| April 4, 2017 |
You’re back for more OW-some talk about the WFR course, huh? I’ve told you how much I miss this group of people, right? If I could have, I would have lived eternally in winter at Raquette Lake. Waking up every morning for breakfast at 7:30am wasn’t even a battle. I was usually awake before my alarm clock, ready for the day. Though my brain was somewhat overwhelmed at times, it never got unbearable. Some of my knowledge from my Doctor of Physical Therapy program was actually becoming applicable, and raised some interesting questions for our units such as spinal cord injury and cardiac/respiratory conditions. I also recalled the time I had Acute Mountain Sickness in Ecuador as we covered the effects of altitude. It was really amazing to see the skills of my classmates and I evolve in a few days. Our confidence was rising, and our professional medical skills were growing exponentially. We all supported each other in beautiful ways, and I couldn’t have handpicked a better crew to endure the WFR course with.
Oh, this was a big day! SPINAL ASSESSMENT DAY, woo! Today, we learned the Focused Spinal Assessment for when a patient has a Mechanism of Injury for possible spinal injury. Meaning, they fell >3 feet onto their spine/head/buttock OR had a high energy impact. Again, we hammeredthe SYSTEMATIC evaluation into our brains. I’d be interested to see what other WFR courses do for this, because apparently the Focused Spinal Assessment is specific to NOLS. The redundancy of the evaluation doesn’t allow anything to slip past the examiner and, if the patient passes the assessment, the spine no longer needs to be stabilized. I like it. I like it a lot. It ensures the patient has no reason to be numb to any pain (i.e. have they had any recreational drugs/alcohol? Altered mental status?). If they weren’t able to feel pain, we couldn’t assess the spine fully and reliably, so they couldn’t pass the test!
We also covered head trauma, which seems so scary, but actually has relatively simple in-field management, with goal of diffuse pressure in a bulky dressing and RAPID evacuation, fo sho. I also learned bruising behind the ears (battle’s sign) and raccoon eyes could be indicative of skull fractures. Oh, the things you learn in WFR. So coooool.
We played a LOT with splinting today, but in a intensely non-traditional way. Rather than using Sam’s Splints and excessive amounts of ACE bandages (because who really carries more than one or two in a day pack??), we learned to use whatever we may have access to in the wilderness. We were instructed to throw ANY clothing layers we had into the middle of the room to use for making a variety of splints for injuries including collarbone (clavicle), tibia, and forearm fractures. Creativity was certainly embraced…
Holy layers. We created a sling with a rain jacket. We made a forearm splint using a rolled up fleece jacket as the main support. When it came time to wrap MY leg up for a fractured tibia, things got REAL interesting. My leg was supported by a backpack and my friends stuffed every possible layer around my leg, nearly tripling its girth. I think I cried all the tears out of my eyes in laughter. Honestly, sitting next to Brent in every class made me giggle regardless, but this was a whole new level of ridiculous.
Ankle taping wasn’t as new to me, but we sure had some fun with it. The gauge Nic and I used to establish usefulness of our splinting mechanisms was whether or not we’d be able to go 12 more miles with the support. 12 more miles?! Hell yeah, I’m good to walk with this ankle wrap!
I embraced this day with a TON of good vibes, positivity, confidence, and excitement. We ended the day with a 2-mile cross country ski on the frozen lake with the camp’s equipment, with tips from Kado’s racing experiences. Not too shabby, Raquette Lake.
Today, we covered laceration closing, hypothermia, heat stroke, and various heat/cold injuries. It was a VERY intense day, in many ways.
From my journal today: “Wow. I am really feeling so grateful for all I am opening up to here. I feel so much myself, and yet so uncomfortable.”
I came to the realization I was ready for some kind of life change. With a little mentorship from my instructor, I recognized some really incredible directions I could go in my career and personal life. I started defining some professional and personal goals, from things I wanted to learn, to places I wanted to go. At dinner, I got asked a question that just hit me in the best/worst way. I was asked if I had people in my life putting stress on me to “settle down.” My instructor had sensed my desire to travel and live freely, which is certainly different than I feel I should want sometimes. As friends get engaged and start thinking about having children, I feel a little alone at times in my aspirations. I literally had to hold back tears. I sometimes feel trapped in a professional facade when I really want to grow and provide services in a different kind of way. I’m just really lucky my family supports my endeavors to travel and continue working on myself. My instructor gave me some incredible words of wisdom, and I felt myself cracking open a little bit. I felt myself accepting my desires, and feeling they’d be achievable. Things were really starting to clear up.
