Why Passing My First Aid Certification Feels Like Winning a War

When I was in high school, I always wanted to learn first aid.

I didn’t know why. Maybe I wished to be a doctor for rescuing people. But I knew my grades would never be good enough to become a doctor. So the closest thing I could get was to become a first aid responder.

That thought has stayed in my mind for many years. Even after I quit my full-time job to work as a freelancer several years ago.

Last month, I finally got the chance to enroll in the Red Cross First Aid Certification Course. The course duration was 30-hours with a 3-hours exam. I understood the seriousness of first aid. So I had expected the training to be hard — but didn’t expect it to be that hard.

For instance, after the first lesson I learned about CPR, there were already bruises on my hands caused by all the practice. Also, there were 19 different bandaging methods for different injuries we had to learn for the exam. Not to mention we needed to know the 280-pages first aid manual by heart.

By the end of the course, I thought there was no way I could pass the certification exam. To me, the exam was like an unwinnable war.

Well, that was until when the exam actually came.

Preparing for war

I had about two days to prepare for the exam which consisted of 4 parts:

  1. CPR
  2. Bandage
  3. Recovery Position (like a bodycheck procedure and more)
  4. Written test on knowledge.

There was only one supplementary exam opportunity if one of those four parts failed. Therefore, if I failed any two parts of the exam, I would have to retake the course.

No doubt in my mind the CPR part was most likely to fail. So I focused my study on the other three parts. And hopefully, I would get a second chance on the CPR part during the supplementary exam.

To be honest, it has been decades since the last time I have to study for an exam. The feeling was a bit stressful — obviously. But at the same time, I found it to be intriguing because it brought back a lot of memories from my school days.

Anyways, even though I — to a certain extent — enjoyed those two days of study, it was over. And here came the exam day.

Meeting war buddies

I arrived an hour early at the training center on exam day.

Because I wanted to practice more on CPR and bandages in the training room before the actual exam. And I was surprised to see most of my classmates were already there. Including myself, there were 16 people enrolled in the certification course.

Before the exam day, we didn’t really have a chance to chat. Because the course was quite intensive. We barely had enough time for doing sufficient practice during each 3-hours lesson, let alone to talk with one another.

And on exam day, in that ten minutes before the exam began, we started to chat. Perhaps we wanted to calm ourselves before going into the exam room — since all of us were definitely nervous. Or perhaps we knew we probably wouldn't see each other again after the exam was over.

We learned a bit about what each other did professionally. And why we took the certification course. Some of us took it for work-related reasons. The others took it for joining the Red Cross volunteers.

Just when we were getting to know one other, it was time to start the exam.

Fighting the battles

The first part of the exam was the written test.

For this part, we all sat in the same room to do the exam together. After that, we went into different rooms by ourselves for the remaining three parts.

I first went into the bandage exam room. There was the examiner and a table with 19 cards faced-down. He told me to pick a card to determine which one of the 19 bandaging methods I would perform for my exam.

I was lucky to pick the one for an elbow injury. Because I had just practiced that in the training room before the exam. After I was done, the examiner took a quick look without any further checking. And told me “OK” with a smile on his face.

I was certainly pleased and I told myself: Two down, two more to go.

Then I went to the Recovery Position exam room. Once I was inside the room, I started getting nervous but I couldn't explain why.

And when I started doing the Recovery Position procedure, I messed up a few initial steps. But fortunately, I was able to correct them right away, before going further into the procedure.

I took a deep breath after I was done. Then I told myself: That was close.

But there was no time to think about that any further. Because the only part left at that point was the most challenging one— the CPR.

Winning the war

By the time I went to the CPR exam room, there were several of my classmates waiting outside the door. Some of them had already finished their CPR exam, and the rest was waiting for their turn.

Those who finished were telling the rest of us what potential issues we should pay attention to. Because the examiner had already told them they had failed due to exactly those issues. We were all listening very carefully to those invaluable tips they were giving us.

Still, for every person next in turn for the CPR exam, it was hard not to be nervous. So without any previous coordination, together we said to each person just before they went into the exam room: You can do it!

We were all wearing face masks due to COVID. But we could still feel the emotions (encouragement and appreciation) just by meeting each others’ eyes.

Eventually, my turn came. I went into the exam room. I thought I would be nervous but I wasn’t. Perhaps it was because of the support from my classmates. Or perhaps I was already exhausted after taking the other three exams.

I started performing the CPR procedure more slowly than my usual pace. But I was calm and focused on each step of the procedure. And I finished the procedure without making any major mistakes.

At that point, I was truly relieved because I had finally finished the whole exam. And even though I couldn't be certain. I believed I might have a chance to pass the whole certification exam in one shot.

Farewell war buddies

After all of us were done with the CPR exam, we didn’t leave the training center right away. We were still chatting with each other about the exams for another half an hour.

Until one of the examiners came out to tell us we are all done. We then started to gather our backpacks and walked out of the training center together.

Just when everyone was at the door outside the center. We all stopped walking and turned around. Waving our hands and said goodbye to each other. And then we went separate ways to leave.

We didn’t exchange our phone numbers. We didn’t even know each other’s names. But we all treasured the time we spent together during the course and especially the exam day.

P.S.: One week after the exam day, I was informed I had passed the certification exam.

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