In order to get our German Driver’s Licenses we are required to take a First Responders class. This is so that every driver in Germany knows what to do if they are in, or happen upon, an injury accident. Not a bad idea, really. Ours was taught by the Red Cross. 8:30-4:30 on a Saturday. We had no idea what to expect. We prayed that there wouldn’t be a test! I imagined it would be in a classroom, with audio-video presentations (I wondered what the German version of Red Asphalt might be like) and then probably some hands on training, as well.
It was held in a small multi-purpose room in a building next to the Red Cross building, which houses all the local ambulances and is next to a hospital. It reminded me of every small community center or church hall I have every been in that was built around the 1940s. Big room with charming historic photos of community leaders, a few bizarrely incongruous oil paintings, and lots of stacked chairs. There was a small entry room with bathrooms off the side and a small kitchen area where I am sure much cake and punch has been cut and poured. The only difference between this and the American version was that the toilets had a viewing shelf, and, since every building has black-out shutters, the curtains didn’t need to keep out light. The curtains in such places in the states, as I recall, are usually that thick canvas coated with vinyl stuff so that you can do slide shows and show 8 MM films, right? Here they were a pleasant white lace covered with another layer of fabric displaying an atrocious large brown floral print. I am pretty sure my grandma had a couch with that pattern in the 70’s.
I was fully expecting that our classmates would mostly be teens- who else is getting their Drivers Licenses? And, I was not mistaken. One large group arrived surprisingly late and was dropped off en mass by a man I am guessing was their Driving School Instructor. There was one other guy who looked to be over 40, and two women whose age was likely mid-20s, but everyone else were clearly in their late teens. The 40-sumpthing guy was getting his Motorcycle License. I guess he had to retake the class for that one. In all there were 22 of us. The instructor was a grizzled guy whom I am going to guess was a retired EMT. He looked to be in his mid to late 60s. He had stories to tell.
He had lots of stories to tell.
In fact, that is all he did. For the first 1.5 hours, he stood at the front of the room and talked. He told us about how people didn’t used to stop and help. But, since it was important that we help, they started requiring these classes. He told us how to use call boxes. He also told us what information we needed to give the dispatcher on the other side. And…. well, about an hour’s worth of other stuff that I didn’t catch because I STILL CAN”T SPEAK GERMAN! I tried to understand. I really did. But, if I got 1/8th of what he said, I am lucky. And, David. bless him, felt self-conscious, so he was loathe to whisper with me to let me know what was up. Later I discovered that he didn’t understand a lot of it either. We both just wanted to sit and get through the day without too much hassle.
But, here is the thing. Try as we might not to draw attention to ourselves, the instructor insisted on delivering his speech Directly. To. Us. It was weird. We just sat politely and nodded at appropriate times and chuckled when he indicated that he was making a joke. We tried our best to blend. We pushed down our “good student” instincts to answer questions (we couldn’t figure out how!) and to engage the instructor too much. But, he just honed in on us, and talked directly to us throughout. We cringed silently, hoped he wouldn’t ask us any direct questions, and wondered how the heck we had caught his eye.
The answer soon became clear to me as I allowed my gaze to flow around the room at the other students. They all sat stone-faced, expressionless, and blank. They all watched the instructor ceaselessly, but they would not respond! I figured maybe this was the way German classes usually are? Maybe you aren’t meant to be so transparently, noddingly American. But, then I saw the instructor grow annoyed with their inactivity. He cursed that they didn’t answer any of his questions and bemoaned the sad status of the German Schooling System. (hee) I remembered studies I had read in College about classes manipulating instructors by having 1/2 the room look engaged and attentive and the other half look distant and bored. The Instructors would invariably move themselves over to teach almost exclusively to the engaged side. David and I were inadvertently doing this- we were teaching the instructor through positive feedback that he should talk with us, and only us. It was getting more than a little uncomfortable! Having the full attention of the instructor is fine if you have a chance of understanding him. Having his attention when you just need to slip quietly through class without his realizing you don’t understand a word he is saying is not so desirable.
I resolved to go through class more stoically. But, before I could get my game face on, it was time for our first activity: Rolling unconscious people over to protect their airway. David thinks this is primarily for Drunk People, but since this was an auto safety course, I am going to assume it is protecting folks from more serious injuries- at least a little. Everyone in the room paired off, then we went 2 by 2 and shook eachother, shouting “Hallo” at our less-than-conscious partners. Next we propped up one their arms, stuck the other hand by the person’s face, grabbed their far knee and FLOP! got them situated on their side. Nice Judo, really! But, it was silly and a bit undignified, so everyone giggled and just a touch of life began to show in the room. Still, for over 2 hours of Lifesaving Class, this seemed pretty light weight.
Oh, I almost neglected to mention the High Tech Audio Video Extravaganza! He had an overhead projector with a couple of transparencies with photos and a couple words on each. He showed us someone going through the process of calling for help on an emergency phone, and a couple seemingly disconnected photos of a motor cyclist sitting injured after an accident.
