Reacting to Unexpected Situations: Surprise First Aid!

Thru hikers all carry their own tool kits.  Physical tools make up an important part of these kits, but they mean nothing without a carefully selected set of mental and emotional tools as companions.  For much of the time, these tools can feel kind of like dead weight.  But when it’s crunch time and you need to open that tool kit, you’ll be glad to find it fully stocked–hopefully!

Repeat after me:

will make mistakes.

And again, Repeat!

will deal with whatever comes my way.

Now, doesn’t that feel nice?

Some back story to this post:  I recently returned home after a long bicycle ride.  With me, I carried lots of tools that would help me fix my bike if needed.  What I didn’t carry were tools that would help me fix me.  Well, at least not any of the “traditional” physical tools that come to mind.  Today, I was grateful to have a well stocked and experienced set of mental and emotional tools to fall back on.


My bike, way the heck out there

Reactions are critical

(Disclaimer: If blood isn’t really your “thing,” you  might want to skip this section)

In the middle of preparing lunch, I heard more than felt the knife open my thumb up.  Picture peeling the skin off a banana, but the banana is my thumb–pleasant, huh?  I immediately knew this was several steps above a “boo boo,” and my tool kit flew open.  Compression.  Elevation.  Ice.  I looked up at my thumb to see blood oozing out from under the fingers I was using to put pressure on the wound.  This would be an awesome time to have my field first-aid kit with me, I think uselessly.

But I didn’t panic.  In fact, I probably should have acted a bit more concerned than I did.  I’ve experienced enough “unpleasant surprises” to understand how panic effects your ability to make reasoned and productive decisions.  Instead, I started listing the physical items that I had with me that could help me bandage this now quite bloody wound.

OK, enough about me filet-ing myself.

Seriously, if you are planning a thru-hike, section-hike, or any sort of trip that puts you more than a day’s reasonable walk from your entry point, you should take a Wilderness First Aid course.  Or better yet, take the time to go through Wilderness First Responder.    These courses, offered by NOLS, SOLO, and a handful of other institutions, focus on quick decision-making, adapting to your situation , and improvising things you need from what you have with you.  Though I don’t hold a current certification, I have been through both courses twice and always carry the knowledge I gained from them.

I knew it was about a 7 mile ride from my current location to the center of town.  I knew there was a pharmacy in that town.  Without my first aid kit, I had to improvise a dressing and some way to hold it on my thumb with some pressure.  It had to at least allow me to get to town without making my situation worse.  It wasn’t pretty (nor particularly sanitary…), but my makeshift dressing made it to town.  I calmly walked up to the counter at the pharmacy with my sterile gauze pads and a roll of medical tape, paid my $7.00, and asked to use their bathroom.  I used my training once again in making a proper dressing for my thumb, then struck out for home.

first aid

My thumb, properly dressed.

Lessons Learned (I hope…)

1) Always carry your goddamn first aid kit!

2) Stay Calm.  The more time you spend freaking out, the less time you spend engineering a solution.

3) In a pinch, a torn-up coffee filter and a Junk Strap work- well, sorta- as a field dressing.

4) You will make mistakes, sometimes because you were being a dumbass (ie. ME), but you will deal with it and you will be OK.

Be safe out there, Y’all!

But better yet, be prepared!


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