Close-Up: A Model Patient
Meet Sim Man. He’s five feet seven inches and weighs 170 pounds. He breathes, speaks, and, in addition to the indignity of a hospital gown, suffers a variety of physical affronts, from needle pricks to appendicitis to gaping wounds.
Sim Man is one of four computer-programmable mannequins purchased by the Connell School of Nursing (CSON) in 2008 and 2009. He plays a key role in the school’s growing commitment to “patient simulation,” a teaching method whereby students, starting in their sophomore year, gain experience through practice on synthetic patients in a mock hospital setting. Students who enter his room in Cushing Hall wear their scrubs and a nursing badge; “It ups the ante,” says Maureen Connolly, the simulation laboratory coordinator.
Made largely of molded plastic and rubber, Sim Man is animated by interior computers, motors, and audio systems. His chest rises and falls; he wheezes; his lungs rattle with pneumonia; his blood pressure oscillates. His heart produces the subtle sounds of various arrhythmia. Sim Man utters preprogrammed phrases, such as “I feel dizzy” and, “My stomach hurts.” Instructors, sequestered in a booth at one end of his room, can also speak into a microphone and have their words projected through Sim Man’s mouth (“Ouch!”). The mannequin has rubber veins that accept injections, as well as pulse points on the wrists, ankles, and elsewhere that throb. The patient’s vital signs, displayed on hospital-style monitors, are controlled by instructors to create different medical scenarios. “In a safe environment, we can challenge students by increasing the complexity of stimuli they must respond to,” says Robin Wood, associate professor of nursing. CSON students give blood transfusions (water colored with food dye, with a few drops of bleach to keep the lines clean) and undertake tracheal suctions, using real equipment.
In addition, CSON has a pregnant female, sold as Birthing Noelle, who replicates the stages of labor. An interior motor pushes out the baby (Newborn Hal), who is computer programmable, too. Sim Baby, the school’s fourth mannequin, is a slightly larger infant. Both babies can cry and turn blue, while the top of Sim Baby’s skull can bulge or sink inward to signal intracranial pressure or dehydration. The price for a simulation mannequin runs to $40,000, with a service and maintenance plan.
This summer, a second hospital room is being constructed alongside the one shown above. A control booth with two-way mirrors will separate the rooms.
– Sage Stossel
(Sage Stossel is a Boston-based writer. Photograph by Gary Wayne Gilbert)