One appeal of outdoor adventure is that you get to unplug and enjoy quiet time away from the city. Because that also means you’re farther from emergency responders and urgent care clinics, it’s important to be well-versed in wilderness first aid. Think of it as your opportunity to become more capable and self-sufficient.
The vast majority of incidents outdoors are minor and easily treatable. When providing aid in the wilderness, most of the time your goal is to keep a condition from worsening so you can continue with your adventure. That said, it’s important to be prepared for any situation.
The first thing you learn in a wilderness first-aid course is how to evaluate a patient, which includes the following steps:
If you’ve already had some general first-aid training, it’s worth noting how wilderness first aid may differ. There are four primary factors:
Say you’re out hiking and come upon someone who is bleeding and unconscious. Your first instinct might be run to them to offer aid. However, you need to ensure you don’t become a casualty yourself, and that you understand the situation before rushing to begin treatment. That’s why you need to follow these steps before doing anything else:
Once you’ve determined that it’s safe for you to begin treating your patient, your next actions should be to identify any immediate threats to the patient’s life. Before you begin a preliminary life-threat exam, begin with two quick steps:
1. Airway check: Look in the mouth and check the airway for obstructions.
2. Breathing check: Look closely at the chest; listen and feel for signs of respiration.
3. Circulation check: Check for a pulse and for major wounds that are bleeding.
4. Disability decision: If you can’t rule out a spine injury, continue to protect it.
5. Expose injuries: Without moving the patient, open up clothing covering serious injuries so you can fully evaluate and treat them.
Whether you check for major bleeding (C) first or for breathing issues (A and B) first depends on your initial judgment at the scene. If you suspect a major wound, check and stabilise it first.
Deal with any immediate life-threatening conditions found during the ABCDE exam. Those might include removing airway obstructions, doing CPR or applying direct pressure to major bleeding. Once the patient is out of initial danger, you can begin a more thorough examination.
After you’ve done your initial patient assessment, you’ll gather information to make your treatment plan, inform your evacuation decision and to pass on to medical professionals who later care for the patient. You might also choose to relocate the patient to a more stable, more sheltered site at this time.
The procedures below highlight key stages of the secondary exam. A wilderness first-aid course will take you through the process involved in each procedure:
Do a Head-to-toe Exam: Start by ensuring your hands are clean, warm and gloved. Then explain to the patient what you’re doing: methodically going over all areas of the body looking for clues about potential injuries or illness. Your analysis includes several methods of detection:
Check Vital Signs: Check the time and write all of the vital signs down. One helpful tip is to write them on a piece of tape and place it on the patient’s leg so the information travels with them when additional help arrives. Here’s what you’ll take notes on:
Do a Patient History: Ask questions to learn valuable information to help you with your assessment and treatment. For example, you might find that your patient missed taking important medications or didn’t drink enough water on a hot day. To cover the important topics, ask them about the following:
Go over all of the information you’ve gathered and make a treatment plan, including anticipated problems. Then follow your plan while monitoring the patient’s health closely and ensuring that they are as comfortable as possible.
Treating Medical Issues: Depending on the type of medical issue and severity of the problem, you may be able to treat your patient and you can both continue on with your wilderness adventures. Taking a Wilderness First Aid class will help you learn about a variety of medical issues, and what you should do for them, including:
Making an Evacuation Decision: Whenever a condition is serious, you have to decide whether to evacuate and by what means: helicopter, carried by rescuers or with you and the patient walking out under your own power. That’s a complex decision based on specific symptoms, how the patient is doing, the availability of rescue resources and the remoteness of your location, among other things.