It was an impossible situation — a sweltering day on Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, and my fellow classmate was face down in a 4-foot ditch with one shoulder against the dirt. His legs were wrapped around an 8-inch log that inclined toward the narrow top of the ditch.

Plus, there was a simulated chunk of metal in the back of one thigh, oozing fake blood through his fatigues.

On seeing him, I knew I would fail the test. He was so wrapped up that it seemed there was no way to get him out safely to the aid station.

I skidded down, checked the man’s face from about 8 inches away and told the instructor he appeared to be conscious. He had a clear airway and was breathing fine.

From 10 feet behind me, the instructor said the patient was unconscious, but was breathing with quick, shallow breaths.

The next step was to make sure his blood could keep flowing.

The test standards required the first large-bore IV needle to be in a vein and delivering saline solution within 60 seconds of my initial evaluation. The second IV needed to be in place, with fluid flowing, a half minute later.

The first IV went in fine, but the second was late — and just like that, I had failed.

Even so, the examination continued, as the instructor tossed an artillery simulator a few dozen feet away. It whistled, exploded and he said in a strangely calm voice, "You better get moving."

That’s about where we are now, with much of the country locked down – much of the world, in fact. We’re now doing everything that can be done to catch up.

In addition to coronavirus test kits and protective supplies for emergency workers, public officials are looking for rooms to house first-responders and medical workers who may fall ill, not to mention room for a possible surge in patients in case hospitals are overwhelmed, as has happened in many other places around the world.

These are times like none of us has ever experienced, and if you’re one of those who isn’t concerned, then you probably should sit back and repeat the following:

"Most of the country has been ordered to stay at home."

Let that sink in and re-evaluate your news sources.

Meanwhile, despite the state-wide stay-at-home order, many people are still shopping and pumping gas, though the crowds are not as thick as normal.

Like everyone else, I also need to shop, but I am taking precautions, unlike many. On my trip to one grocery store last week, I saw dozens of people pushing carts around, bare-handed. And I was only in the store for 30 minutes.

A couple of days later, stores were installing plexiglass screens to shield the cashiers — some of whom were still handling groceries that dozens of people had touched with ungloved hands.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, as many as 1% of the population could have coronavirus, meaning that right now, dozens of people in every local community could be contagious. Also, officials say this disease can be spread by people who have no symptoms.

That means shopping carts, door handles, hand rails, gas pumps, cash register pin-pads and anything else dozens of people touch with their hands each day are all potentially contaminated.

State officials under Gov. Mike DeWine’s leadership have led the nation in mandating measures to deal with the spread of this disease. They also caution that this is not a time for panic, but for awareness and a serious response, like staying away from other people and away from public places.

It takes some practice, but learning to avoid potential contagion in public places can be done. I won’t detail the steps I take, but I can say they are fairly extreme, as I’m 59 with a history of pneumonia and some training. I don’t want this disease. 

People inevitably are going to decide what procedures are best for themselves. At a minimum, everyone should wear some kind of gloves in public and wash their hands thoroughly after every time they go out. Also, it’s a good idea to disinfect surfaces such as car door handles and steering wheels, along with the doors to one’s home and inside surfaces after returning from public places.

But there is another important consideration.

Back more than 25 years ago, my assistant and I lifted our classmate from the ditch, strapped him onto a stretcher with his IVs and hauled him a hundred meters away.

Then, despite failing the course, I went on to the second phase of the test. It was in a large, olive-drab tent in front of a pair of empty stretcher stands. It was just one of several operating stations separated by portable, green cabinets full of bandages, simulated drugs and other medical supplies.


It was like a scene from MASH — only one of those episodes from the run-down, primitive battalion aid station.

A pair of soldiers brought in my patient on a stretcher and the instructor started the clock by squirting some fake blood onto the man’s abdomen.

"What do you see?" he asked.

Holding my gloved hands up, elbows bent with my palms in front of my face, I described the "bleeding" and leaned over to check the man’s face. He needed oxygen. Then I went to work on the IVs and saved his life.

Unfortunately, since I had failed the first part of the test, I ended up returning to my Army Reserves a couple of weeks later. My continued participation in the course was only so I could benefit from more training in case I could help in an emergency some day.

So here it is: Keep your hands clean and don’t make more patients for the doctors to take care of.

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433, or