Monday, February 11, 2013

Wilderness First Aid

"Is that a bunch of Rice Krispies in your pocket or are you just seriously injured?"

Nick has asked me this question, in his brilliant dead pan way, as he assesses whether or not I need to have any bones reset. According to our first aid pocket guide, a broken bone may make "snap, crackle, or pop" sounds. I blink vaguely at him, while trying not to burst into laughter and break character, and mumble something about my horse Snuggles kicking me down a ravine. 
My head!

"Snuggles always was a wayward horse," observes Mike, holding my head in place against the ground, to make sure I don't thrash around and throw my spine out of alignment.

"Snuggles is a jerk," agrees Nick, "Does any of this hurt?"

I move feebly as Nick checks my entire body for possible breaks, starting to shake by head "no" in response to his question. "Don't move your head, you have a head injury" Mike reminds me. I suddenly squeal out in pain, as Nick touches my lower back. He lifts the edge of my shirt and sees a crescent-moon bruise. The mark of a cantankerous horse. 

"Snugggllleeeeesss," I croak, pawing at the air in my impression of someone suffering from disorientation. 

"How are we going to get her out of this ravine?" asks Mike, holding my head more firmly in place as I do my best to make things as difficult as possible.

Mike and his lobster claw.
I am laying on the freezing cold concrete floor of the basement of REI in SoHo, on the second day of our weekend-long Wilderness First Aid course. The  "ravine" is actually a dark corner between a bike rack and a bunch of kayaks. The course has consisted of a very thorough teaching of patient assessment, followed by a solid breakdown of how to approach certain presenting problems. After each section of teaching, a small group is led out of the classroom and into the storage area and given a secret scenario, complete with stage makeup blood and bruises. Then the rest of the class files out of the classroom, partners up, and descends upon one of the 7 people writhing around in pain. They must assess the injury, take all vital signs, and collect a whole bunch of other fun medical data.

Every once in a while, a regular REI customer will descend the stairs and see a bunch of grown adults rolling around on the cement floor with head injuries, and no contextual clues as to what could possibly be going on. These people bring me great joy.

Mike, Nick and I decided to take this course before heading out onto the Appalachian Trail because we figured that we should at least have some knowledge of how to manage basic injuries. We are learning far more than basic injuries, as I now know how to set a sprained ankle, improvise a splint out of nothing but sticks and camping gear, and how to swaddle someone in a tarp like a baby if they're suffering hypothermia. I am also learning a lot of other fun stuff, and feel completely prepared. 
To his credit, the instructor did not react to my hairy man legs.

"I have no idea what to do now," says Nick, surveying the scene and determining that this ravine is so far removed from society that there's no way to call for help. I have a terrible head injury, some sort of concussion, and possible internal bleeding from being kicked by my ungrateful horse.

"Well, I guess we'll have to kill her," says Mike, gently taking the fleece they've been using to support my head, and making a move to smother me with it.

"I FEEL BETTER!" I declare, springing up to my feet and throwing my hands in the air. 

I don't want you to think that the instructors tell us that euthanasia is the best option. To the contrary, they tell us a whole lot of stuff about how to deal with almost anything. However, reciting all of our curriculum to you just wouldn't make for terribly compelling story telling. Rest assured that if Mike came upon you, injured in the wilderness, he would at least put on his first aid latex gloves before he smothered you.
These are not Nick's legs.

The class runs from 9am to 6pm on both Saturday and Sunday, and is led by a pair of very engaging, fantastic professors. All of our classmates are fun, and game for all of the crazy scenarios. In two days, I go from being completely clueless about how to approach an injury, to being able to work almost silently alongside Mike, as we successfully stabilize an "unconscious" Nick, and set his entire broken left leg in an accurate splint. 

At some point while I am setting Nick's leg, I get really into it and sincerely feel like I know what I am doing. I have a bizarre moment where I think it's actually real. Clearly my surroundings aren't real, but a little part of me is convinced that Nick is actually unconscious and has a broken leg. I'm not really sure what it means. Maybe I am, just for a moment, able to really put myself into the mindset of what it would be like to do first aid in the wilderness. Maybe I am able to finally understand how focused you have to be in order to really help someone when you're in the woods and you have nothing but your two hands and a grim determination.

Or maybe it's just that Nick is the greatest at acting when he's knocked out.

Be the Kit. Done.

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