In late 1977 into early 1978 the local ambulance service sponsored an American Red Cross, Advanced First Aid course. Many of the junior and younger firefighters attended this training that was held at the fire hall several nights a week and on a few Saturdays as well. In fact, Smedley and I were only 15 when the class started and were not officially junior firefighters yet. We were learning how to do some good, how to help someone out in their time of need. Of course there was a bit of goofing off as well. This class was also open to any citizen that would like to volunteer for the ambulance service. Laurel Valley Ambulance Service was started a few years earlier and played several pivotal roles during the 1977 flood. The organization was expanding, it had procured two new ambulances and new volunteers were welcome. It just so happened that some of these community minded citizens included several of our mothers! Shit! Now we were going to have to somewhat behave.
In addition to me and Smedley, Heffer, Dewy, Ron, Todd, and Freddy were taking part in this class. Several of us had been exposed to some basic first aid when we were in the Boy Scouts, but this was blazing new territory. In addition to learning how to control bleeding and splint broken bones we learned Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, CPR. We were told if we did CPR perfectly it only provided one third of normal circulation yet that could our weapon to wage battle with the grim reaper and still win. We were taught about oxygen delivery devices, spine boards and spinal immobilization, shock, accidental poisoning, extrication of patients from motor vehicle accidents, patient packaging, patient transport, and the all important emergency childbirth.
The emergency childbirth section was presented over two nights. The first night of class we reviewed the reading assignment in our text books, discussed and learned correct anatomical names and physiological events that occurred when a woman went into labor. That was not too embarrassing with my mother in the room as long as I did not look at her directly after answering a question when the answer was “vagina.” The second night of the emergency childbirth section included watching a movie with detailed instructions about how to complete the task of assisting a child into this world.
The evening we were to watch the movie the room was charged with nervousness. We had received a warning from the instructor about behavior and proper conduct during an emergency childbirth situation, and she expected similar behavior on this evening as well. We “youngins” sat across the back of the square of tables, straight across from the instructor’s podium and the movie screen. I’m not sure exactly what I had expected to see during the course of this production. In my high school biology class we had viewed a quick film lasting less than 2 minutes about childbirth. The reel of film for tonight’s presentation looked at least 45 minutes long.
After a short introduction our instructor darkened the room and started the long anticipated film. The first flickers of images were of a naval patrol boat with the words Sea Power for Security and the seal of the United States Navy. The scene cut to an old station wagon style ambulance navigating along a deserted rural road. Two naval corpsmen were in the ambulance and we quickly realized that this was a naval training film for their medical personnel and by the looks of the ambulance and the cold war aura the movie gave off some of us figured that it was produced in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
The ambulance arrives at a remote residence to find the man of the house nervously waiting on the porch. The corpsmen, outfitted in the traditional white blouse and trousers of the navy, jump out of the ambulance with equipment in hand and follow the gentleman into the house where they proceeded to the basement. There we find a lady laying on a table with a blanket over her and another woman tending to her needs. At this point things became a little confusing. The lady on the table appeared much too old to be having children; at least in the opinion of a 15 year old boy. The sailors placed oxygen on the woman and went right to work pulling back the blankets to take a look at the area if interest.
Before I go any further, all of us young fellows had seen pictures of vaginas before. Not in any type of formal education, but via the pages of certain men’s entertainment magazines. Therefore we had a predetermined notion of what a normal vagina should look like, again from the frame of reference of 15 to 17 year old males. Knowing that this woman’s nether regions would be hitting the silver screen in about two seconds I personally was concentrating on not snickering or laughing out loud. Instead, feelings of foreboding, horror or both came over at least several of us. By seeing this vagina in a close up, full screen view convinced me that this woman was indeed too old to be having children and I was not sure anything alive was going to come out of that thing. She had more hair down there than Rip Van Winkle did on his chin after his twenty year nap! The skin looked kind of dark and leathery, not at all what I had expected from my previous limited exposure to vaginas. To make matters a bit more unpalatable, this lady’s rectal sphincter was covered with poo! Recalling from the previous lesson I knew that a woman in labor may feel like she has to move her bowels, but I did not recall learning that a bowel movement could actually occur. By the looks of this lady’s undercarriage she was about to give birth to more than a baby!
Just as I was clearing my head and refocusing on the lesson I was to be learning the four foot high, old, leathery, Rip Van Winkle bearded vagina began to spew forth a cascade of fluid and blood. Again, I was caught off guard. I did not realize that the amniotic sac held so much fluid. Now I knew why they had this woman in the basement! They could hose all that juice and blood down the floor drain. Imagine the mess in the bedroom or in the kitchen for Heaven’s sake. One would never be able to cook in the kitchen again. Even with the impressive tsunami of fluid that had come out of this woman, there was still poo on her rectum and that was really kind of bothering me. I’m thinking, “Now come on there admiral, wipe that butt hole off before the baby comes out!” I was sure if this child survived it would be diseased or disabled because of the proximity of it’s head to the poo.
The baby begins his journey into the outside world and crowning is easily observed. The top of the babies head was kind of a purple shade in color and each time the lady would push it kept going in and out of the birth canal like a wack-a-mole game at an arcade. The area of poo also got bigger when the lady pushed. All this time the narrator is calm and the sailors haven’t even broken a sweat. Then the head pops out. Indeed the baby has a purplish hue, and I’m thinking oh no, this lady is indeed too old and the baby is going to be still born. Shortly after the sailor assisted the shoulders out and then the baby came the rest of the way out rather quickly. The corpsmen worked quickly and suctioned the baby and placed him on his mother’s lap to dry him off. The little guy was crying and his color had turned nice and pink now. I didn’t see any poo on his head and that made me feel quite a bit better. While one sailor cared for the baby, the other prepared for the birth of the placenta. When it came out the placenta looked alien. I thought it couldn’t get much worse until the guy started examining the placenta to see if it all was delivered. I didn’t know if I could examine a giant, slimy blood clot so closely. I figured I could always put it in a plastic barf bag and take it to the hospital and they could examine it if ever I was in such a situation, yet I was already asking God, “Please don’t make me ever have to do this.”
Before we knew it the movie was over and I think all of us guys were either looking straight ahead or down at the table waiting for our teacher to release us for a break. Suddenly it hit me why they used such an old lady for this training film. To save money! We learned that with each pregnancy and birth a woman endures the next child typically comes faster. Hell, the Department of the Navy didn’t have to waste any film waiting for this gal to move stuff along. By the looks of old Rip Van Winkle she must have had at least five children already. The instructor announced break time and we ran to the truck bay to laugh, choke, and groan out of the view and ear shot of the adults to further discuss the miracle we had just witnessed. You know what? I never stopped wondering if anyone ever helped that lady clean her butt?