STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Teams of EMTs walked into a tense situation yesterday.
Bertha, a 70-something-year-old grandmother, was struggling to breathe. As she quipped about wanting another cigarette, her grandson relayed her history of health conditions. Gently, with practiced hands, the EMTs held stethoscopes to her chest and listened to her breathing, being careful not to disturb her nightgown. In soothing voices, they asked her to describe her symptoms.
Using a series of medical checks along with information provided over the phone by a doctor, they determined they had to treat a build-up of fluid in her lungs, take intermediary steps to help her get oxygenated and get her to the hospital. It was a well-practiced dance for the teams of EMS personnel, who demonstrated an ease in working together and a vast repertoire of emergency medical knowledge -- gleaned from hours logged on the job. Watching them from behind one-way glass in the simulation lab at Staten Island University Hospital's Regina M. McGinn M.D. Education Center in Ocean Breeze, a team of five judges assessed their responses to the patient in distress.
"I was floored by their knowledge base and their competitive edge," said Dr. Paul Barbara, an emergency medicine physician with a sub-specialty in emergency medical services, who dreamed up the idea for the first ever "Sim Lab Wars."
"Their enthusiasm was huge."
A kick-off to the hospital's EMS Week, the friendly competition brought seven teams of four emergency medical responders from across the Island to the hospital's state-of-the art Simulation Lab to compete in a test of knowledge, communication and efficiency.
"This isn't just to get everyone to play in the Sim Lab," said Dr. Barbara, noting that having a good time -- which all participants indeed seemed to do -- was only part of the goal. "It's to educate."
He and nearly a dozen other emergency medicine physicians, nurses and hospital educators and administrators planned the event -- drawing up scenarios for the sick patients, a schematic by which participants would be judged and getting the word out to local EMT teams, to encourage them to sign up.
The 28 participants applied their skills to an uncannily convincing dummy -- a high-tech machine that costs upwards of $100,000 and can simulate dozens of medical conditions. It has "eyes" that dilate, "lungs" that can breathe in and out, and "skin" that feels soft to the touch.
While the four Advanced Life Support Teams worked on Bertha, the three Basic Life Support teams had to treat Tyler, a 20-something amateur bombmaker whose experiment had backfired, leaving him unconscious, with chemical burns all over his body -- the wounds convincingly covering the medical dummy's body.