What to Do When You Are 911

Rod Searcey

Arms crossed on his chest, the “patient” lay on his back, strapped tightly to a bright orange board. Six helpers scurried around him, one stabilizing his head, the rest preparing, somewhat inelegantly, to lift him off the ground into a waiting ambulance.

“On my count, lift,” came the instructions. “Count of three. One, two, three, lift.”

And up he went, while several of the emergency personnel stifled giggles. “You have to remember,” Golnaz Alemi told them after the simulation, yet again: “Never step over a patient.”

Alemi, a researcher in the immunology department, recruits faculty volunteers to come to a classroom at the School of Medicine every Wednesday night and teach more than 60 students, mostly undergraduates, about emergency medical services. Stanford ER physicians, Life Flight nurses and local fire fighters lecture about their work. One highlight: associate professor Robert Norris and clinical professor Paul Auerbach, MS ’89, planned to bring along snakes and scorpions to their lecture on bites and stings.

The yearlong course, Surgery 211, is the first of its kind at Stanford and prepares students to be certified as emergency medical technicians. “I’m considering a career in medicine, and I’d like the experience of working in emergency situations,” says Nicole Espinoza, a sophomore majoring in human biology. On a recent class night, she wore a stethoscope as she fit a cuff onto a classmate’s arm and prepared to take his blood pressure. Across the room, other students experimented with the “up” and “down” pedals on a hospital bed and practiced rolling “patients” off an ambulance longboard onto the mattress.

They also were learning the lingo as they moved from one exercise to the next. Fx for fracture. Pcn for penicillin. Cp for chest pain. And there were some unexpected lessons. “People are surprised to learn that you can’t just go up to someone who’s choking,” says Alemi, ’03, MA ’04. “First you have to ask, ‘Would you like some help?’ And you have to explain that you’re certified and can help.”

A former interpreter in Farsi for Stanford Hospital, Alemi worked with assistant professor Eric L. Weiss, ’80, to launch the course and line up guest speakers. The syllabus ranges from diabetic emergencies and heart attacks to soft-tissue injuries and improvised splints. Mostly, Alemi says, it’s about being of service at a moment’s notice. “It’s really fun to go on helicopter rides, but the best feeling is that you’ve helped someone.”