VEMS: You think you know, but you have no idea
By Jessica Remo
We've all heard of them, maybe even been helped by them, but how many Villanova students truly know the facts about the people involved with Villanova's Emergency Medical Service? To get a better understanding of VEMS, I spent a night riding along with the crew.
Our Saturday night shift started at 6 p.m. and lasted until the following day at noon. Upon arrival, I received a warm welcome from the three VEMS members working that night and was invited to join them for a home-cooked pasta dinner. We talked about how the group runs and the training required in order to participate. The only certification required for joining is CPR and first aid, but in order to fully participate, the members must be EMT-certified.
As soon as a student expresses interest in joining, a membership committee walks him or her through the enrollment process. When students become part of VEMS they begin as a probationary member until they have witnessed approximately 20 to 40 calls and are nominated by the executive board for cleared member status. Within the group there are 15 cleared members and approximately 30 probationary members. There is also an executive board made up of the captain, three lieutenants, a secretary and a treasurer. Saturday night, I worked with Captain Chris Anton, scheduling lieutenant Chrissy Maffeo and probationary member Steve Van Pelt.
After dinner we got down to business, and I witnessed a "rig check" in which the ambulance is inspected to make sure all the necessary supplies and equipment are stocked and ready for use. We discussed some of the most common misconceptions about what VEMS is and does.
* VEMS is primarily for helping drunk students. "Students always think we're just here for drunk kids," Van Pelt said. But as Anton pointed out, "The truth is that Villanova University is a city within itself. People are here 24 hours a day who aren't students. We've been on calls helping professors, workers and administrators in addition to students." In fact, only 12.5 percent of VEMS calls are alcohol related. (The incidence of alcohol-related calls is much greater on weekends, however.) The members have dealt with everything from athletes getting hurt during a game and students with medical problems like asthma, to slip and fall accidents and cooking injuries.
* Calling VEMS will get me in trouble. VEMS is not public safety or your RA. They will not and cannot write you up.
* If VEMS provides care for me, I'm going to have to pay for it. Since it is fully run and staffed by student volunteers, VEMS is a completely free service. Under no circumstances will you receive a bill from VEMS.
After clearing up the myths, we got something to eat, then headed back to VEMS headquarters where we watched "Ocean's Eleven." When they are not out on calls, VEMS members kick back and enjoy just hanging out with each other. I was amazed by their lush surroundings. Their headquarters includes a kitchen, TV, DVD player, Nintendo, couches, two bedrooms, a bathroom with a shower, a computer room, an executive board office and even a walk-in supply closet.
We stumbled on our first call that night when we were away from headquarters. Within seconds of reaching our destination a student approached us to say that there was a sick person and those on the scene were asking for VEMS to be called. The call involved an intoxicated and semi-conscious non-student. Anton, Maffeo and VanPett acted instinctively and professionally, comforting the patient and carefully helping him to the stretcher. The patient was then transported to Bryn Mawr Hospital. I was amazed at how second nature this was to them. Being rather queasy, I kept my distance and couldn't help but think of what it must take to deal with rather unpleasant circumstances on a daily basis. Anton, Maffeo and VanPett took it in stride.
Our second call that night was similar; however, this procedure didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. An intoxicated student was resisting transport to the hospital. If a patient is of altered mental status, he or she legally cannot refuse care. VEMS members must determine whether the patient is of altered mental status through questioning the patient as to his or her whereabouts, name, date, etc.
At times, VEMS must enlist the help of the police in transporting a patient who is of altered mental status and refusing care. "We're students helping students," said Anton, "but we're also professionals helping students."
After arriving back at headquarters, two off-duty members stopped by. I took this opportunity to talk to them about group dynamics and the family-like atmosphere within the group. "I could easily go to another ambulance company and get more calls," admitted cleared member Robert Bramante, "but it's not just about running calls."