I don’t deal well with stress. Symptoms include headaches that won’t go away, tension in the shoulders and a feeling of depletion. Mostly I stress about whether my performance will measure up to my expectations when I feel I have no control over the result.
I’ve been thinking about stress management during my Wilderness First Responder re-certification course this weekend. I wanted to do well, to show myself (and everyone else) that I can assess a patient carefully and knowledgeably under pressure. And I knew the class was objectively stressful — medical emergencies are frightening, and a calm rescuer can make a huge difference to a patient and anyone else on the scene.
I came to the WFR class this weekend with a strong sense of inferiority. Most people who take the class are guides, rangers, group leaders or search-and-rescue personnel, and I knew that most likely I’d be the only one who never used the training in the past two years. I also expected to be one of the oldest in the class. My first training course had 30 people out of which twenty-six were under 22 and three were over 60. You can guess where that left me. I felt acutely underprepared for this weekend, despite rereading the entire book and scoring well on the sample test. How can theoretical knowledge of wilderness medicine compete with actual field experience? The prospect of the class agitated me beyond belief.
A first glance on Friday revealed I was right. Four EMTs, lots of young people (though not quite 22 anymore), and nearly all but me needed the class for work. I was also almost the only one who had never dressed a wound. A perfect fit to my expectations. The three days of the class passed me with an impossible-to-relieve headache. On Sunday I returned home so exhausted I could barely stand up. I took a calming bath and spent the rest of the evening in bed with Jodi Meadows’ Incarnate, thankful that I now have peace and quiet for two more certified years.
From the safety of home, however, I have a confession to make. It’s possible that I didn’t quite have a reason to stress. On Sunday, after sweating for three hours waiting for the instructors to come and test me on my skills, I finally approached one and asked him why neither one of them observed me. “Oh,” he said. “We felt you were solid on the second day.”
I wish I had his confidence. I wish I could stress a little less about meeting with an emergency or at least be able to take the WFR class without hyperventilating my way into another headache. Familiarity might breed comfort if not belief in my abilities by my tenth or twentieth training. The best I can do is figure out what helps me relax at times of stress. A cup of tea might help. Or maybe a thump on the head?