.  I changed a few.  I knew as I did that that usually the first answer you choose is correct but there were a couple I just didn't feel right about so I changed them.  Finally I turned in my test.  Only being sure of 80 was cutting it pretty close to the mark!Now I had an hour to wait before they would be graded and passed back to review.  I am not a good waiter.

Finally we got the scores.  The average score was 78, failure!  I got 86!  I was ecstatic.  Especially as I saw the scores of my team mates and others around me.  Anyone who passed was ecstatic and most shared their scores, even when they were barely passing.  A few shared scores just under the mark and I felt badly for them.  It was a hard freaking test.  Much harder than the three prior to it.  And now they could not debate the answers.  When I thought about my score compared to the average, I knew many had not passed.  Chief L. looked grim as he began to analyze which questions were missed by how many students.  Then he sat down and began going over them.  By the end of that, my score was a 90!  And many more students had passed the exam!  The rest, if they had not already failed and retaken one exam in the class, were given the opportunity to re-take the exam before the next day's practical finals.  They would still retain the same score on the books, but if they passed the second time they would be allowed to take the practical finals.  Otherwise, they were washed out.  One of those students was one of my teammates. 

It was great how the class rallied around each other.  For each student who had initially failed the final exam, there were several gathered around him or her offering encouragement and offering to help them study that night even though it was already 22:00.  I am sure I am not the only one who offered up heartfelt silent prayers on behalf of those needing to re-test.

I went home feeling both elated and stressed.  Stressed not only about the comprehensive practicals but about my classmates who had become almost like family in many ways.  I wanted everyone to pass.  That night at home I could not sleep to save my life!  It was nearly three in the morning before I slept and at 04:30 it started all over again.

On thursday, after my morning shift, I wanted to study, though I could not keep my eyes open.  On top of that, we had turned our skills sheets in the night before so there was nothing to look at to prepare for the practical finals.  I somehow drove home from my shift without falling asleep behind the wheel and wanted to crawl into my bed and die for a few hours.  But I was still so anxious about the practicals.  I sat on my living room floor and visualized a make-believe patient.  I did a scene size up, initial assessment, rapid trauma assessment, detailted physical exam and ongoing exam on my imaginary patient.  I had no idea if I'd left anything out because I had no one around to evaluate me.  And I had no check off sheet to refer to.  I finally gave up and gave in to sleep.  It was the best thing I could have ever done for myself.

I woke up just before I had to leave for work, thanks to my handy dandy cell phone alarm.  Groggily I headed out the door, and prayed all the way to work.  I prayed for clarity of mind, for good recall, that God would help me remain calm and relaxed and help me to perform to the very best of my abilities, the way I had been trained.  I prayed for my team that we would all communicate effectively and work well together.  I prayed we would have each other's backs and if one of us missed something when we were the lead that the rest of the team would effectively cover and make sure we did everything right.  Then I went to work and tried not to think about it.

At work I explained to the kids that I would be leaving extra early as this was the day of my final testing for EMT school.  My 36 k-4th graders thrilled me to no end when they began chanting, "YOU CAN DO IT!" over and over.  THEY had my back!  I was moved almost to tears.  When the time came for me to head to school, a whole herd of children about knocked me down in their excitement to hug me goodbye and wish me well.   I knew I had been hugged by God.

When I got to class the first thing I did was inquire of my teammate if he had completed the re-take of the final.  He beamed at me.  He had taken and passed it.  Praise God!  Next I checked on a few others of my classmates that had been in the same boat.  Smiles all around.  Whew!!! 

