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Lifetime Outdoor Enthusiast. Completely Unprepared. – Lessons in Wilderness First Aid

Ever wonder what you’d do if a medical emergency happened while you were out in the wilderness? One of our employees recently took a course in Wilderness First Aid at SOLO Schools. She’s extremely excited to share what she learned! – Adventure® Medical Kits

My dad and I after hiking up Mt. Lafayette

My dad and I after hiking up Mt. Lafayette

An avid hiker, I grew up scaling the White Mountains of NH with my father without injury (excluding your normal blisters and scrape). Though I lacked personal experience with first aid in the wild, I knew wilderness emergencies weren’t uncommon.

I remember the day my father came home from a hike and said he’d spent 20 minutes near the top of Mt. Lafayette helping a stranger descend only a few hundred feet of the trail. The stranger fell and shattered his kneecap on the rocks, making every step excruciating. Thankfully, they bumped into a rescue team on a practice climb that quickly became real, and my dad continued down alone.

My dad and I on top of Mt. Jackson

My dad and I on top of Mt. Jackson

Since that day, I’d often wondered what I would do if faced with an injured hiker on the trail. Would I be able to offer any help at all? Miles from professional care surrounded by trees and mountains, I wasn’t equipped to be someone’s best chance at survival, and what if that someone was my dad?

This year, I was given the opportunity to attend a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course at SOLO School of Wilderness Medicine. Walking onto the campus, I was unsure of what to expect out of the next two days. If nothing else, I was excited for the chance to learn a few first aid tips from wilderness experts. I learned much more than that.

Wilderness First Aid: Day 1

“Is anyone NOT ready?”

When you have five people about to attempt lifting an injured companion, you don’t ask “Is everyone ready?” You may not here the responding “no” over all of the “yes’s.” With a possible spinal complication, missing something and dropping your injured friend is not an option.

“Okay… one, two, three, lift!”

With one smooth motion, we lifted our patient from the cold ground to waist level, all without moving his spine. Surprised at our success, we froze for a moment, before the team leader (holding the patient’s head) followed up with, “Okay, we move on three!” We traversed the rough ground and safely placed our friend onto a foam pad. Thrilled at our success, we listened to feedback from our instructor and “injured” friend on how they felt our practice had gone.

Practicing making splints at a SOLO course

Practicing making splints at a SOLO course. PC: SOLO Schools

We’d only met each other earlier that morning, but as we stood outside the main building in the afternoon sun, our group was already beginning to turn into a team, forged by a common desire to learn and to be prepared to help others. Like me, my fellow classmates were driven by this desire to take the WFA course at SOLO. None of us were disappointed.

In 2 Days, There’s a Lot You Can Learn

Over the course of those two days, I was immersed in an innovative, hands-on learning experience. I learned how to improvise splints out of coats and bandanas, immobilize a victim’s spine with backpacks and baseball caps, and treat wounds ranging from lacerations to serious burns with items like honey and rain jackets. We covered assessing both unconscious and conscious patients, including identifying and treating life threats, monitoring vital signs, maintaining a soothing presence, and making an evacuation plan.

Improvising a leg splint. PC: SOLO Schools

How often should you change burn dressings? How do you recognize potentially life-threatening infections? When should you be concerned about a spinal injury? What should you do in a lightning storm? What are the early signs of shock, and how can you treat it? These are only a handful of the questions we learned how to answer.

New Skills to the Test

 

Assessing and caring for a patient.

Working as a team to practice assessing and caring for a patient. PC: SOLO Schools

Not only did we learn though – we also did. Hardly an hour of lecture would pass before our instructor had us outside practicing our new skills, with some of us acting as patients and some as caregivers. Outside, lifting companions, assessing broken bones, and applying pressure to stop major bleeds, our class of about 20 learned how to manage difficult patients, quickly assess scenes, and rule out spinal injuries.

Course Highlights

So out of this whirlwind weekend of knowledge and skill application, what did I enjoy most? This is gonna take a list:

  • Our instructor. Seriously – she was awesome! An amazing resource for both professional medical knowledge and practical ideas for when situations actually occur. From improvisation techniques to a great sense of humor, I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. And she encouraged questions!
  • My classmates. I emerged out of that class with new friends who love the outdoors like I do, yet have a variety of experiences and backgrounds to speak out of. They asked relevant, insightful questions of our instructor that contributed to everyone’s learning. From a grade school teacher who leads the school’s hiking club to a wilderness first responder getting recertified, our differences and similarities worked together to make learning fun and effective.
  • Learning what’s left to learn. Headed into the WFA course, I knew I didn’t know enough… but I didn’t know how much I could know! Now, I have a firm grasp of what wilderness emergencies I’m equipped to handle and which I’m not, and I’m excited about the possibility of furthering my knowledge with another SOLO course in the future.
  • Packing recommendations. Ever wonder what you should be carrying for first aid supplies? Or have a first aid kit but only a vague idea how to use it? That’s part of what makes this course so great – throughout the day, we got tips from our instructor and each other on the most useful supplies to pack and when and how to use tools like an irrigation syringe, triangular bandage, tourniquet, and more.

Choosing to Be Prepared

 

Hiking down Mt. Washington with my dad

Hiking down Mt. Washington

Whether you’re a trip leader or just an outdoor enthusiast looking to become more prepared, I highly recommend the WFA course at SOLO as a great starting point to build a foundation of first aid knowledge that could save your life, a friend’s, or a total strangers. If you own a first aid kit and haven’t taken the time to look through it, this course is a must for preparing you in how to use what’s inside. A bit of advice I learned from my course: first aid supplies are only as effective as the person carrying them.

About SOLO

The oldest continuously operating school of wilderness medicine in the world, SOLO offers wilderness medicine education on a variety levels for everyone from outdoor enthusiasts to trip leaders to trained professionals. The WFA course is a 16-hour course that provides a 2 year certification and covers the basics of backcountry medicine. On the other end of the spectrum, SOLO’s Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) course lasts a month, and participants who pass emerge with the national EMT certificate and thorough training in wilderness-specific medicine and long-term care. Courses can be attended on their campus in Conway, NH, or at off-site locations across the United States.



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