Kinnick first aid workers keep busy helping fans

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Nate Miller and Avi Asner are on the job, but they can’t help themselves when the Iowa marching band strikes up the fight song.

The two University of Iowa students stand and clap along with the rest of the Kinnick Stadium crowd just before kickoff of this early September game.

As more than one fan points out while passing by, Miller and Asner, dressed in blaze-orange shirts rather than black and gold, may well have the best seats in the stadium, midway up the east stands, perched on a makeshift wooden riser above the 50-yard-line tunnel. They cheer for Iowa’s first touchdown and groan when the Hawkeyes yield yardage to Missouri State.

“We get paid to be here instead of paying to be here, so it’s a pretty sweet deal,” says Miller, a 22-year-old UI senior studying biomedical engineering, who today is one of a dozen Johnson County Ambulance Service first aid workers positioned around the stadium.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reports (http://icp-c.com/1bisa1G ) that when Miller’s earpiece and Asner’s radio crackle to life, the game fades away. The day is heating up — the temperature would climb to 96 by afternoon — and the bleachers were turning into griddles. A short rain shower gave a moment’s relief, but Kinnick was otherwise a brick oven for fans, meaning Miller and Asner would be in for a hectic few hours.

The calls start rolling in for teams elsewhere in the stadium. A woman is vomiting somewhere in the west stands. A diabetic is having a spell in the press box. A guy is passed out in the student section.

Early in the second quarter, Miller, a paramedic, and Asner, an EMT, spring out of their chairs. A man in his 80s two sections over appeared to be drifting in and out of consciousness. Miller and Asner hustle through the concourse and up the tunnel. They’re met by two police officers and a security worker, who help the glassy-eyed man into a wheelchair.

Miller checks the man’s pulse and Asner his blood pressure, which is low, but he’s conscious and responsive. Outside the stadium’s gate, they help the man aboard a John Deere Gator manned by another EMT, and he’s carted off to the first-aid room in the south concourse, where a doctor waits.

“Whether or not he just needs fluids or has to go to the hospital, we’ll see,” says Asner, a 20-year-old UI junior on a pre-med track. Today is Asner’s first day working as an EMT at Kinnick — a different view of gameday after watching from the student section last fall.

Had it been later in the season, when heat isn’t an issue, Miller and Asner likely would be spending most of the day watching the game like their fellow students. But not today.

Their next call brings them to an older woman whom they find collapsed and prone in a tunnel, surrounded by family members. Miller and Asner give her water and ice, and eventually help her against a wall before transporting her to the first aid station.

Hustling through the shoulder-to-shoulder concourse to a call in the stands is half the battle at halftime. While most people make way for the emergency workers, some aren’t as willing. After Miller and Asner deliver one patient to the first aid station, a sweat-soaked middle-aged fan with an apologetic-looking wife walking behind him stops them.

“Next time somebody comes through pushing a wheelchair and runs into me, I’m going to knock the (series of colorful expletives) out of him,” the guy slurs.

By the time Miller and Asner get back to their seats, it’s was almost the start of the second half.

“Time flies when you’re busy with calls,” Miller says. “That was a whole quarter right there.”

By the end of this Sept. 7 game, Johnson County Ambulance Service’s 12 paramedics and EMTs will have responded to 25 calls inside the stadium and assisted dozens more who show up at the first aid room. That’s fewer than the 43 calls they fielded during the season opener the previous Saturday, which was another scorching afternoon, but more than the 15 or fewer calls that are the norm when the weather cools, JCAS director Steve Spenler said.

“It’s just like out in the community — we can respond to calls that are relatively insignificant and minor, or we can respond to cardiac arrest calls in the stadium,” says Spenler, who is directing traffic in the crowded first aid room at halftime. “We can have some pretty serious trauma, like people falling down. We also see diabetics, seizures, and we’ve had some pretty serious cardiac events and strokes. We see the whole nine yards here.”

JCAS has been staffing larger Hawkeye athletic events for more than 20 years, including football, basketball and wrestling. UI pays $36 an hour per paramedic and $24 an hour per EMT, which last fiscal year amounted to UI paying JCAS $63,519 for first aid staffing at its various athletic and academic events.

Outside the first aid room, workers have set up a makeshift triage area, where people suffering from the heat are cooling down in front of large fans. Inside the room, JCAS field supervisor Bob Libby sits at a desk and fields calls from the stands as they come in from security or police, then dispatches the nearest paramedics and EMTs, who are positioned in teams of two in the north, east and west stands, as well as on the field behind the south end zone.

In the back of the first aid room are four hospital beds, all of which by halftime are occupied by patients being monitored by Dr. Agustin Aguilar, an emergency room physician from UI Hospitals and Clinics, as well as UIHC nurses and medical students.

“We’re keeping up,” Aguilar says after grabbing a Gatorade for one woman overcome by the heat. “We had a couple people last week who had strokes and heart attacks. One of the big problems here is trying to figure out who is having something more than just a heat stroke. Because a lot of people just feel bad, if you’re busy, you don’t want to write it off just as a heat stroke and miss something. So you have to ask the right questions and get a feel for what’s going on.”

Fortunately for those with serious issues, UIHC is just across the street and patients can be taken to the emergency department in a minute or two. But for the most part, says Aguilar, who has been working Hawkeye football games since the 1980s, it’s minor issues that bring people down to the first aid room.

“It’s kind of a different, fun thing to do,” Aguilar says of gamedays. “Most people aren’t terribly sick, and if you can make them feel better, it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It’s just a little different than working the ER.”

UIHC’s Dr. Azeemuddin Ahmed, the director of first aid services for Kinnick Stadium, calls the Johnson County Ambulance staff an important component of UI’s overall medical coverage on gamedays.

“They’re the first line of defense for fans and other people that aren’t feeling well,” Ahmed says. “Their job is to do a quick assessment on them — whether they need basic first aid services, if they need some intermediate services that we can provide, or if they need emergency department services where they have to be transported to the hospital. So their job is to triage and treat.”

While most of the medical personnel on hand are focused on the 64,201 people in the stands on this day, two Johnson County Ambulance Service workers are assigned to the 22 players on the field, along with the coaches, referees and cheerleaders. JCAS’s Brandon Feddersen and Jeremy Peck were positioned behind the end zone just outside the visiting team’s tunnel, ready in the event of a serious injury on the field.

The teams’ training staffs are the first on the field when a player goes down, and, on the rare occasion there’s a more serious issue — a neck or back injury, for instance — they’ll use a hand signal to summon the JCAS workers, who are standing by with a Gator and can rush a player across the street to the hospital, if needed.

Fortunately, says Peck, a paramedic who has been working games for seven years, they haven’t seen any action yet today.

“That’s a good thing for us,” he says.

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

This AP Member Exchange was shared by the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

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