For Dedicated CAVA Volunteers, Every Night Poses New Challenges

Columbia Spectator
March 29, 2013

Flashing blue lights mean that CAVA is on the scene, its student volunteers responding to the needs of other students and ensuring the safety of the community.

CAVA, Columbia Area Volunteer Ambulance, keeps a constant, watchful eye over all of Morningside Heights. Every faculty member, security guard, and desk attendant automatically calls CAVA's number when faced with any sort of medical emergency.

"It's nice to be able to depend on students to get you out of difficult situations," said Susan Tran, BC '02. "And they are just as qualified as the regular New York City EMS squads, which means you're always in good hands."

Brian Parrett, CC '98, a second-year medical student and former CAVA volunteer who now oversees CAVA's training program, is extremely proud of the fact that CAVA is an organization that is basically for the students and run by students.

"Students will call security, ask for CAVA to come, and we will be on call somewhere else so security will tell them to call 911, but students don't want to do it," he said. "They feel safer dealing with us. It's more of a normal part of their daily routines--they see our ambulance, and it's not as big a deal as having the fire department come. If CAVA comes, they are still being as effective as the fire department would be, but it seems less of a deal for students."

On Saturday night the Spectator became a silent part of CAVA's nightly routine, following the team on its calls. At 8:30 p.m., the night shift began. There were three people on duty: Parrett; Richard Reaven, second-year GS/JTS; and Rafi Kaiser-Blueth, JTS/TS '02.

Although the first call did not come in until the shift was well into the second hour, these three volunteers were ready to go at any second.

When waiting for calls on the late-night shifts, CAVA volunteers go back to their rooms and sleep or do work. During the day volunteers go to class and go about their regular routines. But no matter where they are and no matter what they are doing, the volunteers on call must be able to get back to CAVA's on-campus ambulance within minutes.

The first call of the night came at 11 p.m. when a member of the Morningside Heights community was found unconscious on the corner of 116th and Broadway. Although the man was not affiliated with Columbia University, CAVA was on the scene within three minutes and assessed the situation immediately. He was taken to St. Luke's Hospital where he was treated.

Almost immediately after returning from the hospital, the team faced another emergency. A female undergraduate had fallen in the Broadway Residence Hall, hitting her head and knocking herself unconscious. When CAVA volunteers arrived, they assessed the patient's medical history and took her blood pressure. This was a very delicate situation, as the girl might have damaged her spinal cord and neck.

CAVA volunteers applied a neck brace to ensure her body's stability and maintain support. She was then lifted onto a stretcher and taken to St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, where she was admitted without question for further testing and surveillance.

While chatting with the hospital staff, CAVA volunteers remained at the hospital briefly to fill out paperwork.

Even though these two incidents were the only emergencies of the night, CAVA volunteers used the extra time to continue their hands-on staff training.

Kaiser-Blueth was assigned many of the crew chief's responsibilities, under the supervision of current crew chief Parrett, because Kaiser is planning to fill that role in the near future.

Kaiser-Blueth joined CAVA seven months ago because he "really enjoyed helping people … and wanted to be able to help them in another capacity."

After his seven months as a medical volunteer, he said, "Seeing the difference that I can make to someone's life in an instant--it's really a powerful experience."

His crew chief training can continue indefinitely and only stops once Kaiser-Blueth acknowledges that he feels prepared to take on the challenge.

The second member to be trained was Reaven, who is currently training to be a driver. Reaven, a premed student originally from Canton, Ohio, joined CAVA at the beginning of last semester after he found out about the program through a friend. "I'm interested in medicine," Reaven said, "so I wanted to test the waters, see what's going on, and at the same time meet people and see the community."

He is currently a "third," the second position (above probationaries) in CAVA's chain of command.

"Once you become a third," Reaven explained, "you can train to become a driver. You go with the crew chief and drive around to practice parking and backing up into the bay [St. Luke's Emergency Arrival Zone]. Once the crew chief thinks that you're good enough ... you can go to and from the call to get the experience of driving. And once the chief thinks that you're proficient enough, you can train to be a driver."