The news came over the radio. “We have a code red patient in room #8, but she’s against the door so we can’t get to her.” That was our cue to get moving. We were the rescue team dispatched after an earthquake to remove this patient from danger and get her to medical help.
When we arrived we discovered a moaning patient trapped inside a bathroom stall. She was leaning against the inward swinging door and couldn’t move, so I was selected to crawl under the stall to get to her.
She had trouble telling me her name and she couldn’t move her arms. I wrapped her in a “bear hug” and swung her around so she was sitting on the toilet and then opened the door for the rest of my team. Her body went limp and she quit responding to my questions.
That’s when I realized my mistake.
She had a spinal injury and I moved her, further aggravating her injury — most likely causing irreversible damage. My team leader radioed back to incident command and let him know that her injuries were too severe for our training so we would need EMS. Incident Command radioed back that EMS was on their way and we could all head back to Command.
The woman I had just moved came back to life, smiling and walking with us back to the Command Post. You see, the earthquake we responded to never actually happened. Her spinal injuries were not real. It was a training exercise for those us who had just completed training for the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT for short.
For the past several weeks, my team members and I had been training on what to do if our community ever experienced a mass casualty incident. We discussed how to handle a gas leak, water contamination, and downed power lines. We learned how to care for a broken leg, arterial bleeding, and shock. We practiced extricating “victims” from rubble. We willingly gave up our Saturday mornings to contemplate worst-case scenarios so that were they to ever happen, we would be prepared.
And do you know who benefits the most from our new skills? Everyone.
Even if we finish this course and never work with CERT again, we have become an asset to our friends, our family, and our neighbors. If a natural disaster ever strikes our community, I WILL help. And as important as it is for me to know what to do to help survivors, it’s even more important to know what NOT to do. Because of the training I received through CERT, my good intentions will be backed by training — and you better believe I won’t be moving any more spinal injuries!