Every term, the Campus Response Team (the highly trained students who rush to your aid and try to stop you from dying until paramedics arrive) does a training session. And when I say "training", I actually mean a fast-paced contest where teams of responders pit themselves against the most complicated and difficult medical situationals ("sits", for short) that the judges can imagine. For this, they need a team of volunteers to play the victims.
When I heard that we'd have to wear old clothing because we might get covered in fake blood, my hand shot up so fast it practically bounced off the ceiling.
Despite volunteering for the sit that was sold as "seriously, don't volunteer for this one if you don't want to be in a lot of makeup", I ended up as a corpse. This was was less awesome of a role than I might have had, given that I mostly just lay there, and I wasn't even all bloody. BUT I did get some seriously wicked corpse-pale makeup, with creepy tinges of blue cyanosis around my lips, eyelids, and ears. This was definitely among the milder get-ups. When all the victims got back together for lunch, we looked like a particularly inventive hallowe'en party.
The victims from the bear-attack scenario, in particular, were so awesomely gruesome they were hard to keep your eyes off! The person organizing that sit(uational) went all out; she actually created a fairly convincing evisceration for her one actor our of corn starch, gelatin powder, and red-and-blue food dye. It was so good that one of the responders almost puked when he pulled up the guy's shirt and unexpectedly encountered what appeared to be the guy's intestines making a bid for freedom. None of my fellow victims were grossed out, so near as I can tell. We were kind of a self-selecting group; you don't really volunteer for CRT training unless you're pretty keen on grease paint and special effects makeup.
(That, or really keen on ACTUAL horrifying injuries, eg my friend Doc and his ilk, bless their hearts. He was competing, and just before he came in for his sit, the judges spent a few moments fanboying over how awesome a responder he is, and how much they were looking forward the watching him work. It was excellent.)
The sit I was part of was one of the two mass-cas (pronounced more like mass-caj, because "cas" is short for "casualty" and English is weird like that) scenarios. The other one was outside, and was a car crash; mine was indoors, and simulated the crash of an Ornge Helicopter. ("Ornge" being the company that does helicopter medevacs in Ontario.) Mass-cas means that by definition there are more victims than responders; in this case, five victims and one bystander, and only two poor suckers trying to treat us all.
The pilot was trapped under a piece of helicopter debris (eg a table with a printout of a helicopter control panel taped to it), had probable spinal damage, was barely conscious, and was bleeding heavily from his abdomen. The co-pilot had chemical burns on his face and arms, and was running around panicking and screaming about how they had to help the pilot because there was fuel everywhere and we were all going to die, and generally just getting in everyone's way. One guy, presumed to have been a patient that the helicopter was transporting, was lying on his back in the middle of the room, done in "raccoon eyes" makeup that indicated to the savvy responder that he had a probable spinal injury; further investigation would reveal that he was conscious but a bit out of it, could neither feel nor move his feet, and had a pretty wicked gash snaking across his shin. The medevac doctor had an awesome-looking hunk of glass embedded in her upper arm but was otherwise okay (and would even help out the responders if they were smart enough to ask whether she had first aid training). She got bloodier and bloodier after each run-through, as she was bandaged and un-bandaged and the corn-syrup blood smeared got smeared all over the place. And finally, our bystander was absolutely fine except for the way she kept screaming and trying to pull the pilot out of the wreckage. Sometimes she ended up classed as a green-level "walking wounded", just because she was so thoroughly in the thick of it that people assumed she must have been in the crash.
Yours truly was the second medevac patient, and as a corpse my job was to lie in the corner in a crumples head. The heap seemed like a much better idea before I had to hold that curledup position unmoving for sixteen ten-minute sits in a row. Everything hurt, and everyone else kept joking about how I got the easy job, and had I enjoyed my nap? No. No I had not, because I was slumped sideways on a hard tile floor. ANYHOW. I held my breath when they checked for breathing (although half them were like "I saw her chest move!" anyways and I despaired for mankind) and said "no pulse" when they felt my wrist. Since I was VSA (vital signs absent) and there were more victims than responder, that meant I was a code "blue". Smart responder promptly sorted me into the "don't bother, she's probably dead anyways and we don't have time to try to fix her" pile. Not all responders were smart.
