Tom Ross: My unlucky friend Pat deserves a break today

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— Yesterday was a real up-and-down day for my new friend, Pat. You could say that Pat went to heck and back on Sunday.

First, he was burned badly in a natural gas explosion. When his body responded by channeling fluids to his extremities, his tongue swelled so much that it blocked his air passage. Emergency medical personnel reacted swiftly and attempted to create an alternate airway, but his heart couldn't take it and in a matter of two minutes he shut down. Game over. Pat was a goner.

I was standing close by and emergency care providers encouraged me to stick my index finger down his throat and confirm how badly his tongue was swollen.

"Via con Dios, old buddy," I thought respectfully.

But quicker than you can say "get back in the game" Pat made a miraculous recovery and decided to take a little hike on top of Mount Werner. It was no big surprise when he began experiencing a heart attack. This time, emergency responders slapped the defibrillators on him before his vital signs could start spiraling down. I grabbed a stethoscope off the neck of a nurse and listened as his shallow breathing became stronger.

"Pat, you've got to stop scaring us like this," I thought to myself.

And now, I'm going to ask you to forgive my macabre sense of humor. You see, Pat is not like you and me. The first thing you notice is that Pat's knee joints resemble something off a G.I. Joe doll. Right away, you pick up on the fact that his hair is plastic. Sure, his chest rises and falls with every breath, his eyes blink, and he doesn't hesitate to tell you, "I hurt all over." But Pat isn't human.

His first name is short for Patient, as in patient simulator. He's a high-tech mannequin and the closest thing to practicing on a live human being for area emergency medicine students, EMTs, paramedics, registered nurses and physicians.

Pat is manufacturer by a company called METI. His purchase by Yampa Valley Medical Center was funded in part by the proceeds of last winter's Penguin Plunge fund-raiser. He is operated by computer that allows emergency personnel to call up a software package that simulates a variety of specific medical emergencies. Pat can assume either gender and any adult age. His insides are packed with sophisticated devices that allow him to respond realistically to the treatment he is receiving. If his caregivers falter or take a misstep, his condition worsens and their challenge becomes even greater -- just as in a real emergency.

Pat even has veins and arteries that can be injected with red fluid, allowing caregivers to simulate giving him injections. Pat comes with a whole raft of potential medical emergencies. But his versatility doesn't stop there.

Personnel from Yampa Valley Air Ambulance and Steamboat Fire and Ambulance spent a good part of Saturday writing a new scenario for Pat -- one that was similar to an actual emergency the flight nurses once had to contend with. Sunday they devoted to testing the new emergency. Pat, 22, had awakened in the night and smelled gas. He went down into his basement to investigate, but his flashlight wasn't working, so, he flicked a cigarette lighter. That was a mistake.

When he was wheeled into the conference room at YVMC, Pat the patient simulator had burns over more than half of his body and he was in bad shape.

Robinelle Schroder, trauma coordinator for Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., was in Steamboat representing METI for the weekend's training program. She said the simulation was deliberately difficult to give caregivers a strenuous test. Nobody learns anything if saving Pat's life is easy, she pointed out.

Just a day earlier, some of the professionals in the room had saved a real life. One day later, they were back in training, this time to learn how to train their colleagues to save Pat.

Dave Linner, program director for Yampa Valley Air Ambulance said the patient simulator is the equivalent of a flight simulator for aviators. "

Pilots have been using flight simulators since the '60s," Linner pointed out. "It's been a long time coming for the medical community to catch up."

Schroder observed that because EMT/paramedic crews in Steamboat so often respond to emergencies in remote locations, they are likely to take on a significant role in serious cases that demand complex decision-making on their part.

In addition to giving Steamboat paramedics practice reps on a patient simulator, the new equipment gives them a chance to hone their ability to function as a team.

"It allows them to experience critical thinking in a real time situation, and it's the safest place to fail," Schroder said. Linner said his crews are already hoping they can acquire child and infant patient simulators so they can practice scenarios that will enhance their abilities to save young lives. After watching Sunday's training session, that call seems like a no-brainer.

As for Pat, he could use a day off.

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