Photo by Brian Fabel.
My NOLS Wilderness First Responder course made a real difference in my life—and someone else’s.
Six months after my course, I was on vacation in Baja California, Mexico, where a south swell lured my family and me to a popular beach to go surfing. At the beach, a few people were in the water, including a small group of surfers and one stand-up paddle boarder. As I paddled over a breaking wave, I saw the next one about to break with one surfer paddling over it and the stand-up paddle boarder dropping in. What happened next played out like a horrible car wreck.Read More
You and three friends are hiking through a sandy wash in the desert. Even though it is fall, daytime high temperatures have been 100°F (37.7°C) with no clouds in the sky.
Your group encounters another party of two hikers, one of whom is lying on the ground under the only small juniper in the area. The other hiker seems worried. You ask if everything is ok. One hiker is fine but asks if you can help with the patient, who he worries is dehydrated or having a “heat stroke.”Read More
Practicing a patient assessment during a course. Photo by Luis Camargo.
As a medical provider in the wilderness, it’s important to not make judgments or assumptions. For example, rather than assuming a patient is low risk for a spine injury, you can use a focused spine assessment to gather information relevant to your decision.Read More
You are a Search and Rescue (SAR) volunteer working with a team to sweep a trail in the central Rocky Mountains in response to a vague cell phone report of an ill person somewhere on the trail. Eight miles from the trailhead at 8,800 ft. (2,680 m) you find the patient sitting on a log. After introducing yourselves, and with the patient's permission, you and the SAR team members begin an assessment.Read More
Photo from NOLS Alaska
Photo by Ashley Wise
You’re leading a canoe trip for a group on the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park in Texas. It’s been a hot trip, with temperatures well over 90°F (32°C) day after day. Today, the group started off with a long morning hike up a side canyon, and now you’ve been paddling for several hours, floating lazily along, watching birds swoop around the limestone cliffs.
Suddenly, your observations are interrupted by yells for help downstream. You paddle quickly to a beached canoe and several people on shore. One of your participants is shouting something about a seizure.
Another participant is lying on their back in the sand. Their legs are quivering, but their arms seem to be moving normally. The other participant insists this is a seizure—you’re not so sure.Read More
In the movies, snakes bite constantly, fly through the air to strike, and kill their victims almost instantly with their venomous bites. Those involved respond in all manner of ways, from trying to photograph and identify the snakes’ species in 2006’s Snakes on a Plane to cutting open the bite wound and attempting to suck out the poison in 2010’s True Grit. Needless to say, these sensationalized portrayals can be misleading.Read More
Photo by Mike Trewartha.
What is shock? It’s a term that gets used frequently in casual conversation to describe emotional reactions. It’s also a serious medical condition that can be difficult to recognize, and even harder to treat, in the wilderness context.Read More
Editor’s note: NOLS’ Patient Assessment System is designed to be used by individuals with appropriate training. Only provide care within the scope of your training.
Imagine yourself kneeling beside a fallen hiker, deep in the wilderness. You aren't sure if they are sick or hurt, and you don't see anyone else around. It’ll be up to you to respond to this situation and assist this person who is clearly in need. As you survey the scene and your patient, you realize you’ll have to gather information to help you determine how best to care for and transport them. To do this, you’ll use the Patient Assessment System to help inform your decision making and the first aid you will provide.Read More