Wilderness Medicine Right from the Start

There were bodies everywhere as we walked out into the sun. My partner and I made eye contact and walked over to the nearest patient, ready to follow the procedures we had just learned. One… is the area safe for us to operate. Two… what appears to be the Mechanism of Injury. Three… put on proper protective gear… By the time we finished our initial assessment of the scene, we were ready to address the simulated situation with calm, confidence and a supportive attitude.

I was extremely fortunate to start my internship with an intensive Wilderness Medicine training conducted by NOLS. After a week’s road trip out to my new position, I started Monday in Buffalo, WY at the BLM Field Office. I had hardly finished the initial tour of the place when a supervisor came up and asked how I would like to take the last open slot for a wilderness first aid course being offered a few hours away that a number of the office staff would be attending. I of course agreed and so began my week of training. The first two days at the office were filled with the basic safety training necessary to work for the BLM, especially driving and field pitfalls. When I was not in training sessions, I was at my computer, finishing the required online trainings on government policy and UTV prep. On Wednesday, several of the office headed out to Casper to begin the real deal: wilderness medicine training.

The three day session, lead by two extremely competent and supportive instructors, covered a remarkable number of topics. We learned how to assess the scene when arriving as one of the first responders, followed by the essential aspects of a patient assessment to ensure that airways, breathing and circulation were unimpaired. We became CPR certified and learned how to conduct head-to-toe patient exams, monitor vital signs, and collect important patient information to radio back to medical emergency establishments. Then came the lessons on evacuations, spine injuries, shock, head trauma, wound management, infection prevention and treatment, burns, blisters, splinting, musculoskeletal injuries, heat and cold illnesses, altitude sickness, lightning strikes, and more. Three days into the internship and while I may not have had any furniture in my apartment, I at  least had the knowledge to deal with a plethora of wilderness accidents.

The most important part of the training was definitely when these lessons were put into practice through simulations. The participants were divided into three groups, with each group respectively acting as patients that the other two groups would have to assess and treat. Even when frustrating, these were invaluable learning tools that really sought to take best field medical practices and make them muscle memory. After many hours spent either lying (as the patient) or kneeling (as the responder) in the sun, I felt much more prepared, in the case of a real emergency, to do my best for the patient in a calm, composed and professional manner.

As my first week ends, my training does not. While I do have further scheduled trainings on computer programs and UTV operation in the coming week, I don’t believe I will ever stop learning something new in this position, and am excited to see what the coming months bring.

Rec Intern, BLM, Buffalo WY