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They're No Dummies

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March 2012


Cherry Pepper is having a bad morning.

Overnight, she was tolerating fluids, walking short distances and her appetite was returning a bit in the wake of an emergency appendectomy two days earlier.

Now, she says she is dizzy and feeling nauseous, but what really is troubling her are the spiders on the ceiling of her hospital room.

Something is decidedly wrong here, and it will be up to junior St. Ambrose nursing students Brittani Felderman, Danika Sawyer and Thomas Koehler to read the signs and find the problem.

The dizziness, nausea and, particularly, the creepy crawlers that only a hallucinating Cherry Pepper can see are strong clues.  The insulin IV drip attached to her left arm completes the tale.

The trio decides a blood sugar test is in order, discovers Mrs. Pepper is hypoglycemic and, while Sawyer turns off the insulin drip, Koehler phones the patient's doctor for a prescription. 

Crisis averted. But here's the real news: Although Cherry Pepper isn't a human being, she is much more authentic than those aforementioned spiders.

Nursing, physical therapy and occupational therapy students in SAU's College of Health and Human Services are learning practical lessons this year using six high fidelity simulators that are part mannequin and part computer.

"These 'sims' can do anything," Felderman said. "You can make them do anything. You can make them say anything."

"They can drop their blood pressure," Koehler concurred. "They can make them die, essentially. You have to be prepared for any situation you could encounter in real life with these mannequins, which is really what's invaluable about them."

In this setting, the "they" is Mary Lou Kaney, an assistant professor and lab director in the nursing department. This simulation exercise is one of countless practical nursing drills 300-level nursing students will experience this year with the help of these high-tech simulators. The six "sims" were purchased with grant money from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the Riverboat Development Authority and the Scott County Regional Authority.

With teaching staff cueing a computer, the high-tech mannequins can talk, mimic different medical issues, change breathing patterns, heart rates and blood pressures and respond to medications. They can be catheterized, ventilated, intubated and made up to display a variety of wounds. One bleeds. Another gives birth. 

The simulators can mimic a heart murmur. They can display the telltale sounds of pneumonia in a lung. They can also react to repositioning in bed, a skill PT students must consistently practice.

Physical Therapy Program Director Michael Puthoff, PhD, said PT students are clamoring for more such hands on experiences and Kaney said plans are being made to expand use of the simulators across the nursing curriculum.

Nursing student Sawyer, who recently began working as a clinical assistant in the emergency rooms at both Genesis Medical Center Davenport campuses, said the realness of talking to the simulators has helped her develop a better bedside manner.

"Some people are kind of edgy when they don't feel well," she said. "So it really helps you develop your people skills, too."

–Craig DeVrieze

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