On the morning of Saturday 17 March, rain hammered down, preventing any potential for motorbikes to be used as transport. Instead we climbed into a cab, the amiable, uniformed drive had his wet civilian clothes crammed into a plastic bag in the boot. We got there and went upstairs into a newly painted office - walked into the correct room which had half a dozen people inhabiting the bunch of chairs. Our instructor Malcolm, was no nonsense. He had been a school teacher for many years before specialising in becoming a St Johns instructor and it showed. The proceedings were in the teacher-student format - the long rambling anecdotes by some of the class were thinly tolerated but rarely expanded upon. A sweet mercy.
The content was far enough away from a Personal Development Health class so that I could have respect for it (a hangover prejudice I had from school where the the health teachers were PE teachers with books and I always had a deep loathing for PE). Right off the bat they gave us what we wanted and we spent the morning learning the recovery position and CPR. The recovery position, done in pairs, was simple - check the scene is safe, call for help, check for breathing, move the patient on their side, clear the airway. If the patient was not breathing then we would have to perform CPR. This was done using manikins with a docile, sleepy expression on their inert faces. "30 compressions on the chest - to a depth of one third of the cavity. Do this is real life and ribs are going to break". The armless, legless manikins did not seem to mind until Malcolm took off a panel on the front of their faces to reveal a shocked empty eyes and a vacant space behind the nose. Terrifying. Our CPR skills were all evaluated, then next we were shown a promotional video for a defibrillator.
Meet Joe Ordinary - he lives and works in London. The video begins with his voice over the top convincing us just how average his life is. Only its not, his job consists of having to deliver reports at ever earlier deadlines. As if this wasn't enough - there seems to be a chronic stationery shortage in this office and he seems to be the guy that everyone asks where this missing stationery is. All this is delivered in an accelerated series of flashes which conveys mounting tension. The only way out? Heart attack. CPR doesn't work (it only works in the event of flat-lining not erratic heart flutters). "It was curtains for me after that" Poor Joe. An alternate ending is shown, this time with a defibrillator close at hand. Joe lives to stock the stationery cupboard and deal with soul crushing deadlines for another day at least.
The defibrillator is quite an amazing piece of hardware - pads are placed on either side of the heart - one near the right shoulder, the other a handspan below the left armpit. Once opened the defibrillator will take you through the procedure, tell you where to place the pads, monitor the heart rate and deliver appropriate shocks. With a theatrical flurry Malcolm shook the dummy as the charge went through.
The second day we went through a series of scenarios, alternating with theory. We learnt how to deal with head, neck, abdominal and spinal injuries, broken bones, stings, poisons heatstroke, hypothermia. The subjects were diverse even if not conveyed in great detail. One interesting factoid was informing us to the existence of a white tailed spider and its sting which eats human flesh (arachnogenic necrosis). The accompanying anecdote was of someone that was unknowingly bitten, the poison lay dormant for a year and then this person began to lose flesh off their bone like a well cooked lamb shank
The only disquieting thing about this course for our purpose was the continual emphasis on calling 000 - quite a distant prospect on the plains of Azerbaijan. Regardless enough was learnt to put us in better, if not, ideal stead in the case of an emergency. If we had more time I would do the remote first aid course.