Wilderness Medicine — Reading to Remember

For the past week or so, I’ve been struggling through eighty-something pages in my Wilderness First Responder book. On the first weekend in February I’m signed up for a recertification WFR class, and not having (luckily) had a chance to exercise my WFR skills, I am distinctly worried about how much (or rather how little) I remember.

The WFR book is heavy reading material. Almost every chapter begins with a version of: “Few traumatic injuries offer Wilderness First Responders as great an opportunity to watch a patient die….” This is true, apparently, for chest injuries, abdominal injuries, head injuries, cardiac emergencies, and the list goes on and on. I’ve been plodding through the book, making my way from fibula to tibia, trying to distinguish between ligaments and tendons and to remember how many breaths for how many chest compressions. Mostly, I’ve been trying to lower my own heart rate and blood pressure, which have become dangerously alarming from thinking about all these stressful conditions that could transpire in the wild. Thinking that I might be responsible to assess someone’s condition, make decisions about treatment, and carry out that treatment cause an overwhelming panic — not the most desirable trait of a WFR, I’m sure. I know a calm and competent WFR would be capable of dealing with many injuries in the wild. The question which I am longing to ask is, with only this training, and without any experience, would I?

The WFR course I took two years ago was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Eight days of eight hours intense study and two of twelve, including a day test scenario in which I played a woman with a penumothorax (apparently I had fallen from a hot air balloon with the other victims and gotten my lung punctured by a broken clavicle), and a night test scenario in which two of my group members suddenly collapsed, one with a broken leg and one with seizures. Venturing into the world of wilderness medicine was exciting and amazing, frightening and unbelievable. But the class just attempted to simulate the pressure of real-life scenarios. What would happen when it was real life? When there was no instructor nearby?

So I am not sure what to think. Am I, perhaps, unqualified to become a WFR due to my fearful lack of confidence? Or perhaps, when push comes to shove, my memory, my training as a WFR will come to the front and produce a calm that comes from knowing that I can help? Am I, as usual, just too hard on myself?

Whatever the truth, I know two things for sure: I am going to take that recertification class because I want to be ready, but I’m also hoping very much to encounter always only healthy people in the wild. I manifest health and happiness to every hiker within a hundred miles of me. Be safe. Stay hydrated. Stretch. Be well.

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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109