Responding Without a Safety Net

By Virginia Tyler, Red Cross Volunteer

caribbean-islands-map
While living on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, soaking up sunshine and joie de vivre, Central Ohio Volunteer Virginia Tyler is also teaching CPR and First Aid to local residents through the Red Cross of St. Lucia.

If I didn’t notice the abundance of hand sanitizers and a large basket of condoms, I would think I was in any weathered place of business, when I enter the Red Cross headquarters.  Access to the building emblazoned with a big red cross, is through a barred door, opening to a dozen steep steps that end at another barred door.  Such security is necessary on the island, but access by people with disabilities is a luxury beyond their meager budget.

The classroom is a large meeting room with shutters that when opened, allow the constant winds to cool the room.  My first job is to open up the room to bring in the light and the air.  The shutters need to be secured or they will startle the class as they slam shut.  Moving tables and chairs stirs the mosquitoes, which are lying in wait for fresh blood.  I have never thought of insect repellent as an indispensable teaching aid before coming to St. Lucia.

The manikins used in class are the familiar Little Annes.  While the faces are sanitized after each use, the lungs have not been replaced in years.  Class participants no longer experience the thrill of seeing the chest rise when they give the manikins rescue breaths because the lungs no longer inflate.  The Director General was genuinely surprised when I told her that we replace the lungs after each use.  Such a practice would be an extravagance in St. Lucia.

The students aren’t very different from the students I encounter in Ohio.  They are attentive and eager to learn.  Some seek the certification as a job requirement, others because they simply want to be prepared in the event of an emergency.  Other than occasionally needing to ask a student to repeat himself because I struggle with his accent, I feel at home in this classroom.  But I am not.

In Central Ohio, we take for granted the outstanding emergency services we have.  We are confident that help will be on the way in a matter of minutes after calling 9-1-1.  Students trained there know that they are a stopgap until the well-equipped emergency squad arrives.  The entire island of St. Lucia has two ambulances, one in the north and another in the south, responding to the emergency needs of the people.

Each call has to be prioritized.  This makes it imperative for the caller to be specific about the nature of the emergency.  The emergency vehicle runs first to what is considered to be the most life-threatening situation.  They may arrive to the scene in 30 to 60 minutes or arrive without essential supplies, such as oxygen.

This reality makes the role of the well-trained lay responder essential to the health and safety of island residents.  It also increases the importance of the Red Cross training they receive.  In more cases than people from the United States can imagine, trained lay responders may represent the only hope a St. Lucian has to survive an accident or health emergency.  This is always top of mind when I lead them through the material.

My farewell statement to my students at the close of classes has always been, “Now, go out there and save lives.”  I smile knowing that they probably will never be called upon to do that.

In St. Lucia, I say it with a little prayer that I have adequately prepared them for that very real possibility.

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