Saturday, September 7, 2013

Back to Books

I knew I had to make up for myself somehow after things didn’t quite go according to plan this summer… My immediate thought was I should run away to France to the refuge of my friend’s chalet in the Alps and summit Mt. Blanc on my birthday… You’ve got to dream big, right? And I hope that does happen soon, but not before I learn how to deal if and when shit hits the fan out there. 

Auberge Du Chalezan, Les Contamines, France - the base of Mt. Blanc

After I came back down to earth and returned home, I thought OK, I’ve got to add something to my repertoire in order to progress out of this self-proclaimed “failure.” Through a bit of research I decided to enroll in a wilderness first responder course and an STCW (standards of training, certification and watch keeping) US Coast Guard sanctioned course. These two courses, I feel, will build my knowledge and certification in areas I’d like to pursue, like outdoor education and adventure camps for kids, and continuing to work on yachts in ideal locations. Since my work experience in those areas lacked this summer, I might as well go back to the books and build from there.

Wilderness first responder came first, beginning the day after Labor Day, kicking off September on a great foot. The SOLO Wilderness Medical School in Conway, NH is base camp for a group of WFR and WEMT students for two and four weeks each. There are about 20 students in the WFR group and 20 or so in the WEMT group. For the most part we are separate, but share meals and dorm housing.
Day one consisted of the awkward introductions and uneasy feeling of not knowing what to expect, which quickly subsided as we jumped right into scenarios and performing care on pretend hurt patients. Coming into this with some basic knowledge of first aid after spending many high school summers as a lifeguard, I felt decently comfortable with what I was getting myself into. Yet this is a 10-day intensive course where we start from scratch with basic immediate care of a hurt person in the wilderness, CPR, first aid, bandaging wounds, treating allergic reactions and snake bites, to more serious trauma like broken bones, splinting, placing broken femurs in traction, properly carrying a victim out of the woods, etc. This is such pertinent and relevant material to have in my back pocket while doing the things I love most – skiing and enjoying the outdoors. Although as a coach, if I encounter an injured athlete, I am strictly forbidden to perform care on them due to lawsuits and I am to follow the protocol of calling ski patrol to let them do the dirty work, this kind of knowledge will be incredibly useful for my own adventures with friends in the backcountry.

"Because shit happens..."
The SOLO school is one of the premiere specifically wilderness medical schools in the world and has been operating for nearly 50 years. This kind of training drew an incredibly unique crowd to the SOLO School for their September courses. The typical crunchy post grad and current college students abound, yet we also have a young woman who’s contracted by the Army to provide cultural intelligence to special ops teams in Afghanistan, a man about to embark on building a hut-to-hut trail system through the Costa Rican cloud forest, a man who started the first and only on-the-ground mobile paramedic operation in Cairo in response to all the upheaval going on there, a former Navy rescue swimmer, a young man taking this course in order to immediately seek an Air Force recruiter to enlist for para-rescue, and a paramedic who traveled all the way from Australia. Based on the diverse backgrounds and far reaching home bases of the students here, I believe this must be the premiere wilderness medical training facility.

Practicing splinting with ski poles, a jacket and layers for padding - very realistic tools

ski pole make-shift arm splint and sling

The students are pretend victims in our practice scenarios - injuries got pretty real with theater makeup

I'm the victim with a splinted leg - please never let this happen in real life!

Make-shift head splint/immobilizer with air mattress, layers for padding and crevat triangle bandages as ties

Week one of WFR training is in the books and I’m now equipped with the know how to approach a distressed or injured person in the backcountry, gauge their condition and treat as appropriately as I possibly can with very limited resources in usually adverse conditions. Although I have all this new knowledge at my fingertips, in no way do I ever want to have to use it. Interesting that I took 2 weeks out of my life and paid a good chunk of money to learn these skills, yet hope to God I’ll never put it to use. However simply having the skills to remain calm and take charge in a shitty situation in the backcountry gives me a newfound confidence to continue going out there to do what I love. 

A fun way to learn what's in our guts in case we come upon an abdomen injury

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