Sucking chest wounds. Blisters. Altitude Mountain Sickness. Spider bites. Evacuation techniques. Sprained ankles.
These are just of a long list of ailments and injuries I learned how to treat in my Wilderness First Aid Certification class this past weekend. As any first aid knowledge, the skills I learned will come in handy at any time, but are specifically designed to prepare me to deal with situations when either myself or someone else is injured and definitive medical treatment is an hour or more away.
The class, taught by Sam Coffman of The Human Path, was a two-day/16 hour certification program that earned me ECSI (Emergency Care & Safety Institute) certification.
The class offered an overview of many different techniques and scenarios, and I came out of the class feeling a lot more prepared for the unexpected. While I’d never pretend to be as skilled as trained medical personnel, what I learned this weekend might mean the difference between life and death should someone become injured far from doctors or hospitals.
In the class, Sam demonstrated a number of different ways to carry an injured or unconscious person to safety. Some of the techniques were as simple as the tried and true fireman’s carry, while others involved fashioning a harness out of rope to carry someone on your back, making a seat from a thick branch and threading it through two backpacks (like a makeshift bench), and learning a number of different ways to make a stretcher from tarps, tshirts, or other found items.
Along the way Sam discussed items that should be in even a basic first aid kit. He would include bandaids (of course!), aspirin, 2×2 and 4×4 gauze pads, triangular bandages/cravats (which can be used to tie slings/splints, pressure bandages, tourniquets, and many other things), scissors, latex gloves, needles, tweezers, ace bandages, wound washes, antibacterial ointments, bandaids, water purification tablets, fire starters, moleskin, and last but not least, DUCT TAPE, which can be used for a thousand different purposes.
We also learned how to treat insect and animal bites, the different kinds of shock and how to address each, and how to make splints and slings. We even discussed all the different materials that could be made into a splint, including 2-liter soda bottles, hackberry bark, juniper bark, cardboard and newspapers, and how to use clothing items for bandages or slings.
As I’ve had numerous ankle injuries in my life, I was excited to learn more effective ways to wrap or tape up ankles, including a heel lock/heel hook technique that keeps you from being able to twist your ankle once it’s been sprained, and the basket weave taping method that would allow someone to walk (gently) without further injuring the joint.
Identifying and treating illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke was also very useful information to learn, particularly since we’ve had 85+ days over 100° in Austin, TX this summer (and even today, in the last week of September, it’s pushing 100° again!). For times when we might find ourselves encountering someone who’s fallen or in a dangerous situation, we now know how to carry them to safety – safely!
Perhaps the best part of the class was all of our opportunities for hands-on practice. We took turns carrying each other on our backs or on stretchers; wrapped legs, arms and heads with tape and bandages; and even practiced a very cool technique to get a ring off a swollen finger using nothing but dental floss.
The only downside of the WFA class is that it’s now impossible to watch TV because when someone rolls their car into a ditch, they don’t know what to do next!
For more information on creating and using a first aid kit, tune into The Human Path podcasts on first aid kits.