To make it extra fun, when the responders reached the pilot, he would start begging them to turn off the power on the helicopter. All of them did this, thankfully (even the guy who paused first to protest that he had his pilot license, thank-you very much, and that button we were asking him to flip was the breaks, not the power, but he'd push it if it make us happy), because if they hadn't, the helicopter would have blown up four minutes later. Unfortunately, regardless of what they did, the helicopter still blew up at the six minute mark. About half of the people heeded the warnings of the copilot and dragged the pilot to safety despite his spinal injuries ("life over limb", is the official saying).
The other half decided that they were safe because the electricity was off. FOOLS. One group got their pilot to safety at the last second, but left their bag of medical supplies in the blast radius and were about two seconds short in retrieving it, much to their chagrin. One group managed to get not only the pilot but also both their responders, the co-pilot, AND the bystander all blown up in one fell swoop. We almost killed ourselves laughing. Several groups lost one responder and also their bag, resulting in some amusing improvisation (and also some innovative cursing) from the remaining responder. At one point the doctor took off her shirt to use as a bandage, at the responder's request. (She was wearing a tank-top underneath, making her the only person in the room with surplus clothing to donate to the cause.)
Being the corpse meant I didn't often get to participate in the action. Three times, a responder sent the doctor to preform CPR on me, just in case I could be revived. Once a responder sent the panicking copilot to provide me with 'spinal stabilization', which I thought was a stroke of genius; it kept the guy out of their way, and it wasn't like he could hurt a corpse if he stabilized my spine the wrong way. (The guy was seriously good at freaking out about that spilled fuel. One person asked the doctor if she knew the co-pilot, and then asked if the co-pilot had any history of mental illness. And then the helicopter exploded again. Oh, how we laughed.) Mostly I just observed. I threw my hair over my face, because a) it made it harder for the responders to check my vitals, which is half the fun, and b) it let me peer out at the action without my eyes being visibly open.
It also put me in the strange situation of being almost... not a person? I wasn't talking or moving, and nobody could really see my face; very few people bothered to properly clear my hair away in their rush to check my airways and pulse. Ben, a guy who lived in the same residence with me and who is a close acquaintance, had his eyes about three inches from my mouth when he checked to see if I was breathing, and didn't realize it was me until I sat up at the end of the sit. My good friend Doc did a sit too, as I mentioned, and while admittedly he wasn't actually the one to check my vitals, he STILL didn't notice it was me until the end. (He was quite startled when I sat up!) So I was rather depersonalized, and it reflected in how people treated me.
Remember how I said earlier that I was coded "blue"? I meant that literally. A lot of the teams had triage tape in four colours, and slapped it on victims to indicate that they'd been assessed, and what colour-level they were at. That way, they didn't accidentally overlap assessments, and they could both see at a glance who was the highest priority.
One person said "sorry about that" as she tagged me; I talked to her afterward, and she admitted that even though it's not really, she always feels bad consigning people to category blue, since it quite literally means you're consigning them to death. Another person said, "well, this one's toast." Part of me wonders how much of that was being silly in an admittedly somewhat silly situation, and how much of it was a genuine coping method. Sits at this level are intense, especially mass-cas. There was a girl almost in tears after she lost her co-responder to the explosion. Most people said nothing at all; just slapped the tape on my shoulders and moved on, too focused to think about anything but getting to the next victim.
On the other hand, at least I mostly got tagged on the shoulder or arm; passenger number one and the pilot both tended to get tagged on the forehead, which struck me as particularly dehumanizing. It invoked the same feelings I got when I had to go to the emergency room a few weeks ago, and they put a barcoded wristband on me. Like I was an obstacle rather than a person. It wasn't at all offensive, in the context - I was very literally an obstacle to the responders, and deriving great personal enjoyment from that role - just interesting to me, in what it says about how our current medical procedures and systems work, and how we treat people during a crisis.
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