Ah, wait- time for the next activity:
Pulling a helmet off of an unconscious motorcyclist. For this one, we all wore those attractive green elastic and paper hats that ER workers and unfortunate food handlers everywhere get stuck with. Then we wore the helmet and our partners pulled them off. We realized too late that not everyone had to volunteer for this one. The instructor stood over me. “More, A little more, keep going.” I was supposed to slip the helmet back until David’s head was just resting on the inside rim, then grab his head and support his neck. “A little bit-” David’s head dropped- just a little! “GRRRR” he said. I quickly grabbed the back of his head and eased it down to the mat, stifling a strong giggle along the way. If the instructor noticed, he was mighty German about it!
Then it was back to the lecture. This time I really had no clue what he was talking about. There was an image of a business man who had fallen out of his chair. But, if it was revealed what this had to do with accident response, I never figured it out. The droning in German was starting to sound like a lullaby. I needed a break!
Almost too late, he told us we could go to lunch. We only had 40 minutes, but we figured we could get over to McDonalds and back. I was starved and I didn’t want to risk finding someplace new. Over lunch, I told David of my observations about the teacher’s attention to the two nodding Americans. He agreed that we needed to blend better. We headed back with intentions of sitting very, very still.
Only, something was wrong. The doors were already closed. Everyone was inside! We looked at the clock as we entered. It was 5 minutes later than our car clock! We were late. Everyone stopped as we walked in and stared at us all the way to our seats. No one said anything. We sat down quickly, and class resumed. So much for blending. Late is definitely *not* German!
On the bright side, it looked like we were set up to learn CPR. Amusingly, the German term for it is “reanimation”. Chillingly, that term, if applied to the two extremely unnatural dummies now situated on the floor, would definitely start some serious nightmare time. I was actually grateful they had no arms. Ok, I have never used CPR dummies in the states (Annie came into vogue after my last CPR class). But, these things have completely removable faces! Each person changes out its “lungs” (a plastic bag with a valve closure). And then they attach an entire fresh face- including the part that fits into the valve, which, incidentally, has the poor guy’s teeth.
In any case, I figured we had blown our shot at anonymity, so, I decided to take a couple photos.
|David inserting the lung bag|
|David doing CPR- you can see the brown floral curtains and a few bored Germans behind him.|
|Bag of faces. And teeth. Nothing creepy about that.|
The CPR was fun and went well. But, for the entire rest of the class to complete the training, it only took about an hour. After that we still had 2.5 hours to go. The first one was OK. He told us a horror story about a woman who cut her finger and then had it get infected and the infection went into her blood and eventually into her brain. “All because she didn’t treat her finger cut properly!” He had told other horror stories, but this was the first one my limited German allowed me to comprehend I felt proud. (Hermosa Valley Middle School Alums- this guy could have given Mr. Arwine a run for his money on War Stories) He showed us how to cut a butterfly bandage out of this cool bandage tape stuff I had actually never seen before. It is about 3 inches wide with a strip of gauze padding down the middle and tape out an inch or so on each side. You can cut your own band-aids to size. Seemed remarkably practical and I wondered why the heck I had never had this stuff around! Gotta get me some, now!
A bad time
After that, though, was one of the worst hours I have spent in a good long time. Up until now, everything had been practical and tame. Now it was time to leave us with an impression. Though, honestly, I have no idea why this was the impression he wanted to leave. He pulled out a stack of more transparencies. But these were a little different. German Red Asphalt, indeed.
It started with the breaks. Only a few photos. But each was left on the screen for several minutes while he told the story of the hapless patient whose injury we were witnessing. Arms that looked like curved scythes, a wrist that was in no way still attached to its hand- complete with an X-ray, etc. I started to squirm. I am not unaccustomed to medical photos, but these were chosen for impact.
Then things got gruesome. Burns. And not just any burns. 4 of the 6 photos were children. 2 of those were babies. Naked, and, yes, one of them was dead. Not staged images. No warning. Real, dead and severely burned children. Why the heck were we looking at these? Awful. And it isn’t like we were learning something new. He had told us how to treat burns in the first hour. This was just torturous. I had to work not to cry. David abandoned all effort to remain unnoticed and said loudly, and in English “I didn’t need to see that!” He was squirming at least as much as I was. I noticed that the younger students around me didn’t respond the same way to these photos. The next group upset them more. I guess being a parent changes that sort of thing.
For me, the next set of photos was a relief. Wounds. Again, each had a story, and judging from the reaction of the other students (who did, I must note, react strongly), the stories must have been even worse than the images. But, they were adult victims and, thankfully, my lack of German skills served me well. I looked away and let the words wash over me without comprehension. David held my hand. We were to the home stretch, but this whole bit was worse than we had bargained for. Red Asphalt was cheesy and staged. This was real, in our face and completely unpleasant. I wanted the clock to move faster.
Finally, he put the transparencies away. I wanted to tell him that after all that he really owed us an image of a cute puppy or something! But, I couldn’t remember the word for “puppy”. Drat. A few more minutes discussion of putting pressure (not a tourniquet!) on small, but strongly bleeding wounds and we were done. No test. But, it was a grueling day anyways. David and I were the only students in the room whose certificates he was able to distribute without asking for the name. Yeah, ok, we suck at blending!
But, one more set of essential German Paperwork acquired. Another check in a box. This week we need to get our Visas renewed as well as jumping through more DL paperwork, so, I guess the Paper Fairy will be getting a few more offerings from us before next weekend arrives. Stay Tuned.
PS. David tells me I didn’t capture and convey how truly horrifying this day was. But, there are some things I think you really don’t need to experience vicariously quite so much!