Wilderness First Aid

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Car accident. Amputated finger. Seizure. What would you do in this situation?

As much as people might not like to think about it, we are putting ourselves at risk of personal harm or injury in the activities we undertake every day. Even something as simple as a slip and fall can end up giving a person serious injuries, and every time we climb into our vehicles we are undertaking an inherently dangerous activity.

While it’s good to be mindful about what to do in a situation involving somebody getting hurt or being in distress, it’s extra important to be mindful of this while camping, hiking, canoeing, driving on remote roads, or doing whatever it is that you want to be doing while out in the backcountry. In these situations- whether it’s yourself, your partner, or a stranger who is in trouble- help can often be a long way off, and that’s if you’re even able to contact outside help at all.

Given the amount of time we plan to be spending exploring the awesome backroads, hiking trails, and waterways of Canada this summer, we decided that it just made sense to spend a bit of time and money to ensure that we had at least a decent idea of what to do in case we encounter a situation threatening life or limb.

Hypothermia is a serious concern when transporting a patient in the backcountry. Use whatever you can to keep them warm and dry, even if that means a tent fly, sleeping bags, and rope!

We’ve spent the last eight days in Squamish, British Columbia taking courses offered by Canadian-based Raven Rescue and certified by Wilderness Medical Associates making sure our wilderness first aid skills and knowledge are hopefully ready to face any medical emergency we may encounter. The courses were incredibly helpful in both initially teaching and refreshing important wilderness first aid material, and included a significant practical component (including mock accident scene scenarios with blood, guts, screams, and the whole nine yards). Not only do we know what to do “in theory” in most dangerous wilderness situations requiring first aid, but we have gotten our hands dirty and practiced it as well.

Wilderness Advanced First Aid

Splinting an unstable shoulder injury with a SAM splint, tent pole, therm-a-rest, and shirts. It’s just that easy!

Lisa had only a tiny bit of first aid training from her driver training back in Austria, so she dove right in with 40 hours of the Wilderness Advanced First Aid Course (WAFA). The main focus of this course is to identify when a medical problem is really a serious problem that warrants putting others in harm’s way for an emergency evacuation. Students are trained in how to stabilize a patient who is at significant risk to loss of life until outside rescue arrives. It also teaches proper care and treatment of issues like impaled objects, stopping major bleeds, spine stabilization, and splinting unstable injuries by bracing with ice picks, t-shirts, and just about whatever one may have on hand in a backcountry environment with limited resources.

As a newcomer to wilderness first aid, Lisa was eager to learn how to react in case of an outdoor emergency. In the back of her head, however, she was also lamenting the fact that she would have to learn about possible new threats that she hadn’t thought about before. Like, instead of only being afraid of the (highly unlikely) bear attack, she now also has to worry about things like severe asthma attacks, gruesome open fractures, and just like… not having a pulse. Although some of the pictures and scenarios during her course were stomach turning indeed, she does feel a lot more prepared now. Especially if for some reason Elliott was to be unresponsive in a remote location this summer, this course could literally be a life saver.

We both highly recommend the WAFA course to anybody who is thinking about spending some significant time out in the wild, and even just for international travel. The price is a little steep (about $500), but it’s definitely worth it if it means you’re able to save a life.

Wilderness First Responder

Elliott re-certified his Wilderness First Responder (WFR)certification. This 80 hour course is a step up from the WAFA course and focuses on stabilizing patients for more extended periods, as well as packaging them and initiating an evacuation when there isn’t outside help coming. Some extra things are taught, such as how to correct simple dislocations and clear somebody’s spine as OK after a potentially serious injury, and it also includes lots of review and a more in-depth look at first-aid considerations taught in the WAFA course. While the WFR course is a bit extensive and expensive for just the casual outdoor recreation lover, it is basically the industry standard for anybody who fancies the idea of working as a wilderness guide at some point in the future.

After three years of thankfully never having to practice any serious first aid, Elliott’s confidence was definitely a little shaky with what to do and how to do it. After this recertification, however, he is feeling pretty confident in his knowledge and abilities should anything happen to anybody this summer… although hopefully it doesn’t!

At the end of the day the name of the game here is really prevention. Stop and think twice about things before you do them, and sometimes you’ll realize (or Lisa will realize and tell you that you’re being an idiot) that maybe there is a safer way to do something in order to prevent injury. Nonetheless, accidents do happen whether they are human-caused or not, and if you know how to deal with them you just might be able to make a bad situation a lot better.

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