For nine days, my world was turned upside down and I have learned it is entirely possible to become a different person in just nine days’ time.
No Ambulance. No Helicopter. No Hospital. Miles from the nearest road. Hours, perhaps days away from help. No rescuers are coming. What are you going to do……
Each day began at 4:50am so I could spend one hour on the new treadmill in the garage. Once I left the comfort of that run, anything could and did happen.
One day we spent the afternoon rafting down the river. It was not a particularly pleasant day for being on the water – cold, rainy with 25 mph winds. Even still, it was fun talking and telling stories….until one of my classmates had a seizure right there in our raft. We managed to get the raft to the road-side bank and position him deeper inside the raft for safety. That’s when I noticed someone in every raft was having a seizure. It was a test.
We were wet and cold, which led to a discussion on hypothermia and what we should do when our clients are shivering 2 hours into the hike….or, in our case, just 2 hours down the river. We ran up the steps, around the picnic table and did the bunny hop – in wet suits and rubber booties.
Back in the rafts, we were fully suspicious of the next disaster. Just as we had gotten distracted, we found 5 classmates scattered along the bank of the river. My patient was partially in the cold water on the lower side of the bank, had lost consciousness and wasn’t breathing.
These scenarios were nerve-racking. We had a conversation one afternoon about the mental side-effects. Jono helped us understand that the adrenaline rush of a rescue could leave us feeling hungry and, if we satisfy that hunger with the wrong foods, we may gain unwanted weight. Stephan talked about how the job can change the relationship with our spouse.
On day seven, we traveled to a nearby forest for our final scenarios, including a nighttime rescue.
We checked and re-checked our equipment, divided ourselves into teams of medics, equipment crews, and a safety/evac leader. The first rescue was by the river and Tanner got completely wet trying to pull a patient out of the cold water that had jumped from a bridge and landed face first on the rocks.
We performed CPR for 30 minutes before Stephan told us there was nothing more we could do for him. It was deflating and we couldn’t help but feel discouraged….except there were two more patients to be treated. So, we set about preparing the litters for transport and clearing the site.
When the actor that died stood up, we realized a couple sitting at a nearby picnic table had been watching the scene unfold. They clapped and cheered as if it were all real. It felt real.
The last evac started around 7pm that same day. Our first challenge was to know where we were going. It was a 1/2 mile from the trail head….straight up. There were only two patients this time – a diabetic and a nice guy she pushed over the cliff when he tried to help. He had a broken neck.
I was the roving medic and found myself a few feet further down the trail when a man came stumbling out of the forest high as a kite. It took strength and focus to convince him to lie down so I could begin treating his wounds. He was delirious and made the effort of taking his pulse and dressing the wounds next to impossible.
When we thought everything was under control, dispatch alerted us of a storm two hours out. We had to evac now.
It took 1-1/2 hours to get back down the 1/2 mile to trail’s head with the three patients.
Yes, it is possible to become an entirely different person in just nine days. We have learned what to do when someone has a heat stroke and how to deliver a beautiful baby. We discussed black widow spiders and the stages a person goes through when they are in shock. There have been long discussions about the signs and symptoms of everything that may affect the body and we have fully understood how, amazingly, our body will attempt to heal itself. Our bodies are quite spectacular.
We will be nervous when we find ourselves in that first “real” rescue and we will depend on the tricks we learned to guide us through the patient assessment: DR ABCDE, make a decision, perform the secondary Head to Toe, Vitals, AMPLE.
The next time I see an EMT or read about the first responders at the scene of an accident, I will send them a silent prayer of support, appreciation and understanding.
Today is the first day of my time as a First Responder and, maybe you will do the same for me.
For more information on becoming a Wilderness First Responder and the WFR training, take a look at SOLO Wilderness First Responder.