Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Responding First in the Wilderness

Heart rate and respiratory rate elevated. Sweat beading on the forehead. Mind racing and eyes darting. Who exactly is the patient and who is the rescuer in this scenario?! Having just finished a three day course to re-up my Wilderness First Responder certification, I asked myself this question a number of times. When I allow myself to fully experience the idea of a wilderness emergency (even if it’s taking place in a grassy park near a road!), I can’t help but feel that adrenaline start to flow.

Of course, after a few hours, the fake blood, the oatmeal “vomit,” the overly dramatic, screaming, femur fracture patient becomes common place. I don’t bat an eye when a classmate turns their bruised and gory Halloween like face towards me. And its only when I notice the horrified grocery store patrons gawking at me that I’m reminded of the bloodied ankle fracture I forgot to clean up from earlier in the day.

But initially you lose yourself in it. You know that for the sake of learning and practicing the skills, you need to believe¬† you’re dealing with a true wilderness medical emergency. The clear difference between a wilderness emergency and an urban one is that one’s proximity to definitive medical care could be a matter of hours or even days, rather than minutes. A wilderness first responder could spend an afternoon hydrating their patient and keeping them cool as they come down from heat exhaustion. Or they could spend twenty minutes reducing a dislocated shoulder, building a makeshift sling with a fleece and then hiking their patient out for two days. The idea is to be prepared for anything from scorpion stings and boiling water scalds to open pneumothoraxes and spine injuries, and to do one’s absolute best for the patient within the given circumstances.

In the five years since my initial training, I’ve been fortunate enough to rarely dig into the first aid kit for much more than band-aids and gauze, but the knowledge that I’m prepared to deal with more is comforting. I would never in a million years pretend that I’m a medical practitioner. But this kind of training just makes sense. I firmly believe that there is a hell of a lot more in the urban world that can hurt a person than in the wilderness. Nonetheless, I spend a lot of time in the wilds. Sometimes with school kids, sometimes with friends, sometimes with my field crew and most often with my husband.¬† My heart might start pounding, but I know how to clear my mind, look for the signs, ask the questions and treat the wounds, which could mean the difference between a challenging evacuation or another amazing day in the field.


Playing it safe in the great outdoors!

2 Responses

  1. Momchester

    So nice to know that when I have an emergency out in the desert wilds with you and Jason next week you’ll be able to handle it … does a craving for a “chinka-chinka” count? Have loved reading your blog, by the way!

    October 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

  2. Dad

    Enjoyed reading this. Nice contrasts between the grocery shopper, oatmeal vomit, and real life preparation!

    October 10, 2011 at 6:46 am