The way the practical finals were done is that each team would go to four different stations throughout the evening.  There was major medical, minor medical, major trauma and minor trauma.  In class the students had asked which one the instructors thought was the most challenging.  Chief McC. told them major medical, hands down.  He said he'd put his sharpest cookie on lead for that one if it were him.  He also told them that as lead, he'd put his sharpest cookie on c-spine at a scene.  Guess who my team elected for both positions.  No pressure!  One thing I knew, I had come too far and overcome too many obstacles to get there to fail now.  Even though my team was made up of me, a  Protestant Christian; one Catholic and two Buddhists, I asked my team if they would mind if I led them in prayer.  To my pleasant surprise, they allowed me to do so.  If nothing else, it put me at ease a little.  Suddenly I went into emergency mode:  Calm on the outside, encouraging, cheerleading and all CAN DO attitude. 

Chief L. assigned one team to each station leaving four teams in waiting.  Did I mention I am not a good waiter?  Our team is team G, affectionately called, "The Gangstas".  I don't really remember which order that we were assigned to the practicals only that Major Medical was last.  Great.  I had to WAIT for my most important role.  I HATE waiting.  It makes me nervous.  "SUCK IT UP!" I was screaming at myself inside.  I started at one point to get dizzy and lightheaded and then realized I had forgotten to pack food for class that night.  I had last eaten at work, around 15:15.  It was 20:00 or so by this time.  I went in search of a fix.  I found the vending machine and bought a $50.00 20 ounce bottle of orange juice.  (okay, so I exaggerated a little, but not much!)  I went to my car and found yesterday's string cheese unopened on the passenger seat.  I looked at it much with the same disdain that Sam looked at the green eggs and ham but it was protein.  I knew it would make me feel better so I gobbled it down.  Then I went back inside.  Finally my turn came around to lead and we finished Major Medical.  We were the LAST team to test.  We helped clean up the station and returned to our classroom.  Over the next twenty minutes the last group in each of the other stations trickled in carrying equipment.  Now we had to wait again! 

I forgot to mention that for the practical finals, we were not told how we did at the end of each station.  Our instructors told us that we would be given a short debriefing when everything was done to discuss what we did well, what we needed to improve on and weather we passed or not.  If we didn't we had to come back and re-test one more time the next day.  They felt this was in the best interest of the teams because if we didn't pass one section, the team lead for that section would be a basket case for the remaining stations.  Good logic.  Not so easy to live with though.  As we waited, (I especially,  not so patiently,) Chief McC. callled one group at a time into the "cry room" as he called it.   For the most part he called our groups in alphabetical order..  A, B, C, o wait, C is out of the room, D, E, F, H.

"H???"  What the hell?  WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE NEXT!  DOH!  Wait some MORE?  Crap!  Does this mean we failed?  Finally as I panicked in my head (but stayed cool on the outside, mostly), he came out of the cry room to call the next group.  "This is it," I thought, dreading it by now.  "C!" 

CRAP!  I had forgotten that C had been passed over.  "I GET IT LORD, BE PATIENT!   I GET IT!!!"
I didn't like it though.  "I trust you," I said to God, more to convince myself than Him.  I WANTED to trust Him, did that count?

Finally Chief McC. called us.  With fear in my heart I stepped into the cry room with my team.  At first we all held hands for just a moment, then we dropped hands and faced the Chief like what he had to say to us next was going to determine how we would spend the rest of our lives.  It certainly FELT that dramatic to us.

First he said to us that he knew this class was one hard freaking class.  He said it was meant to be.  He said this was not a job for just everybody no matter how badly they thought they wanted it.  He went on to tell us how worried he had been when he saw that the four of us had teamed up.  He said he couldn't have picked four different personalities to try and become a team.  He told us he knew it would be a great challenge for us from the start.  "That said," he said.  "Let's talk about how you did tonight."  Did that sound doomy and gloomy to you?  It sure did to me. 

