Years ago when my kids were still little toddlers, we had been playing in the backyard when my husband yelled for help from the garage. I didn’t hear him at first, so he had been yelling for a bit, and once I heard him it just sounded like he needed some regular old help with some task that needed an extra set of hands.
Nope. Little did I know that he had been calling for me because he needed me to call 911.
He had been on a step stool in the garage – barefoot – reaching for a screen door that he was replacing, lost his balance, and stepped down – right onto the hooked corner of the dog kennel. He had impaled his foot on the rounded hook and was stuck. I took one look at the situation and realized that he’d have to get cut out and taken to the hospital.
I calmly pulled out my phone and called 911. Within minutes a firetruck and ambulance pulled up into our driveway. They gave him some pain meds, wrapped and secured his foot around the metal, cut the wires of the kennel to get him out (with the impaled section still in his foot), and took him to the ER. I had my nextdoor neighbor watch the kids while I prepared to follow them to the hospital.
“I don’t know why you’re not bothered by this and more hysterical,” my neighbor told me. “Your husband just got into an ambulance.”
“Because it’s not a fatal injury – it’s his foot. And he was taken care of quickly by the paramedics. There’s no reason to panic, everything’s fine,” I replied.
And that’s generally the mentality I have with most emergencies, especially urban emergencies. It’s very easy for me to slip into “emergency focus mode.” I’ve had years of first aid training and have dealt with a variety of medical emergencies working as a personal trainer. People have had heart attacks during training sessions with other trainers right next to me, dropped from diabetic seizures while checking in at the front desk, some of my clients have had heat stroke and hypoglycemic symptoms – and more serious events than that. I also used to perform spinal rehab in clinical settings back in the day, taking and analyzing x-rays, providing treatment therapies, and all that jazz. Basic first aid is not foreign to me, especially knowing that professionals are quickly on their way.
But, what if all of this had happened in the backcountry? In remote locations where help is more than an hour away – possibly days away? That is where I begin to feel less confident. I know without a doubt that I’ll be able to get into the emergency focus mode, but there’s a big difference between an ambulance showing up within minutes to take care of everything, compared to days where you’re holding it together on your own until someone gets to you. Medical emergency self-sufficiency is a different game.
Considering that I’ve already been chased by moose, jumped over rattlesnakes, outrun dangerous high alpine lightning storms in Rocky Mountain National Park, come across kayakers with separated shoulders in Poudre Canyon, and had to find people to help dig out my car stuck in the snow on Long Draw, I feel like I’m already pressing my luck out on the mountain. I make good, cautious decisions while I’m out there, but you can’t always prevent an accident. And accidents do happen.
It was high time I get into Wilderness First Aid training.
Larimer County Search and Rescue has a resource page listing different medical training options in the area. Front Range Institute of Safety seemed like the best option for me. The class is 16 hours over three days. It was a reasonable price and included educational materials. The Wilderness First Aid book provided is material from the Emergency Care and Safety Institute, and a collaboration between the Wilderness Medical Society and the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It also meets the Boy Scouts of America curriculum guidelines.
Instructor, Mark Rosoff has been teaching first aid, CPR/AED, and wilderness first aid since the 80s – to both the members of the community and professionals. The people enrolled in the class I took ranged from grandparents who go camping with their grandkids and just want to have a better grasp of first aid knowledge, rock climbers who are prone to more injuries on the mountain, to Boy Scout/Girl Scout leaders and Colorado Mountain Club leaders who are required to take this training before leading people on trips into the wilderness.
There is so much information in the Wilderness First Aid book that there’s no way you walk out of this class a wilderness medical professional. Although it’s not mentioned during any part of the registration process, it’s best that you have a basic foundational knowledge of urban first aid and CPR before taking Wilderness First Aid. It’s not required, but I think you’ll be more confident with the training material if you do.
I had a great time listening to some of the backcountry accident stories shared in the class and learning new techniques, like combining Benadryl and Ibuprofen for a more effective way to reduce swelling, and a nifty way to remove fish hooks from your skin. Plus, it was pretty cool to come home saying, “I learned what to do if someone’s eyeball pops out of their head on the trail.”
You’ll learn how to asses an emergency situation, splint, bandage and brace extremities, and a really cool ankle wrap technique that’s not in the book. You’ll go through some awkward role playing to help you understand what it’s like being the first person to come across an accident on the trail, and participate in a group role play of a multiple-victim catastrophe to learn how to prioritize and set up a backcountry triage.
We also learned what to do in very real situations, like rattlesnake bites, altitude sickness (AMS – acute mountain sickness), frostbite, and hypothermia. We covered the reality of the fatal damage from lightning strikes – “if the victim has not started to breathe within 30 minutes of starting CPR, stop CPR – the rescuer should not feel guilty about stopping.”
This book goes so far as to teach you how to deliver a baby in the wilderness. We didn’t go over that in training, but it’s in the book. And that’s the thing, there’s SO MUCH TO LEARN IN THIS BOOK.
The biggest thing I took away from this class is how important it is to stop, take a breath, and take calculated steps into addressing an emergency situation. All too often we feel that rush of adrenaline and the immediate urge to get the injured person off the trail ASAP. In those situations we tend to overlook very important details that could end up being fatal. The reality is that these things happen in the wilderness and help will not be there immediately. It’s up to the rescuer to take detailed notes of the situation to pass onto Search and Rescue so they can make the appropriate and safest decisions (like helicopter evacuation or a team carry out), and to do the best they can to manage a situation on their own until help arrives.
This class was all about self-sufficiency from beginning to end. There was no written test for our Wilderness First Aid certification – it’s up to us to master the knowledge on our own time by continually studying and referencing the book. In a world of information, this class gives you exactly what you need to focus on, cutting down on confusion and maximizing your time.
I’m really glad I got my training certification and plan to help share some of the most helpful details in future post – like how to build a first aid kit, deal with rattlesnake bites, and common things we may run into in all of our Fresh Air adventures!