Saves and relief once had a far different meaning for Nikki Cote when she was a softball pitcher, first for St. Joseph High School and then Brandeis.
Winning was everything. Now, those same terms have life and death ramifications for the 23-year-old Cote, who is an emergency medical technician in Shelton with aspirations of eventually becoming a physician assistant.
“I wanted to go to PA school when I was in high school,” Cote said. “It is something I always knew I wanted to do.”
Providing relief was a role Cote was occasionally accustomed to as an athlete. She came out of the bullpen in the 5th inning, worked out of a jam and helped lead the Cadets to their most recent state title, a 3-2 win over Lauralton Hall in 2010. Cote started playing T-ball when she was 5 and also was a ski racer. She gave up the latter in the 8th grade after an injury.
Cote was able to achieve athletic success despite being born with a profound hearing loss. She wears high-tech hearing aids, which along with previous procedures helped her hearing partially return. Cote can also read lips.
Because the aids are not waterproof, there would be times in rainy weather or when she sweated too heavily when they would stop working. There were also instances when batteries died, like in that state championship victory.
Cote said her twin loves led her to Brandeis.
“I just wanted to go to Brandeis so bad,” Cote said. “I got recruited. Brandeis had a really good science program.”
Cote enjoyed success at Brandeis, especially her senior year, when she was named the Most Outstanding Player after going 3-0 to lead her team to the ECAC Division III New England Championship. She struck out 18 batters in 14 innings.
There was frustration though: Cote suffered injuries each of her four years.
“It was a little tough at times,” Cote said. “It was a very interesting last year because my head coach left at the beginning of the year and the new coach graduated when I was a freshman, so I played with her one year. It was different, it was tough.”
Cote had taken the EMT course and has been a volunteer in Shelton since her sophomore year at Brandeis. She returned to the position after graduating, now working anywhere from 24-40 hours a week, sometimes with part-time jobs in between.
“We can provide basic life support,” Cote said. “We can administer oxygen, we can do everything. The only things we can’t do is give an IV. That’s for the paramedics. We can’t incubate. But we do CPR. It depends on the situation.”
Cote said the workload varies. On a recent night, there was just one call over 12 hours. That was an anomaly: Shelton receives about 5,000 calls a year.
“You are watching TV and the phone call comes in and all they tell you is if someone is having difficulty breathing, bleeding, not alert,” Cote said. “It is not detailed, vague. When you have to go on scene it could be 100 percent worse.”
Cote has watched people lose their lives. Recently, Cote was on the scene when a woman involved in a motorcycle accident lost her leg. Cote was handed the leg to place on a stretcher.
Cote said lately there have been a greater number of drug overdoses.
Asked how she deals with the stress, Cote said, “I talk about it to other people. I realize that’s part of life, Not everyone is going to survive. Not everyone is going to be 100 percent all the time. I kind of accept it right then and right there. The emotional thing is the family more than the patient. They are crying to you and you have to say you’re sorry and stay professional. For me that’s the hardest part. You are working on a patient and they are asking why are you doing this, why are you doing that. When you do CPR and they come back it’s a great feeling.”
Getting accepted into PA programs has become increasingly competitive. Cote said the average age for admittance is 27.
“It’s a little nervewracking because I still have student loans so it is going to catch up to me,” Cote said. “I know eventually I will be a PA so I won’t give up.”
Cote said there are a number of specialties that interest her and she could eventually see herself doing different rotations.
Until then, one part of being an EMT gives her great satisfaction.
“I love when a patient says thank you, because you don’t get it enough as an EMT,” Cote said.