by Michael Bowen

Late in the game, and you're down 18-17. The other team's biggest bruiser drives the lane. You step in and plant your feet, hoping to draw an offensive foul, when suddenly -- you got crumpled, took an elbow to the face, but you bounce right back up, figuring that you took the charge, it'll be our ball now -- when you notice that everyone's at a standstill, staring at you with queasy looks. Your shirt's splattered with red stuff. A quick check suggests that your nose isn't 100 percent in alignment. And what's that salty taste in your mouth? A couple of gravel-sized pieces seem to be floating around in there.

Everybody, even the guys on the other team, keep asking if you're okay. They don't actually care, of course -- there's still a game to finish. You'll be walking to the First Aid tent on your own.

Time for your first-alert forecast: Dude, you're hurtin'. So step up to one of Hoopfest's four First Aid tents, each operated by one of the four area hospitals -- Deaconess, Holy Family, Sacred Heart and Valley. Each of the tents cares for the walking wounded from nearly 100 basketball courts.

Rick Klingler, a registered nurse and case manager for Premera Blue Cross (and formerly an ER nurse at Valley Hospital) oversees medical operations at Hoopfest, planning for the needs of 24,000 weekend warriors and coordinating among the four hospitals as they donate both supplies and personnel.

Klingler runs through his list of the most common Hoopfest injuries: "blisters, twisted joints, some jammed fingers, the rare fracture -- fractures of the ankle, fractures of the arm bones, those are the most frequent -- and then road rash and some cases of over-heating."

What about the more unusual problems? "Occasional heart palpitations, some anaphylactic reactions -- you know, peanut reactions, bee stings -- and asthma attacks, which can be quite severe," Klingler says. "Altogether last year, I'd say we shipped about 30 or 40 cases to the ER. Occasionally, there are lacerations -- last year we had one cut above the eye, and even though the guy didn't really want to, it was going to require a few stitches. What we do is we stop the bleeding and then assess the injury."

Rick Manum, the assistant fire marshal and special events officer for the Spokane Fire Department, oversees the "ped-meds": four teams of two EMTs each, roving on bicycles and fully equipped "with defibrillators, the whole deal. They'll pedal right down through the courts," says Manum. "Sometimes they'll have to go three blocks or more when they get a call." He laughs. "Couldn't get one just standing right there beside us," he says.

This year, as he has for each of the past 10 years, Manum devises an operational plan for Hoopfest. "We set up a command center, usually around Riverside and Howard, one of those buildings," he says. "We have our ham radio operators set up on our alarm board, and we have our dispatchers, in the YWCA by the park -- just as if they were in a real dispatch situation."

So how does Klingler deploy his troops? "Well, we have all four area hospitals involved," he says. "In each tent, we get the ER docs in there to be the tent captains. And then the ER nurses -- everyone knows that they're the ones who really run the tents. In each tent, we try to have one physician, two to four nurses, some ER technicians and, of course, the EMTs."

And all these people are volunteers? "Nobody gets paid," replies Klingler. "We also have about 250 non-medical volunteers. They're the ones who meet you at the intake area, what we call our 'triage desk.' That's where you fill out a form, something for the physician to look at and to sign off on when you're through," Klingler says. The non-meds "will help transport you home, if that's what you need, or get you to the ER if you don't need an ambulance. They'll get you a wheelchair, if needed -- all our wheelchairs are donated for the weekend."

The medical tents are used in unintended ways, too. Klingler reports that "Although we're not really an information booth, people come up to us all the time and ask us, 'Do you know what time my game starts?' or 'Do you know where my court is?'"

Both men oversee staffs that work long hours. Manum reports that the ped-meds work 12-hour shifts on Saturday (and nearly that long on Sunday). Klingler's duties, likewise, are extensive: "Starting about 2 o'clock on Friday afternoon, I have to go around and pick up supplies from all the ERs, then make sure they're distributed," he says. "Then I have to coordinate and make sure that everybody gets lunches. And we give out, altogether, about 300 volunteer gift bags."

Both men praise Hoopfest for keeping large crowds under control. "We have not had any fighting injuries in the last two years," says Klingler. "Then there are always guys who wanna keep playing even though they're injured, like the guy who wants to go out and play with a broken finger." But Klingler, knowing all the preparation that has gone into the Hoopfest medical effort, remains confident: "We served about 1,050 cases in the medical tents last year," he reports. "[Players] know they can get back out and play. Because they know we're well staffed."

Publication date: 06/26/03

Spokane Folklore Society Contra Dance @ Woman's Club of Spokane

First Wednesday of every month, 7:15-9:30 p.m. and Third Wednesday of every month, 7:15-9:30 p.m. Continues through June 21
  • or

About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.