My First NREMT Cognitive Exam

Although the calendar had just flipped over to September, the weather still remained unforgivingly hot and humid. It was my first week of college, and my first week out in the big bad world all by myself. I knew absolutely nobody in this city, and I was hours away from anything remotely familiar. So far, I was making the best of it. I was excited and ready to prove to the world that I could do grown up things. Because, obviously, at the age of 17, I was pretty much a full-fledged adult.

On my list of grown-up things to do was to go and take my computer-based test for my First Responder ticket. I’d taken the class back home during the summer, seeing as I wasn’t quite old enough to take my Basic course. All that was left between me and my first EMS provider license was a computer test.

Being a college freshman in a city, I had no car. I had already taken a taxi once before that week, and that was a disastrous decision. It’s just too intimate a setting. Call me crazy, but there’s something unsettling about being trapped behind plexi glass, in a locked vehicle, being driven by a stranger listening to tympanic membrane-rupturingly loud music, that occasionally tries to scream-ask me questions like, “DO YOU LIKE SAND CASTLES, SWEETHAHT?” Also, the posted sign that says “There is a $50 fee for vomiting in the back seat” is there for a reason. They didn’t just opt to put that there one day. It actually happened. Right exactly where I’m sitting, most likely, seeing as there’s really nowhere else to go.

Long story short, I hate taxis, and try to avoid them. Which leaves me with the bus system. I had spent the entire long, sticky, swelteringly hot night before the exam peeling apart the bus schedule brochures I found in the lobby of my residence hall. It all seemed to be working out perfectly. I had enough time after my chemistry class to walk over to the bus stop, take the bus to the center, test, and be back in time for dinner.

I couldn’t sleep at all. Well…partly because it never got below 102 degrees in my dorm room that night. But even if the temperature had dipped to a more sleep-conducive level, my excitement and nerves still would have prevented me from getting much rest.

After my chemistry class the next day, I swung by my dorm room to drop off my books, pick up my exam entrance ticket, and triple-check that I had all the appropriate forms of ID. In what was one of the two acts of kindness my roommate had displayed all semester long, she left me the last apple we had left (we really needed to go grocery shopping) with a note that said, “Good luck!” After slinging my purse over my shoulder, I grabbed the apple and set off into the stupid hot afternoon sun towards the bus stop.

The thing about bus schedule maps is that they don’t give you nearly as good of an idea about distances as you’d assume. They also don’t account for the additional travel time needed for an anxious, sleep deprived girl who’s well on her way to heat exhaustion. Nor do they give any indication of changes in elevation–suprise, cities aren’t perfectly flat.

I thought doing something other than walking would help calm my nerves, so I ate my apple on the way….really fast. Before I reached the end of the first block, my now cramping stomach was filled with butterflies and golden delicious apple. I get super queasy when I’m hot, nervous, or tired. I happened to be all three, so I spent most of my walk trying not to wretch, and/or die in the 105 degree heat. Later that day, I would consult Google maps to find that I’d walked about 1.5 miles to get to the stupid bus stop–while apparently passing several other bus stops that would’ve taken me to the exact same place.

When I finally arrived, I stood in the baking sun, absolutely pouring with sweat, waiting for the bus. I felt dizzy, realizing that I hadn’t had anything to drink all day. The sizzling waves of heat floated above the pavement, making me question if that was normal, or if I was about to pass out. I was unapologetically mouth-breathing, and trying really hard to make my retching as discreet as possible. I checked my watch, and saw that the bus was probably about 15 minutes late. I was sick, tired, a little lost, and alone in a city where I didn’t know a single person to come help me. A part of me wanted to cry, give up, and go back to the dorm. The other people waiting for the bus shuffled away from the crazy-looking chick with the sweaty eyeliner running down her face. Except for one brave individual, who decided to get sociable with me. Probably out of pity.

“So where are you going today?”

“To take my first responder test…” I panted. She gave me a quizzical look. “It’s like an EMT, only you can’t do as much.”

“You look like you need an EMT yourself. You want me to call you an ambulance?”

“Nope. Definitely not. Thanks.”

By the time the bus did show up, I almost forgot why I was there. I was just so overjoyed that I was about to get on something with air conditioning. When I stepped onto the bus, I fumbled around, looking for my student ID (which provided free bus fare). The bus driver chuckled and said, “You aren’t from around here at all, are you?”

“Nope,” I said sheepishly. “Actually, maybe you could help me. I’ve never taken the bus before. Obviously. Can you let me know when we get to this destination?”

Surprisingly, he happily obliged. The woman I chatted to at the bus station told the driver, “She’s going to take her EMT test.”

I shuffled my way to the back of the bus and clung on to the overhead bar for dear life. The tall towers of downtown started to shrink away into dilapidated buildings with rusty metal bars over the windows. Angry looking people hung out on stoops and street corners, glaring at those who walked past. Abandoned cars with broken windows lined the streets. The lights of police cruisers glittered down a side street. I couldn’t be 100% sure, having never really seen them in real life before, but the signs and walls of buildings seemed to be full of pock-marks and bullet holes. My heart pounded away in my chest. Oh, God, where am I going? What am I doing? I’m not ready for this at all.

When we finally arrived at my stop, the bus driver called out, “Miss? Your test center stop!” I made my way off the bus, and stopped to thank him before leaving. He yelled out to the rest of the bus, “WISH THE KID GOOD LUCK! SHE’S GOING TO TAKE HER EMT TEST!” To my surprise, the bus erupted with loud cheers and well wishes. I smiled and scurried off the bus. It certainly made me smile…but now I had that overwhelming terror build up inside me. I was about to go take the test that justified all my hard work all summer, and all the craziness of getting to this testing center, which was apparently in the bad part of town.

A week later, much healthier, and many degrees cooler, I received a letter from home. Sitting on my bed, I opened it up.

“Probie To Pracitioner, Congratulations on passing the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians First Responder…”

I beamed. Yep. Definitely worth it.

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