ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- It's hard not to be startled when mannequins start to talk. Or breathe. Or make vomiting sounds. But it's common behavior for a lifesized, sophisticated simulator used to train medical students. The mannequin resides in the BATCAVE at University of New Mexico Hospital. Besides sounding cool, BATCAVE is an acronym for Basic Advanced Trauma Computer Assisted Virtual Experience.
About 20 seniors from Atrisco Heritage Academy have been spending their Fridays in the BATCAVE this semester, learning basic medical skills. The students have earned their CPR certifications and are working toward certification in wilderness first aid.
The program, which places Atrisco Heritage seniors in daylong Friday internships, began as a way to alleviate crowding after classroom construction was delayed. Seniors have their typical schedules Monday through Thursday, then attend internships or college classes on Fridays. Those who are behind on credits use Fridays to make up classes in the computer lab.
The BATCAVE is a popular choice for students interested in medicine, but Atrisco Heritage students with other interests are working all over the city. Two are interning with the head chef at Seasons Rotisserie and Grill, and other internship sites include the American Red Cross and uPublic, a publicaccess, education-based television channel.
Students were supposed to be on the schedule only for fall semester, but due to the program's popularity it will be continued through the spring.
"It's really making lemonade," said Karen Cox, who heads the school's health and social sciences academy.
At the BATCAVE on a recent Friday, groups of three students were brought into a room with the mannequin. Luke Esquibel, an education specialist who works in the cave, gave each group a scenario. He told one group they were in the Sandia Mountains when they encountered a man lying on the ground. Esquibel showed them a picture of a broken leg, and said the man's knee looked like that. Then he stepped back and instructed them to diagnose and treat the mannequin.
Despite the unsettling speech and moaning coming from the mannequin, students immediately snapped to work, asking the dummy where the pain was coming from and whether it could tell them what happened.
Jasmelly Mendez, 17, held his neck steady while her teammates questioned him and checked for other injuries. Without being prompted, they carefully turned him onto his side to check for back injuries, while stabilizing his spine, legs and neck. They also pretended to call 911 and Esquibel acted as the operator, asking questions about their location and the patient's condition.
Afterward, 17-year-old Dianna Juarez said the simulation was tough but helpful.
"It's a lot of pressure because you don't really know what's wrong and you have to figure it out," she said.
The team successfully stabilized and wrapped the mannequin's leg, and the mannequin politely said, "thank you," before the simulation ended.
The mannequin is polite because Desiree Torrez is polite. She volunteers in the BATCAVE, and runs the mannequin from behind a one-way mirror, which allows her to see the students without them seeing her.
She clicks a screen for pre-recorded statements, like "Doc, I feel like I could die," or pre-recording vomit sounds. She can also bring the mannequin more to life by talking into a microphone. For a simulation in which the victim was supposed to be a small child who had fallen off his bicycle, she kept up a persistent stream of moaning, crying and saying "I want my Mommy," to add stress and realism to the scene.
Student Daniel Lopez said the realism is what makes the training so valuable.
"It's actually something that could happen," he said. "It gets us ready for whatever field we want to go into."