Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Busy Spring...Busy Summer

When I graduated from college in the spring of 2000 I moved to Colorado to run rivers and creeks in The Rocky Mountains. I worked when I pleased, lived frugally, slept outside and rarely rushed from one moment to the next. Times have changed. My days continue to be filled with discovery however, the pace has increased dramatically.

Emergency Vet Mike Huggins charging down the"Drag Strip" Gragg Prong, NC

This spring was one of the busiest seasons of my life, and yet I wouldn't change one thing about it. Here in North Carolina several years of drought finally broke. Heavy spring rains kept river levels high providing ample opportunity for adventure. We had some of the best days ever down in The Linville Gorge, and were able to run the allusive Gragg Prong twice in one week. Outside of these moments we spent a good deal of time in the indoor classroom beginning with the second annual wilderness medicine conference in Chapel Hill, NC.

(above: Henderson McGinnis)

This years Student Wilderness Medicine Conference was a total success thanks to student organizers Pai Liu and Jenna Searcy. This years event drew 250 students from all over the country. A cap was placed on the conference, and had it not, numbers would certainly have been greater. One highlight of the conference was Keynote Speaker Commander Richard Jadic who spoke about medicine on the battle field. As a Navy trauma doctor serving in Iraq, Mr. Jadic spoke of the challenges of treating and evacuating soldiers in the most hostile settings imaginable. Most compelling was the very human element that he gave to his speech. Although he is an accomplished physician, military commander and nationally recognized author, Mr. Jadic spoke very candidly about his own fears, doubts, and shortcomings. It was his honest confessions about the stress of being a practitioner that I most enjoyed as such perspectives are not frequently shared by such accomplished individuals.

(above: Seth Hawkins)

The conference also included an introduction by Physician and ACWM Director Seth Hawkins, classroom lectures, and practical field stations. I had the privilege of presenting at the conference, teaching about whitewater related emergencies and spinal immobilization techniques. The conference lasted for two days and left evenings free for socializing and networking. I personally enjoyed staying out late sharing stories and ideas with folks from as far away as Tennessee, New Orleans and Canada! Next years' conference will be held at The Medical College of Georgia. Although the conference is geared towards medical students, anyone with an interest in wilderness medicine is encouraged to attend. Visit for information on next years event.

This Spring and Summer were also seasons of change. My good friend, teacher and mentor Lisa Webb (pictured above and below) recently stepped down as Watauga County Training officer, trading in her responsibilities as educator and Paramedic for those of a student. She is off to Chapel Hill to start Medical School in the fall of '09. Before leaving however, I had the joy of co-teaching an EMT Basic class with her for several of the rural fire districts that provide medical care to the county.

If you want to be among some of the finest people on this earth join one of the volunteer fire departments here in Wautauga County. These folks have a commitment to the members of their community that is unparalleled. Not to mention, they're a lot of fun to be around.

Our EMT class met two nights a week and a few Saturdays a month for a total of 180 hours of class time. We spent at least half that time cutting up laughing, making fun of ourselves, each other, or whatever was in front of us. Our job is a serious one and we in turn take it seriously. Some of our students plan to work professionally for an ambulance service and others simply want to be able to offer the best volunteer services available. Never the less, humor is good medicine and a great way to cut through the stress of the job.

(Beaver Dam, Zionville, Cove Creek 2009 EMT-Basic Class)
I am beginning to find the designations of "teacher" and "student" to be somewhat nebulous terms and not very descriptive of one role or the other. I have always considered myself a life-long student and continue to search for new ways to learn. As I spend more and more time standing in front of a class I am certain that my pursuit of learning will continue with equal vigor. In 1997 I took my first Wilderness First Responder class through S.O.L.O (Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities). Now in 2009 I have begun teaching for that very same school.
Wilderness medicine is empowering in that it is medicine for the people. You don't have to be part of an institution to provide critical care for someone in need, you simply need to prepare. Wilderness medicine is unique in that the rules that apply to street medicine are often broken to meet the needs of a threatening and ever changing wilderness environment. We have an abundance of medical equipment and training in this country. However, taken out of the context of "the golden hour" of pre-hospital and hospital care, such accommodations do us little good.
SOLO has been developing and teaching wilderness medical techniques for over 30 years. Founded by partners Frank Hubbell and Lee Frizzell, SOLO was established in The White Mountains of New Hampshire and now has a southern base at The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). SOLO offers varying levels of training ranging from Wilderness First Aid to Wilderness EMT. The training is excellent at any level, and as a new instructor I hope to make SOLO classes more accessible to people in the N.C. Highcountry and beyond.
Finally, a parting image. I took this last photo outside my house (which at the time was a 1988 Toyota Dolphin RV) in October 2008. Hopefully winter won't come as quickly this year as it did last. Never the less, as cliched as the saying "seasons change" is, it is true in ways that have little to do with weather. Recently, in the same month, I was blessed to see two wonderful friends unite in marriage, and saddened by death of young man I knew growing up. Such juxtapositions are perplexing, and they are reminders to live each day to the fullest. As a teenager I used to gather quotes that had meaning I identified with. This one has stayed with me:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."