Honors College student Kim Merfert experiences much of life, giving her training that can help her realize a dream to become an author.
After a long day of yard work in the humid heat of June, the man headed back inside … where he collapsed and stopped breathing. Heat stroke. An emergency medical responder with the Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department in Collegedale, Tennessee, Kim Merfert immediately began CPR when she arrived at the man’s house, keeping him alive until the ambulance got there.
The man survived.
“It’s easy to think the experience would be frightening, but the adrenaline you feel while being in the middle of the situation drowns out whatever anxiety or fear a medic would feel,” says Merfert, an Honors College student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “Usually it’s after, when I can catch my breath and the ambulance has arrived, that I usually feel the tension and stress the incident has caused to my system,” she explains. “That’s when I just have to take a few deep breaths and let the emotions slide through.”
Saving people’s lives is just one of the things Merfert may find herself doing on any given day. School, work, fire department, writing a book. Even learning how to play ukulele. “Non-stop” seems inadequate. “I seem to have a habit of doing that. I just do not learn,” she says with a wry smile. “I’ve always been someone who’s moving and doing something. I feel that, if I’m not doing anything that I think is helpful or not learning, then I feel very stagnant.”
“I usually know I’m trying to juggle too much when I start slipping in one area, and that’s how I know it’s time to give myself a break. However, I also get used to the chaos and it becomes the new ‘norm.’ ”
No stagnation here. At UTC, Merfert is a double major in International Studies and communications and humanities. She’s a double minor in Psychology and English: Creative Writing. She works 10 to 30 hours a week at Target as a “style consultant.” “It’s just a fancy word for working in the clothing department,” she shrugs. Oh, and she’s learning to play ukulele in the Honors College Innovation Lab.
Amid all her running, working and strumming, she does have time for self-reflection. “I ask myself, ‘What have I gotten into?’ pretty often,” she says. “I usually know I’m trying to juggle too much when I start slipping in one area, and that’s how I know it’s time to give myself a break. However, I also get used to the chaos and it becomes the new ‘norm.’ ”
Borderline chaos may circle around like a swarm of bees, but one of her instructors says she’s impressed with Merfert’s bravery and dedication. “Even though it was only the third week of the academic year, Kimberly had shown her courage and intellect with authentic contributions to each engagement that has required her to be vulnerable, creative, uncomfortable and willing,” said Angela Dittmar, who teaches the Honor College Innovation Lab. So when does she have time to relax, take a breath? “Usually while driving home in the car,” Merfert laughs.
In 2019, while earning an associate’s degree in communications at Chattanooga State Community College, Merfert was training from 6-10 p.m. three days a week to be an EMR, learning, among other tasks, how to splint a broken limb, insert a trachea tube, deal with a drug overdose, even procedures to birth a baby. “It has definitely made me look at the world differently. I love what I do and I very much encourage others to do something for their own communities as well,” she says.
While it might seem like something squeezed into her schedule as an afterthought, writing is Merfert’s passion, what she wants to pursue when she graduates from UTC, which she figures will take two to three years. “What I really want to be is an author because I really want to be able to create my own world and have my characters do crazy things that normally wouldn’t happen in real life.” The desire to create has been with her pretty much forever. Starting when she was about eight, she and friends would write plays then head to the living room to perform them to Mom and Dad. “Whatever we could find in my toy box, we’d dress up and go for it.”
As for her writing, she’s already written one book, Secrets in the Heart, a 70-page novel put together as an assignment for NaNoWriMo, a national nonprofit that tries to foster kids’ creativity. She wrote it when she was a fifth-grader. The book is available on Amazon.com for $8.99 with a description that reads: “This book is about a 12-year-old girl named Megan Sydney, but she`s not exactly normal. Megan goes through some crazy things that change her life forever. Can she handle the weirdest month ever?”
Merfert begs you not to search for the book. “Do not go looking for it. Do not buy it. It’s so bad.”