Teen EMTs–Pt. 1 Reading, Writing, and Riding the Ambulance: Q&A with Wilton’s Teen EMTs
Hopefully a medical emergency hasn’t caused you to call on their services, but maybe you’ve passed one of Wilton’s nine teenage Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) grabbing lunch at the Village Market in between calls. These young first responders–Hannah Bracken, Mallory Ehlers, Nancy Healy, Caroline Hess, Nick Koenigsberger, Paul Martines, Alex Myers, August Theoharides and Teagan Sullivan–make up nine of the 53 EMTs that serve Wilton. They’re probably the most medically knowledgeable and experienced young people in town.
GOOD Morning Wilton assigned Wilton High School senior intern Grace Bracken to find out what it’s like to be responsible for trying to save someone’s life, and what they love about the experience. [Editor’s note: Grace is also a twin sister to one member of the Teen EMTs–her sister Hannah.
Q: What made you want to become an EMT?
Hannah Bracken (18, member since Nov. 2018): I was always interested in science in school and found it really interesting to learn about all the stuff that can go wrong with the human body and how to fix it. I took EMT class with the intention of becoming an EMT to learn more about how to fix medical issues. Learning how quickly something as severe as anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction) can be cured was really amazing to me. I found emergency medicine particularly interesting because there is an element of excitement in pre-hospital care.
Caroline Hess (17, member since Nov. 2018): I’ve always had an interest in learning more about medicine. When I was younger, my siblings and I would frequently play doctor. I would usually “diagnose” my sister with a broken leg and wrap her up with a 3-inch thick toilet paper cast sealed with tape. Being one of four siblings, there was always someone getting hurt and I would always jump at the opportunity to help them, even if that meant just getting a band-aid.
Paul Martines (17, member since Jan. 2019): Since around the eighth grade, medicine and the idea of becoming a doctor one day really piqued my interest. After realizing that you could obtain medical exposure in the field at just 16 years of age, coupled with the emergency aspect of this specific discipline, becoming an EMT became more of a goal that I wanted to achieve with the intent of gaining medical experience while also helping others.
Alex Myers (18, member since Dec. 2017): My dad joined WVAC about a year before I did. I tell people that my dad is also an EMT and they tend to assume I grew up with it, when in reality we sort of broke into the scene around the same time. I always thought I would go into medicine but the traditional educational track made me nervous since often students don’t have real patient contact until they are well into med school. When my dad came home everyday from his shifts with wild stories, I saw EMS as the perfect opportunity to dip my toe in the medical field and experience an incredibly raw element of the human experience.
Teagan Sullivan (17, member since April 2019): I decided to become an EMT because giving back to the community is incredibly important to me. Also, I find the subject matter of what we need to know and deal with incredibly interesting.
August Theoharides (18, member since April 2018): Ever since I was a little kid I have held a strong interest in emergency services. I always loved watching fire trucks, police cars, and (the coolest of the three) ambulances pass by with lights and sirens blaring as my mom pulled the car over to the side of the road. In my sophomore year of high school I was looking for a way to get involved and give back to our community. I saw a few signs advertising an EMT course and I figured it tied in very well with my interests and seemed like the best possible opportunity to help out the people of my hometown who have given me so much.
Q: What has been the most intense call you have responded to?
Bracken: My most serious call was a patient in cardiac arrest. Wilton police and fire departments (and two bystanders) had been doing CPR for about ten minutes before we got there, and already had the AED hooked up. The AED didn’t advise a shock the first two times, but after we put on the LUCAS (a device that performs mechanical compressions) the AED shocked the patient. We achieved ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation) which is pretty rare for cardiac arrest. The patient remained unresponsive on the way to the hospital but he had a good pulse and blood pressure, and was breathing on his own (we used an OPA to protect his airway and had him on oxygen via non-rebreather). I never found out what happened to the patient after that, but I hope that he survived.
Hess: There are a few intense calls that stand out to me. I have been on two cardiac arrest calls, one in Norwalk and one in Wilton. When we arrived on the scene, Fire and PD were already there taking care of the patient. I think the intensity of the call comes from a lot of moving pieces and people working together to provide the best care. I was talking to the family of the patient and my heart was breaking for them.
Martines: The most intense call that I have responded to was an overdose patient who had consumed a large quantity of alcohol before proceeding to take an extra dose of his nightly sleeping pills. The patient was very close to becoming unresponsive with maintaining a patent (open) airway being a priority. The call was considered ALS, or Advanced Life Support, which required a paramedic to take over the call, with me in the ambulance acting as an assistant en route to Norwalk Hospital. The call was intense because of the urgency of the matter, but overall it was a great learning experience as to how quickly a call can escalate and how staying calm is necessary in this field.
Myers: The call came in for a “bleed” and it turns out this woman had just had surgery and the stitches across her entire abdomen had popped. Since I was the smallest on the crew, I had to essentially straddle the patient and apply as much pressure to such a large wound with my entire body. My entire forearm was essentially inside this woman’s body as liters of blood pooled in the stretcher. The eerie part was that she was completely awake and very pleasant. She kept asking me my name and then smiling before laying her head back on the pillow. Fortunately, we got the the hospital in time and she went straight up to the OR. Most of the time we dont find out what happened with our patients so I’m very glad someone told us the outcome of this one.
