Wilderness First Aid     

The prospect of spending 3+ months on the Missouri River, most of it on my own, prompted many thoughts; one of which was health and safety during the trip. I’ve had little to no first aid or medical training up to this point in my life, so I figured I should probably get some – at least the basics. After searching around a bit, I ran across a two-day Wilderness First Aid course offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (www.nols.edu) through REI.

The course was held last weekend at the World Bird Sanctuary in Valley Park, MO. I joined about 25 other outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom have had some pretty extensive experience in the outdoors and first aid/rescue in general. The class was a good mixture of lecture, demonstration and hands on scenarios. They did a great job of introducing a point, reinforcing it, then allowing the class to put it into practice – certainly the best way to learn anything, really. As an added bonus, one of the instructors is an EMT in rural Idaho. I got a chance to pick his brain a little bit on considerations specific to my situation on the Missouri River.

So what did I learn? The bulk of the course focused on the Patient Assessment System (PAS) – basically what are the first things that need to happen with an injured person in the wild. Finding out what a person’s injury is seems obvious, but it’s not always that easy. Then asking the right questions to get background or history with what might be going on with the patient, then making a plan to help them, and communicating to outside help if needed. We also got into specific scenarios on how to initially treat certain injuries, as well as avoiding some of the most common causes of injury in nature: wounds, burns, blisters, heat stroke, hypothermia, lightning, altitude sickness, anaphylaxis. I also learned I’d be well-served to pimp out my first aid kit a little bit better…

Patient Assessment System (PAS) Triangle

I was viewing the lessons in this course through a bit of a different lens than some of the others in the class. Others spoke of leading youth groups on multiple days treks into the wilderness, or assisting with first aid at large camps or outings with family. My primary purpose of being there was to be able to provide first aid or (more preferably) prevention to injuries to myself during my trip. It was certainly reinforced how important a lifeline is as well – and for friends and family – yes, a potential rescue will be only a button away thanks to my handy Garmin InReach+.

I was exhausted after the two-day course. I rarely have the need to have my brain turned on in that capacity on the weekend, so going back to work Monday morning was a little rough, not feeling like I even had a weekend. But overall, I think it was certainly a valuable experience. If I have the chance to use anything I learned either during my trip or on any adventures that will follow, it will be more than worth the investment. I do recommend attending this or other NOLS courses.


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