It was a cold, rainy November day. Seth and I were on a hike down by the river bottoms when we heard some groans from ahead on the trail. We turned a corner and saw a mountain bike strewn across the trail. To the side lay a woman tangled in the bushes, leg wrapped around a tree. We did a quick scan of the area and ran over to help her. She had been riding at a good clip, lost control, and landed here. The details were foggy. Her leg was obviously injured, and she had a pretty good bump on her head.
Ok… before you get too far into this, you should know that this didn’t really happen. This is a fake scenario that was presented to us in the Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course that we took earlier this month. Alright, continuing on….
Seth held her head in case of a c-spine injury, and we had her hold a handkerchief to her head wound to stop the bleeding. We checked her airway, her breathing, and her pulse, and I did a more thorough assessment to see if there were more injuries. Her spine was sore, and her leg was most likely broken. We made her as comfortable as we could, kept her head stabilized, and I constructed a make-shift splint out of what we had on us. We decided we would need help getting her out, so we called for help and kept an eye on her vitals while we waited.
Once we were finished with the assessment, our mountain biker stood up, brushed the dirt off her pants, and we all headed back into our classroom to discuss what we had done right and what we could have done better.
This particular WFA course was through the NOLS Wilderness Medical Institute. 16 hours over a weekend. A fair amount of time was spent in the classroom learning about the basics of first aid care. We wrapped ankles, built splints out of sleeping pads, learned the symptoms of shock, hypothermia, dehydration, etc, and we learned how to give a thorough and helpful report to a rescue team if needed.
That knowledge was immediately put to use in scenarios outside, where folks would pretend to be hurt. Our injured included climbers, skiers, mountain bikers, hikers… fake blood, fake bruises, and even fake compound fractures. They were armed with details about their allergies, their medications, what they had eaten that day, and even the last time they urinated. The grand finale was rescuing a woman out of an avalanche chute. We had to make tough decisions about how many people to send in, and how much to treat before moving her (and us) to safety. By the end we had her wrapped up in a burrito to keep her warm and called for a rapid evac (after moving her out of harms way, of course).
It was a fun weekend, it was a very informative weekend, and I learned a lot. I’d recommend a course like this to anyone who’s doing any serious playing in the outdoors. I walked away feeling very fortunate that I haven’t encountered any serious injuries on a trip up to this point. Now I feel equipped to assess the severity of a situation, if it arises, and I can administer basic medical care until more definitive care can be reached. I hope I never have to use these skills, but I’m glad to have them. I’m also glad to know how to tape an ankle.
Thank you to the NOLS Wilderness Institute, and to REI for hosting this course.