Of all the things Catherine Buren could be proud of -- her absolutely astronomical GPA at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, her choice of exceptional colleges, or her three-sport acumen -- there is one thing which makes her an extremely valuable member of her community.
Her service as a volunteer cadet EMT with the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.
The Scotch Plains-Fanwood senior utilizes her position as an EMT to not only assist in medical emergencies around the town, she's also helping raise funds for meals and vital staff equipment for the essential workers on the front lines of fighting the coronavirus.
"It all began my freshman year with me wanting to give back to the community," Buren said. "You could say it makes me feel important, just to know I'm someone who's helping our community. You always see ambulances going by, but to know what's going on inside yours, or having the family member of a significant other say thank you, that means so much."
Before schools closed in mid-March, Buren had a schedule which would make any teenager feel like a chicken with its head cut off. She balanced a heavy Advanced Placement class schedule at school and carries a weighted GPA of 4.76 out of a possible 4.8, she runs cross-country and indoor track and plays lacrosse in the spring, and she volunteers every Thursday for the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.
Buren, 17, is an EMT with cadet status, which means she may not yet ride along with the crews on an ambulance en route to an emergency call -- "It breaks my heart not to be able to ride and contribute, but the chief wants us to stay safe," Buren said -- but she does have EMT certification so she takes vitals of patients and bandages wounds, among many other tasks.
As of this writing, Buren was to take the National Registry Exam, which would make her a fully licensed EMT. According to Buren, the test has been postponed until the isolation period is over.
Most recently, and perhaps most importantly to our culture's current situation, Buren helped raise money to provide dinners and gas money for her fellow volunteer emergency workers on the front lines of helping the community battle COVID-19.
"I was on a conference call and heard that we were spending thousands of dollars for PPE (personal protective equipment)," Buren said. "As an agency we don't have that kind of money. We thought about soliciting for money to buy equipment, but in today's climate, we didn't think it was fair to ask people for money. Not many people are in position to donate, which is understandable. I thought we should do something to help out to get the money for the supplies we need, so I reached out to the head of our auxiliary and offered to help out in any way we can, like dinners for EMTs, because they're volunteers."
"I went to my lacrosse team, and so far we've raised $300. I'm really proud of our team's effort," Buren said. "We picked up pizza and sodas using donations from the auxiliary and my lacrosse team, and dropped them off at the rescue squad. So right now, the money goes toward meals. Some of the local businesses, like the Scotch Plains Women's Club, have reached out to contribute meals. And now that some of the organizations can take care of that (food), maybe we can put the money toward equipment. Sometimes we have to spend our own money to buy dinners or gas, but it's the least that we can do."
Early last month, on the Thursday evening before schools were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Buren got the adrenaline rush of a lifetime, perhaps even bigger than anything she's accomplished in the classroom or on the track or lacrosse field.
She was permitted to ride in the ambulance en route to a residence where a patient may or may not have had the coronavirus.
"It was a crazy experience," Buren recalled. "Dispatch informed us en route that the patient met some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and to take proper precautions. At the time we didn't have a ton of protective equipment -- we only had masks and gloves, but now we have the requisite goggles, face shields, N95 masks and gloves and gowns.
"Protocol wasn't super clear yet. We got to the house and it was a little bit tense. Our crew chief told us the patient has some of the symptoms so we have to take precautions. We got the patient into the ambulance and I rode in front on the way home.
"It was scary because there weren't too many cases around here yet. I was definitely nervous, but if we lose our cool so does the family. And an EMT has to be empathetic -- if it were my family member, I wouldn't want the patient to see me panicking -- so at the time I wasn't thinking about myself."
Buren said she often finds herself at the center of any minor medical emergencies which may arise during any of her team's practices. Scotch Plains-Fanwood's veteran cross-country and track coach, Jeff Koegel, nicknamed Buren the team medic.
"It's funny that I'm using my skills even when I'm not on duty," Buren said. "Whenever kids go out on the road and fall, and it happens all the time, I'm always the one they turn to. I have a huge Home Depot tool box in my car which is my First Aid kit. One of my lacrosse teammates has a heart condition and when she runs too much she gets light-headed and slightly unconscious, so I'm usually the first one they ask to check on her. I'm careful not to step on trainers' toes but I'm trying to help out."
While Buren volunteers her time in the health profession, her own health has not permitted her to enjoy a complete season on the cross-country trails or in indoor track. She played field hockey in the fall of her freshman and sophomore seasons, but a nagging IT band problem has sidelined her for much of the last two cross-country and indoor track campaigns.
"Apparently I'm prone to injury," Buren said. "I guess my body is not built for long distances. I'd get through summer training fine but for some reason at some point I start getting injured and can barely run. Last (lacrosse) season I noticed if I ran too much I had knee pain. We have a winter lacrosse league and tried to get into it, but I noticed my knee was still bothering me. And that was one day a week. I think I just have really bad knees."
Buren more than makes up for her athletic disappointments with her performance in the classroom. She's an absolute ace in her five Advanced Placement classes, including AP Calculus, as stated earlier she carries a weighted 4.76 GPA, and she's already scored an eye-popping 35 on the ACT.
Buren's college choices are among the cream of the crop in higher education -- Boston College, Northwestern, North Carolina and Johns Hopkins. She plans to study pre-med and perhaps concentrate in either neuroscience or public health.
"This school year has definitely been the hardest because of my classes," Buren said. "I've been super stressed. While we were still in school I wasn't getting a lot of sleep. And Thursdays when I volunteer made my schedule that much crazier. Online learning has been more flexible and I'm getting more sleep."
In spite of her physical ailments in relation to running, Buren surely would put a smile on Koegel's face with her chosen method for dealing with stress, both from school and from working with the rescue squad.
"A super busy night makes me super nervous, and it definitely gets a little overwhelming," Buren said. "Surprisingly, one of my best stress releases is running. Even if I'm not in the best running mood, I can run at my own speed and run it all off and it makes me feel better. Sometimes that's all I need."