I made a pretty BOLD move to be a leader in an outside scenario today. We were told it was going to “rain,” and were sprung into a scenario where our class was divided into two groups to rescue two of our classmates. I was debriefed on the scene: A hiker fell from a bridge >20 feet, and landed at the base of a waterfall. He had been there for >2 hours, as it took some time for the witness to get to the trail head and call Search and Rescue. My team and I walked outside with one red bag, a sleeping bag, foam pad, tarps, and backpack of clothing layers. Upon arrival at the scene, our patient/classmate, Austin, was laying in the snow with a ‘waterfall’ spraying on him (our instructor was spraying him with a hose). He only had shorts on. And he was shivering. It was so real. We all felt for him immediately and wanted to help. In our scene size-up, we kind-of forgot the water was a waterfall (being that we were told it’d rain), and we didn’t think to move him out of the falls. So… here we are, figuring out whe hell to do. My team was looking at me, waiting for instructions, and I felt the urgency I was trying to push away. I wanted to stay in the moment, and not be stressed. I maintained a level of inner calmness during the scenario, but outwardly don’t think I did as well. I delegated various tasks to different members of the team, including: patient assessor, gear manager, tarp managers (to stop the water from getting us and our patient more wet), hypothermia wrap prep-ers, etc. Honestly, everyone did an incredible job on the team. I sensed my fluctuating ability to control my emotions, and definitely could have communicated with better tone and language with my team. I got awesome feedback from my instructor and peers, which I know will help me in future leadership.
As a leader, I felt pretty uncomfortable and unsure of my decision-making capabilities. Without any experience in a first response team, I wasn’t as confident as I wanted to be with task delegation. I kept looking at my team during the scenario, feeling a little disconnected from what was going on. There actually wasn’t much I could do, but look at the bigger picture. I was paying more attention to what the environment was like, when we needed to move the tarps, and what tasks needed to be changed. I had NO involvement in patient assessment, and actually wasn’t really sure what was going on with our classmate. Was he conscious? What were his vitals?!? I felt like I needed to know… but didn’t. I stayed stepped back. And it took a lot to do that.
I later organized a debriefing with the group, which was also a powerful learning experience. We all had a few stirred up emotions from the scenario, and needed to talk over what we could have done DIFFERENTLY (not “better”) and focused on EVENTS, not PEOPLE. We didn’t want to point anyone out and say they could’ve done something differently. We wanted to stay focused on the learning experience, rather than the personal side of things. Also, we all recognized the fact that we are learning and the scenario wasn’t actually supposed to go perfectly anywhoo. I revealed how I felt I put myself on the chopping block by being leader, and maybe not paying attention to the team’s needs as well as I could have. But I was learning, too! Even still, we then brought our attention to the overall SUCCESS with the scenario. Austin was transferred into a hypothermia wrap relatively efficiently and our gear stayed dry! After going around a circle and mentioning what we felt we could’ve done differently, we then all expressed what we felt we did REALLY WELL and gave a round of applause to ourselves after each comment.
I’d say we did quite well, eh? And I certainly feel like I grew, thanks to some mentorship from my course instructors and input from my kick-ass peers. Thanks, guys!
Well… How do you recover from such intensity? Chess. Lots of chess.
…Just kidding, chess is just as intense.
Today, we were gifted a 1.75-hour long mid-day break to enjoy some sunshine! We were all a little sleepy today. Remember how I said I woke up before my alarm every day? NOT this morning! Could have used about 5 more hours of sleep.
I spent the GLORIOUS break on the ice road with Nick and Isabelle… in combat sleeping bags… reading books! It was absolutely BLISSFUL. A dog came to visit us and we all napped and soaked in some Vitamin D. It was insanely relaxing and rejuvenating. I sat with Tom Robbins’ Still Life With Woodpecker, Nic hung with The Book Thief, and Isabelle listened to some tunes. Nothin’ like a little midday zen.
Once back in the classroom, we prepped for another big ol’ scenario. This time our group had not ONE, but THREE patients to rescue. The leader of my group, Elliot, did a pretty incredible job of leading our group and managing three patients almost seamlessly. He had taken the WFR course before, but still, I was impressed. We also ALL maintained a level of calm.
Our entire class then organized a carry of one patient (Kado!) in the medical sled. We were super effective and alternated sides/groups carrying to prevent fatigue.
Like I said, exponential learning. Killin’ it.
The overall theme for a team rescue became EMBRACE TOLERANCE FOR ADVERSITY AND UNCERTAINTY. The mission was always the PATIENT. We learned the importance of trusting our competence and self-awareness in stress management. We learned to think ahead and stay linear in order to be effective in task sequence. We were constantly evaluating the scene safety and gear organization, which maintained the overall scene. The COMMUNICATION piece encompassed specific, direct, and kind language, and occurred in stages throughout the scenario. We learned the importance of sharing information and decisions at natural rest stops, and not to interrupt each other.
Maybe most importantly, we learned to GO SLOW TO GO FAST. Haste is waste, people!
Today’s course objective seemed relatively mellow compared to other days. We focused on CPR and cardiac/respiratory conditions. We learned to ask if someone has taken sexual function drugs in the last 48 hours when offering nitro (awwwwkward much?), to thaw someone’s inhaler under your armpit (hope you brought deodorant), and increase shortness of breath at REST is NEVER okay.
Oh, and we loaded on more acronyms.
ToSTOP… FAST… ABCDE… OPQRST… SAMPE… holy shit balls, that’s a lot of letters.
