Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wilderness First Aid

How to help someone who can be saved

So June 9th and 10th I decided to take a wilderness first aid class.  I had a few motivating factors for this class since it did cost a little bit of money.  First off if you know me you should agree there was a need for me to take this class due to the fact that I am always trying to be outside and on some adventure that can take me anywhere in the world including some of the most remote wilderness areas, so its a good idea to be at least prepared.  My second reason was that I am thinking of guiding or teaching outdoor skills and it will be a necessary addition to my resume to give me a chance for some of those wonderful jobs out there.  My third reason is probably my most important reason to me; its just over one year from when I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail and the thought of my friend Buffalo Bobby is still fresh in my mind.  I don't know if situation will ever fully depart from my mind.  RIP Robert Yerike aka Buffalo Bobby.
Buffalo Bobby pictured before I met him- He is wearing the same outfit I last saw him in but was quite a bit lighter when I met him.

So some of you may not know the story behind Buffalo Bobby.  He was a hiker who I briefly met on the Appalachian trail 3 days from the end.  It was his third thru hike of the famous AT and my first.   When we first ran into each other we chatted on the beach of a beautiful lake in Maine somewhere.  The weather was perfect and the scenery was even better.  With the end of the trail within our grasps we were both in great moods.  As we talked we found out we had some funny coincidences:  We were both from NJ in fact he was from Howell (my good friend professor Reynolds lives there as well), I went to Monmouth University and so did his daughter, we both love Pizza!  He even had 2 spare slices of pizza saved from his stay at a hostel the night before that he offered to me, one that I would save to share with Luke who was still hiking and catching up to us.  We stood and chatted about how great we were feeling and that we both did not want our experience to end. He was such a happy uplifting guy, just spending those 10 minutes talking with him I felt amped.  He just gave off this Ora and vibe that was contagious.  He said he was behind his 2 friends who were in a rush to finish but he was going to take his time to enjoy the beauty.  He headed off and I waited at the shelter for Luke to catch up for lunch.  After lunch we plodded up one of the last little blips of a mountain left in Maine before Mt Katahdin. We were going to be able to have a great view of the mountain from the top of this little climb.  We never made it though.  Just shy of the top of the climb I saw Bobby, but something seemed off.  He was in the middle of going down.  He must have felt something going down because he seemed to have thrown his stuff down in a hurry.  I just got there in time to catch his head from hitting a rock as he went from a semi sitting position to laying down position as he trembled.  First thing that popped into my head was that he was having a seizure.  I was clearing some of his cluttered gear away from him when Luke came up the trail.  Needless to say he was surprised but jumped into First Aid mode just as fast as I did.  Having the two of us together helped us both I think. We quickly called 911 but as we were in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness (famous really remote section of the AT) we didn't think we would get service since we didn't have any at lunch.  Some how the call made it through because we had service and I thank my lucky stars that it did. Luke gave the dispatcher as much information as we could.  We had a decent idea of where we were thanks to our guide book but for the Rangers who would have to find us it was going to be extremely tough even with coordinates.  Next we called luke's mom who is a nurse for advice as we waited to see or hear from the rangers.  We did our best to make sure Bobby was comfy and taken care of.  We rolled him onto a mat, gave him a pillow, and covered him up when it got colder.  He woke up at one point and I felt a sense of relief.  He was confused and didn't know where he was or who we were but it made me feel better.  I guess it was a false sense of relief and hope though.  After a few minutes of talking about how he was feeling, which was hungry, cold and spliting head ache, we helped him stand up so he could relieve himself with some assistance.  Shortly after he was having another seizure. 3 other hikers came up past during this time although the exact times escape me.  First a lone girl hiker came up who we sent to catch up with Bobby's two friends to tell them what happened so they would not worry. At that time we felt confident we had things under control and help was on the way.  Later the 2 other hikers came up to us and stayed. Rainbow and firestarter were their trail names.  They help us tremendously because as we waited for the ranger we heard back that they were having trouble finding us and a storm was on its way in so they couldn't send a chopper to find us.  They set off back down the trail we had just hiked up to go back to the lake beach to flag down a sea plane that would radio to a boat the exact location they should go to.  After flagging down the plane and waiting for the boat they had to lead the rescuers and all their gear back up the trail an hours walk to us.  As this happened Bobby had woken up a third time, he was complaining about being colder, having a splitting head ache, and lost control of some of his bodily functions.  He was extra confused this time and a lot less responsive.  It wasn't long before he was having another seizure this time he was coughing like he was going to puke so we rolled him on his side just in time.  Soon after the First ranger made his way from over the mountain as we waited for the Rescuers to come up the other. Once we were all there a plan had to be made after the initial checks were made. We had made the call around 1pm and the decision was made we had to go ahead and move him now.  His pupils were uneven which I found out was a sign of a stroke so we put him on a gurney and started carrying him out as he started to snore (a really bad sign- something else new I learned that day).  The carrying out process was brutal, it was to dangerous to carry him out the way we had come so we decided to carry him up and over the Mt to hopefully find and old lumber trail road down to a new lumber road.  It was getting dark, the trails we steep and wide enough for one person so it was a miserable beginning to a rapidly downwardly spiraling carry out. The four hikers were all carrying our packs plus bobby's, the EMT's had their equipment, not to mention the Gurney with a mans weight on it.  On the other side of the mountain we left trail with the guide of a local guy down what looked like thick forest but somehow he was saying was an old logging trail.  We rotated spots on and off the gurney as we made our was down through brush dodging trees and rocks, plus the occasional water or mud spot that was ankle to thigh deep at parts.  The whole ordeal took about 8 or 9 hours from the start to the end when we reached an isolated logging road and were greeted by a huge group of rescue workers and ambulance crew.  I watched as they loaded up Buffalo Bobby in the Ambulance and I am glad I was able to stop them from throwing out my sleeping bag that we used to keep him warm on the adventure down.  Its the first time I have written this down to share openly.  In the next few days the Newspapers had tried to contact us but I felt uncomfortable talking to them without talking with the family out of respect.  
So back to my weekend of Wilderness First Aid.  I took a class at REI in East Hanover that was taught by  NOLS instructors.  It was an intense 2 day course with lots of class room lectures with a mix of lots of acted out scenarios.  We learned a guide of what to do in any first aid situation.  It starts with a simple five finger process of assessment.  Followed by addressing the distressed and doing a more thorough assessment to see what the ailments are.  During the Initial assessment it is important to hold the patients head still until you can determine if there is a need to continue doing so.  Something that I really never thought about before.  Followed by finding out the patient history and checking vitals.  Overall I learned that without any training Luke and I had managed to do a pretty awesome job with our previous situation.  I now know how to do a proper roll and maneuvering of a patient that is safe, but thinking back when we did move Bobby we did it very similarly in a safe fashion.  One thing that our instructors pointed out which gave me some relief was that complications usual make rescues really hard and all the ailments Bobby had were quite serious even if he had been in a city five minutes from a hospital.  Seizures, brain aneurysm and strokes are hard to relieve.  Some of the Highlights of our class were making splints out of random camping gear and clothing.  I had a ton of fun thinking of new ways to use gear and it was a nice break from the seriousness of most of the lectures.  Its one of those things that will be fun to practice so that I keep my skills up.  With all the information we learned I know I will have to refresh myself with my notes quite frequently.  I think the best part of the class we leaving with a thirst for knowledge and me thinking about joining the local EMT squad.