Sullivan: Since I only joined back in April, I’ve only actually been on one call. The call was dispatched as a fall. The lady had fallen and hit her head on a chair, leaving a gash that was quite bloody. The patient was also very confused. We took a set of vitals and got her onto the stretcher. Once we were in the ambulance, and started taking more vitals, the medic observed that the patient had right-sided weakness, right-sided facial droop, & slurred speech: the hallmark signs of a stroke (CVA). We were not completely sure if she was having one because the Assisted Living Facility she was living at was unable give us what her “normal” (baseline mental status) was. However, we transported her as a possible CVA and I was lucky enough to be able to ride in the back with the medic and get to observe him hook her up to his machine and insert an IV into her arm. Once we arrived, we transferred care to the hospital therefore ending the call.
Theoharides: The first time I ever did compressions and bagged a person were two of my most memorable experiences so far. What most people don’t realize when they are starting to become an EMT is that you can pass all of the written and practical exams with flying colors, but know nothing when you are put in an actual situation. Doing compressions on a mannequin is a whole world different than cracking ribs and doing CPR on a real person. Anyone can ventilate a dummy but doing it in the back of an ambulance on a real person, high priority (lights and sirens) to the hospital, is truly different than anything you’ve trained for. These two first experiences for me really shocked me into realizing that most things are not as you expect or learned them to be, and no education or training is comparable to being thrown into a scene with a real patient.
Q: What do you plan to do with your experience as an EMT?
Bracken: I haven’t figured out what exactly I want to study in college but I know that it probably won’t be medicine. However, I learned from my experience as an EMT that I like helping patients and working on my feet.
Hess: I hope to volunteer when I go to college and continue to volunteer with WVAC when I am home. I also plan to study medicine when I go to college.
Martines: I plan to go into the premedical track in college, majoring in either Biology or Spanish, and eventually attend medical school after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I also hope that the college I attend, or at least the surrounding area, has a volunteer ambulance corps like Wilton where I could continue to work in the field while also further developing my skills.
Myers: I actually got my senior internship through connections made in EMS. I am currently shadowing an emergency physician in the Norwalk Emergency Department and the experience I’ve gained on the ambulance has made my internship all the more intense. Since I already knew some basics about how the ER operates, I was able to be more hands on with patients even on day one. The college I am attending in the fall has a volunteer EMS program as well, which I plan on joining to keep my skills sharp. If all goes according to plan, medical school is in my cards and the experience I’ve gained through WVAC will put me at a huge advantage when the time comes to apply.
Sullivan: I would love to take my experience as an EMT and transform it into a future career in nursing. At the moment, I am actively looking at applying into undergraduate nursing programs at various colleges. If the college I end up attending has a campus EMS group, I would love to join that as well.
Theoharides: I didn’t become an EMT to put it on my resume and didn’t really have the future in mind when I initially started this whole thing out. I’m going into college next year undeclared as far as my major goes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up studying something similar to this. I do plan to volunteer and maybe start working for an ambulance company in Hartford next year while I study at Trinity College.
Q: What have you learned about yourself during your time as an EMT?
Bracken: I’m composed under pressure, which I expected to be but I didn’t expect to be as sympathetic with the patients as I have learned that I am. It comes easily to me to calm patients down during stressful, painful, or scary situations.
Hess: While you’re on a shift, you never know what’s going to come your way. It could be six hours without any calls or you could be answering calls back to back. Being an EMT has taught me that I am capable of managing and getting through anything that is thrown at me. I have responded to all sorts of calls ranging from bloody noses to car accidents to cardiac arrests. There are no two calls that we go on that are the same and I am always ready to respond to whatever calls come in during my shift. I feel like this also applies to other aspects of life like social scenarios and school work.
Martines: I’ve learned that confidence is a vital skill, not just in medical emergencies, but also in life. If you know what you are doing and the training is all there, following through with conviction truly makes the difference. I have also learned, and validated in a sense, that I enjoy helping others–not just from a medical standpoint but also in a personal manner, as calling 911 often means that the individual is not having his or her best day, which requires understanding and compassion from the EMTs treating them.
Myers: I went into EMS thinking my age would be an obstacle. No one calls 911 and expects a tiny blonde high schooler to roll out of the ambulance. Knowing that people may be hesitant to trust my expertise, I constantly had to remind myself that I had just as much training as anyone else in the corps. With time I realized that the uniform is the great equalizer and most don’t even notice my tiny stature as long as I know what I’m doing. I learned that I’m not a kid in a costume, I’m actually a helpful member of the team.
Sullivan: I have learned that making someone’s day better, even if by a small bit, is incredibly rewarding.
Theoharides: I would say that my experience as an EMT has mainly served as a way for me to mature and has really exposed me to a whole different side of life that very few people get to see. Ever. While the practical skills I have learned will most definitely end up being useful in the future, I have most importantly learned about controlling intense and high pressure situations, working with partners to reach a common goal, and that everyone, even in our community, faces some sort of adversity that no one will ever know about. I think It’s really cool that we are able to be a part of something so crucial and intense in our community at such a young age. More than anything else I am profoundly grateful for the opportunities, experiences, and everything else WVAC has given me.