On a recent afternoon at Fort Lewis College, a TriState CareFlight helicopter landed in the Community Concert Hall parking lot – just a few feet from where 30 teenagers had thronged, anxiously watching as emergency medical responders tried to save the lives of two young car crash victims.
Isabelle Guerra, 17, a Durango High School student, had a sickening, potentially fatal cranial wound oozing blood over her forehead, and Kristin Schmid, a medical student in her third year at the University of Colorado, had a face pocked by dozens of glass shards.
The average adolescent might have found the bloody scene traumatic, but this staged disaster and the grim medical fable it contained – in which humans’ ever-impending death comes randomly, violently and drenched in liberal applications of fake blood – had the opposite effect on 30 eighth-, ninth- and 10th-graders who attended this year’s Health Careers Camp.
As the helicopter’s rotor roared, the campers studied emergency medical responders as they dashed out of the chopper, joining emergency medical services personnel who already had arrived by ambulance at the scene of the vehicular accident.
Guerra said she’d hugely enjoyed playing a car-crash victim on the cusp of death. (Then again, Guerra didn’t have to see gruesome makeup.) Far from off-putting, she said, she found the exercise to be a valuable crash course in the brutal, rapid math emergency workers have to perform when they’re assessing the urgency of multiple victims’ injuries.
“And I really shouldn’t have been drinking and driving,” said Schmid, whose makeup was only slightly less terrifying than Guerra’s.
Ben Stone, a paramedic with CareFlight, said the EMS workers’ goal was to convey “how we determine who gets care first in an emergency situation, specifically, a bad car accident with multiple patients.”
The mock trauma was just one of the highlights at this year’s camp. Organized by Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center, the health career camp submerged young people from counties throughout Southwest Colorado in a dazzlingly wide range of health-care fields over 3½ days (June 9-12).
“The idea is to show kids that the health-care industry is massive, and professionally, there are so many options,” said Karen Rider, the center’s student services and program coordinator, who directed the camp.
To give you some sense of the camp’s eclecticism, activities included field trips to Mercy Regional Medical Center, Animas Surgical Hospital and Hood Mortuary and talks from nurses, doctors and Easton LaChapelle, Durango’s infamous robot-making savant who’s spurned college to become a developer of biomedical technologies.
Rider said the point was to expose campers – 25 girls, and 5 boys – to all sorts of avenues they otherwise might never have considered.
“This morning, it was like speed dating, with all the kids going around to different health-care stations. At one, they learned how to check for vital signs; at another, they sutured a banana; at another, they injected oranges,” she said.
Troy Salazar, coordinator of emergency medical services at Southwest Colorado Community College, said the experience had been a blast.
“People drive by accident scenes all the time – but for the students to actually see what takes place, it’s whole different experience,” he said. “I hope it helps them follow their goals. By that, I mean a lot of people say, ‘I want to be this when I grow up,’ but they have no idea what that actually means. I hope they know.”
While the kids proved surprisingly comfortable with adult health-care providers’ talk of blood and guts, the vibrance of their curiosity caught even the most battle-worn emergency responders off-guard.
Greg Childress, a paramedic-firefighter with Durango Fire Protection District, said when faced with an audience of intensely inquisitive adolescents at a question-and-answer session, his first panicked thought was that he’d prefer to be confronted by a corpse.
“I’m used to dead bodies – they’re my comfort zone, and they don’t make you talk. Whereas these kids ask questions rapid-fire. It’s nerve-wracking.”
But, much like an EMS nurse dealing with her first bad accident, Childress’ fear of the unfamiliar quickly subsided once he focused on the urgent work immediately before him: explaining his career path to a bunch of young kids eager to find their own. “I hope they find the job they’re looking for, like I did.”