Story by PO3 Adam Ferrero on 02/26/2019The sound of bells being rung in wuick succession echoes through the ship's passageways. The rumbling of "medical emergency" being announced through the speakers of the 1 Main Circuit (1MC) sets Sailors into a whirlwind of motion. As they rush to respond, all their training and preparation rises to the forefront of their minds. No hesitation. Rapid response.
Settling into the shipyard environment, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) has continued to emphasize the importance of maintaining a well-trained crew. Amongst the training Sailors participate in, medical drills may be one of the most fundamentally significant.
"It is important for Sailors to participate in medical drills to become familiar with the equipment, personnel, and procedures used to treat medical casualties," said Lt. Stephanie Horigan of Boston, George Washington's ship's nurse. "We conduct drills that allow the crew and medical staff to practice and improve their skills and knowledge."
Medical response knowledge often begins with standard training, but the drills conducted on the ship and floating accommodation facility (FAF) take it a step further.
"Training goes hand-in-hand with drills," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Dean Washington of Tallahassee, Florida, a Sailor assigned to George Washington's medical department. "Corpsmen have thick training books, and we go over training every day in our duty sections. It's nice to talk about it, and it's nice to see it and be able to use the equipment, but to actually go do what you learn about creates a more positive learning environment. It's the next step. Hear about it, learn about it, do it. Let's say this was wartime, a bomber hit, and general quarters were to be called. It's important that everyone knows what they're doing. Now I'm not worried that I have to do everything. I can have faith in my shipmates that they can do something. They can actually save my life if I needed them to, and not just vice versa."
Regular training is incredibly important, but all the knowledge in the world won't help if a Sailor is unable to perform under pressure.
"During emergencies, it is common for adrenaline and emotions to affect a Sailor's thought process and responses," said Horigan. "This is a common reaction for both medical and non-medical crew members. Drills help instill muscle memory and a frame of reference to rely upon to help overcome the natural stress response and be able to function effectively."
Without properly testing the readiness of its Sailors, an entire ship could find itself in dire straits when an emergency happens.
"Improper training adversely affects the ship by making it less safe, and therefore less battle-ready," said Washington. "Let's say there was a mass casualty, which is three patients or more. [Medical Regulating Team] 1 and MRT 2 are out on the ship. The first two patients may be taken care of, but the third patient could possibly die or be further injured. Who knows? They will not get the care that they need because nobody knows what to do. They may have heard about it, but they don't necessarily know."
Washington used applying a tourniquet to stop a hemorrhage as an example.
"If someone's never put a tourniquet on before, they won't be able to do it right," said Washington. "There are two types of tourniquets: a double buckle and a single buckle. The tourniquets we have are double buckle. If they try to go in and put on a single buckle tourniquet, the tourniquet won't be effective, and it could cause the patient to lose their life."
As with any training, the best way to learn is to be proactive.
"Sailors can get the most from each drill by actively participating and asking questions," said Horigan. "The corpsmen and I love to teach, and drills are the perfect time to practice because you can't kill "Rescue Randy." Every day we offer 310 stretcher bearer training, and we conduct a minimum of two ship-wide medical drills each month. Receiving the training to obtain the 310 qualification, being active participants in drills, or joining the command medical training team are all great ways to be involved in preparing yourself and others."
Drills are, by nature, unexpected. Sailors will get much more out of each experience by overcoming indecision and doing their best to participate.
"Try to help out and do the best that you can," said Washington. "The drills are not just for the corpsmen, they're for bystanders too. Most of the time when we drop a body, we'll ask people to help. Sailors should go in and know what to do or ask how to help or what to do. Be proactive instead of reactive. If I were injured, I wouldn't want to be left there because nobody is confident."
Executing drills isn't just about going through the motions. A life could very well be hanging in the balance.
"Medical engages in three to five departmental training evolutions and drills each week in addition to the ship-wide drills," said Horigan. "We also utilize the multi-million-dollar simulation center at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth to engage in higher-level trauma training. All the training that we do only matters if our patients are alive when we get to them. This is why it is so important that the crew be able to react and render aid to medical casualties until we are notified and provide treatment."
The shipyard can be a dangerous place, and even with a multitude of safety measures in place, injuries and other medical emergencies are still a genuine possibility. However, by staying sharp and testing their knowledge through medical drills, every Sailor can become a first responder and save a life.