Packed costume-clad crowds, a colder than anticipated night and excitement clouding the air are all staples of Halloweekend—one of the most anticipated celebrations to take place on Vassar’s campus. Students dress up in their carefully planned outfits and trek to the packed, humid tent for a mega-sized party situated on Noyes Circle.
Given the weekend’s always-expected chaos, Security and medical services on campus prepare for potential medical situations that could arise. They begin on the Thursday before the weekend officially commences (which this year just so happens to fall on the spooky night itself).
The Office of Health Promotion and Education organizes an info session aptly titled “Health-oween,” with the purpose of educating students on responsible drinking and raising awareness about the resources available to them, should they need help.
With all of the heightened expectations and hype surrounding the weekend, students frequently feel pressured to drink past their limits. A Vassar student who was EMSed during a previous Halloweekend was willing to speak under the condition of anonymity, for the sake of keeping unabridged knowledge of the incident within their close circle of friends. They explained that they were EMSed because their friends feared they had drank too much.
“My EMS encounter occurred during my first Halloweekend at Vassar.” they said. “I personally felt pressure to have a ‘wild’ Halloweekend…Being socially anxious, I drank a little more than I should have and ended up feeling really sick.”
In preparation for potentially dangerous situations like this, EMS and Vassar’s Safety and Security have extra staff and supplies standing by. According to Medical Director for EMS and Physician Assistant at Baldwin Douglas Kugel, Vassar’s EMS partners with Safety and Security, the Arlington Fire Department and Mobile Life EMS to plan effective responses and treatment for students who require medical attention.
Last year, EMS responded to six incidents of intoxication, five situations where students refused further medical treatment and one in which the student was transferred to a local hospital. These numbers were significantly lower than those from 2016, when there were 12 incidents of intoxication, seven refusals of medical assistance and five transports via ambulance to the hospital.
Captain and Assistant Captain of Vassar EMS Niharika Shukla ’20 and Sarah Garijo-Garde ’20 explained via email correspondence that because of this precedent for overconsumption, responders must be prepared to handle a variety of medical issues during this weekend, a challenge requiring additional staff and resources.The most common calls during Halloweekend are for intoxication and psychiatric emergencies. Often calls are a combination of the two, according to Shukla and Garijo-Garde.
However, students feel that EMS is not always as efficient as needed. The anonymous student explained, “I went back to my room with a friend, and we both ended up falling asleep on my bed. My friends were worried about the state of drunkenness that we were in, and called EMS to check on us. I awoke to them standing over me, and [I] was really confused.”
Many students had similar stories, including five others who responded to an open call for comment, but were hesitant to go on record.
The anonymous source that was willing to go on record continued, “I don’t think EMS responded completely efficiently to the problem. They only questioned me, and not my friend laying next to me. I think this is because they could only address the person that they were called for. However, when I tried to wake up my friend to talk to them, he kept sleeping, and they didn’t care. He was fine in the end, but they disregarded his condition.”
Given the high amount of intoxication-related health concerns, EMS resources are often stretched thin throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, a high quality of treatment can prove extra difficult to attain on Halloweekend, given the many distractions and poorly lit areas.
“It can be challenging when working in uncontrolled environments which may have loud music and dim lighting.” Kugel noted, “If possible, we try to move patients to welllit and quieter environments in order to obtain a good assessment.” Because of these potentially difficult situations, EMS and Safety and Security assemble the necessary items in advance.
In response to these increasingly tumultuous conditions, Shukla and Garijo explained that extra resources were necessary to prepare for the influx of calls. They place multiple crews on call, and stock equipment in the Aula. Safety and Security also prepares in advance by staffing extra workers on Halloweekend.
The additional shifts necessary to accommodate the chaos of Halloweekend take an emotional and physical toll on Safety and Security and EMS workers alike.
Yet, Shukla, who has worked the past three Halloweekends on EMS, concluded, “Though it can be fast-paced, stressful and tiring, we both have found that it is one of the most rewarding nights to volunteer with VCEMS.”
Although rewarding, being on stand by for Halloweekend creates potentially difficult working situations for EMS. While Halloween remains a night of much-anticipated enjoyment, the looming threat of being EMSed sticks in the minds of students who take part in the weekend’s many blurry events.
For students, EMS is a reminder of support systems in place for all, available even at the end of a long, spooky night.