He started with Minor Medical.  He gave us feedback and we made some mistakes, but overall, he said we did very well.  He told our Minor Medical team leader he had done a good job.  He congratulated him and said, "YOU PASSED!"   I figured Major Medical would be next and braced myself for whatever was to come.  "Minor Trauma," said the Chief.  He again gave us his evaluation and told the team leader, "Congratulations! You passed!"  I think I am going to be ill.  Surely now it is my turn.  "Major Trauma," Said Chief McC.  More of the same, positive and negative feedback followed by congratulations.  By now I am fighting tears.  But I don't know  if they are tears of frustration or stress or just what.  I just know that they are building up behind the dam and the dam is about to break.  Finally the Chief looks at me.  "AND YOU!" he booms.  I tried not to shudder.  Then he smiled.  "You did an amazing job!"  He proceeded to tell us what went well with Major Medical.  He never mentioned our shortfalls though I knew there were some.  One was critical.  I never said "Scene is safe!"  I remember looking and thinking it but I never said it.  But my partner had my back and he had looked at me and said, "the Scene is Safe!  I checked it out!"  Scene safety is a critical failpoint but Ian had saved my ass!  I know I saved his too in his scenario but I hadn't given it  a second thought.  I was just grateful he saved mine.  "Congratulations!  You passed!"   The dam broke and I bawled like a baby.  Chief gave me a big hug and asked if I was going to be okay.  He said he wasn't sure anyone here was trained well enough if I went down.  We laughed.  It took a few minutes but I finally pulled myself together.  My team and the Chief and I were all hugging.  Then Chief McC. addressed us again.  "I want you to know," he said.  And he proceeded to tell us that he felt we had been the most improved students in the class.  He said that he knew we wanted it more than anyone else there.  He also said that we pulled it together because we were able to put aside our differences and focus on the job.  He told us that is what fire departments are looking for.  It's what ambulance companies need.  It would serve us well and if we ever found our way there, he'd be proud to have us on his department.   That was the biggest compliment and pat on the back I could ever have gotten.  I had impressed the Chief.  My TEAM had impressed the Chief. 

After that, everybody packed up and either went out to party or went home.  I had to be up at 04:30 and it was 21:00.  I didn't care.  I went out to have a beer with the team.  Chief McC. promised he'd join us.  Chief L had to take his son home.  His son was a minor and had been one of our patients for the day.  I was sorry Chief L couldn't celebrate with us but I was so glad we WERE celebrating.  The Chief didn't show up until a good half hour after the rest of the class.  He came to me first and put his arm around me on the barstool.

"How are you doing?  Are you okay now?" he asked. 

"Never better.  Sorry I fell apart back there."  I explained that I always keep my cool until it's over.  And that I just couldn't help myself because I have wanted this SO badly for SO long.  He said, "I never would have guessed that!" and smiled.  Then he added, "I'm proud of you."

I have no doubt the Chief made me wait on purpose that day.  I am honored to have trained under him.  I learned a lot.  I told hm at the party that I wished I could be a fly on his shoulder for a year.  He laughed because he works for a very small department.  He said, "You'd only run three calls!"  I love that man.  I'll never forget him.  I hope I will see him in the field.

I cried all the way home that night.  Tears of relief and joy and gladness.  Tears of excitement and wonder about what is to come.  Tears of amazement that I am that much closer to finally living my childhood dream.  And even now as I write about it, I feel raw and exposed, but good.  And tears still come with the amazement that I have made it this far.

Photobucket   Photobucket
(sorry, I blanked out some information for privacy reasons)
Thanks Team for believing in me.  Every time I was down, one or more of you would say something or write something that lifted me up and renewed my confidence just enough to keep going.  I don't deserve all the attention I have gotten over this, but it sure has been a blessing.  I hope now I can live up to the expectations you all must have of me.  I want to be the best EMT I can be. 

Now, I am preparing for the National Registry Exam.  That's the next step.  WHEN I pass it, I have to find a sponsoring agency to hire me.  For those of you who offer prayers on my behalf, I am hoping for Rural Metro.  The exam is on the 16th of July, at 09:00.

And now, it's back to the books!

Until next post, stay safe!  And thanks for all of your support.  I am SO grateful.

Hotflash out.