We inspected the boys cabin’s secret door behind the building that had been discovered earlier in the week. We all set ourselves up for the horror scene behind the door, and arrived with headlamps strapped to our heads. I won’t tell you what’s in there. You’ll just have to check it out for yourself… mwahahha. All I know is we were scared shitless. We felt like we were in an episode of Goosebumps, and on quite the horrific adventure. EEK! ****
Wood fire sauna part deux. More stories. Our first round of “Never Have I Ever.” Shark kayak fishing. Snow angels in bathing suits. And goooood, goooood vibes.
I woke up for the sunrise today. There was no sun (see above). Whoops. It was a wet one today. Icy snow called for microspikes walking around Camp Huntington. Thank you, Kahtoola, for your superior traction.
Eventually, the sun came out mid-day and we were instructed to soak in some Vitamin-D before lunch time. I later ran to the lake before dinner to sneak a peek at the sunrise, which was epic to say the least…
We saw videos of helicopter rescues and mentally prepped for the infamous NIGHT SCENARIO, which was ~4 hours being outside in the cold (AMEN it wasn’t in the single digits this night). We packed our bags with the necessary items after being split into our rescue groups. We were given very obscure directions, just told we’d be outside for a while and would have to perform some kind of rescue.
Danny, Elliot, Erica, Kado, and I organized ourselves with shelter, signaling devices, tools, clothing, and food/water to be outside for a long period of time. Erica took the bold and awesome move to lead this one, and she did an absolutely incredible job given the unpredictability of our situation! Go girl!
And yeah, sorry, but that’s all I’ll reveal about the night rescue. I made a
scout’s honor NOLS promise NOT to share any of the details. I will say, however, that Brent completely embraced his role and peed in Reba’s water bottle.
She wasn’t so happy about that.
Brent bought Reba a new water bottle.
We debriefed from the night scenario with arm wrestling matches, and decided to watch Meru, which is my current favorite mountaineering documentary (WATCH IT IF YOU HAVEN’T). A whole crew of us rigged my computer up to the classroom screen projector and arranged ourselves in sleeping bags on the classroom floor to watch the movie. We all passed out during the move, and didn’t wake up until 7:30AM when Karen came into the classroom. Whoops! Good thing breakfast wasn’t until 8:30AM the next mornin.’
Did I mention how much I enjoyed the company of these people?
TIME IS MOVING TOO FAST! With only one full day remaining, I was already feeling sad the course was coming to an end. Today we got our pairings for the last day’s “Celebration of Learning” (AKA practical and written exam, HAH). Nic and I got paired for the practical by fate of alphabetical order because we knew we’d kill it. We did a TON of practice scenarios with our partners today and evaluated each other. Nic, Erica, Karen, and I got through three scenarios together of varying complexity, and gave each other owsome feedback. We all worked on prepping our “cheat sheets” we were allowed to use for the practical (and would later put in our first aid kits!).
Erica and Kado had a magical performance of “Imagine” on the piano after dinner time. I may have teared up a bit. So. Many. Good. Vibes.
Remember those microspikes I praised? Yeah, make sure they’re always secure on your boots or you’ll trip over your feet walking downhill and show up at breakfast with bloody knees. Honestly, I’m impressed it took me 9 days to end up with real blood on my skin.
I’m not entirely accident prone. I’m intensely accident prone. So, good job Kristen for surviving 9 days without injury. Might as well go out with a bang, eh?
Celebration of Learning day commenced with breakfast, where we all sat with a dismal feeling of “shit this is our last day together” and “will we actually all be WFR’s after today?”
Spoiler Alert: WE ALL PASSED!!!!
We all shared the Last Supper together, embracing all we had learned, exchanging emails/IG handles/Facebook information to keep in touch. I served my last round of KP duty, and really felt sad to be prepping to say goodbye to everyone.
Our last march against the ice road was pretty epic, and we all hugged each other at the parking lot before saying “See ya later” because who knows when our paths will cross again.
The amount of gratitude I have for NOLS, Raquette Lake, and all the people I met on this journey is intense. I can honestly say I felt like an entirely new person when I left Camp Huntington. My soul was again ignited, and I was ready to journey further into the unknown of my life. I saw new ideas in the horizon, and a myriad of opportunities. I felt intensely connected to myself and the world, and knew it was time to make some life decisions that would support my goals and aspirations.
THANK YOU, Josh and Colleen – our instructors – for such an inspirational and life-changing course.
THANK YOU, to my classmates, for sharing your experiences and pieces of yourselves so vulnerably and freely.
THANK YOU, to the operators of Camp Huntington, even Rob who is now retiring. Your service is more than appreciated, and you have truly created a magical retreat.
THANK YOU, to the Universe for bringing me to the decision to take this course, and making it happen with divine energy and power.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
I will use this new knowledge as I venture into the wilderness with my friends and family, so I may be confident in my adventures. I will use this knowledge to expand my career into the outdoors, and touch lives in ways I couldn’t previously imagine. I will use this knowledge to continue growing as a person, professionally and personally, and connect with even MORE like-minded individuals.
With love and gratitude,
To my fellow WFR’s: What did I miss? What were your favorite moments? Share a memory in the comments 🙂
****Okay, it was an oil burner room. Sorry to disappoint. That’s how we felt, too.