My classmate, fingers interlocked, swung her arms in a circle up in front of her, over her head, behind her back, and then, not missing a beat, all the way around until they landed at her sides. 360 degrees. There was a collective sharp intake of breath for the last 100 or so degrees.
It was our first day of Anatomy in the EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class, and we were learning about joints. Some are called “ball and socket,” allowing motion in different directions. Others are “ hinge joints,” swinging only one way, like a door. Pivot joints, saddle joints. What about “double-jointed,” I asked? What does that even mean?
It’s a misnomer, because as my instructor said, you don’t actually have two joints—you just have a wider range of motion. This woman had raised her hand and proffered her shoulders as an example.
We had just been talking about decapitations and everyone had continued eating their sandwiches with barely a blink, yet as her arms made a full motion around her body, as if her torso was jump-roping through them, everyone cringed.
It was interesting to be in an emergency medical training class and find that people were there to check off vastly different boxes. Some were there for the emergency box—some for the medical box—some for the training box. I knew this because we had gone around explaining why we were taking the course.
“I was a lifeguard and I liked learning how to deal with emergencies, so I figured I’d learn more about that.”
“My husband’s diabetic, and we end up calling the ambulance a lot. I figured, why not learn this stuff and save myself some medical bills?”
“I just want a job that’ll up my pay grade in firefighting.”
“I work in an ambulance billing department and realized I’d rather DO this stuff than bill for it.”
“I’m taking this course as a resume-strengthener.” (palpable groans fill the room)
“I want some hands-on medical experience before applying to medical school.”
“I’m taking this to stay out of trouble.” (everyone laughs nervously)
“I’m taking this because I’m trying to get out of taking some requirements for my major during the school year” (everyone’s favorite and most trusted first-responder)
“I’m taking this course, the accelerated summer one, because the regular one conflicts with a Beyonce concert in August.”
We were also instructed to share fun facts about ourselves. This is an elusive art I’d like to practice—coming up with the perfect fun fact for the given room of people. I remember when I was younger my fact would be, “I’m really tall.” People would look at me quizzically. Then at the end of class I’d stand up, over 5 feet in the fifth grade, and someone would exclaim—“Wow, you ARE really tall!” Told you so.
Nowadays, I just default to something about China, if only because it signals potential Mandarin-speakers in the room that we can gab about fake Longchamps and tea eggs if they would so desire. (It worked: a girl from Taiwan attending college in Boston came up to me during a break and asked me about my time there). But it’s interesting to see what others default to—especially in this setting, where it’s presumed that everyone has some medical interest and we’re going to be talking about medical things. Rather than random fun facts, things narrowed into unfiltered private medical “fun” facts.
“I’ve never had a nosebleed in my life.” (The instructor corroborated that she had never had one either, and fears that if she does she’ll think she’s dying.)
“I have an extra bone in my hand.” (The instructor, making this a teaching moment: “So you have 207 bones? Wonderful.”)
“I’ve never broken a bone.” (Hurrah!)
Darn it, I should have cracked my shoulder when I had the chance!
I believe this has set a strange precedent for publicly airing our private medical histories, but maybe this is a good thing in a class where within the first week we had to feel for each other’s pulses right behind the protruding knob of the inner foot. If you have to touch someone’s feet on a Thursday night, might as well know about his or her other bodily attributes.
The most beautiful fact, revealed only when we were talking about kidney transplants, was that one classmate had donated a kidney four years ago to another classmate’s younger sister. For this, we actually applauded, as she shyly tried to look down and away.