The First Aid front

All go on the First Aid front


It was a long and busy weekend full of learning for everyone but while most of my friends were making good progress on exam revision I was deeply engaged learning about the marvels of first aid. It’s not a totally tangential subject from my usual revision but may well have set me back a little. On the other hand I’m in no doubt it was a very valuable two days and should the need arise I now think I’m prepared to provide the emergency first, and hopefully not last, aid that will keep anyone alive until we can reach a hospital. Needless to say it’s a lovely feeling!


Perhaps a little more detail about what I actually learnt on my second wilderness first aid course will fill my team with more confidence regarding my medical abilities because, as dark as it sounds, for some reason many people appear sceptical about just how well a vet, never mind a vet student, can look after sick humans. The number of times I hear “just put it him to sleep”… Fortunately I’ll be taking strides to shake off any sceptics with plenty of hands on experience but of course feel free to judge for yourselves whether you think I’m ready for the expedition.


Saturday morning and my alarm roused me at 8am, one hearty breakfast later and I was peddling up the hill to an out of town location that, I suppose, is as close to the wilderness as one can get in Cambridgeshire. There was a slight issue finding the seminar room where we’d be based for the course however two bike rides later and I arrived along with the 11 other participants of the Remote Emergency Care Level 4 course that I was to undertake. The introductions filled me with confidence for our instructor, all the way from Arizona, USA, clearly knew his stuff and so we keen students cracked on, no pun intended, with the subject of fractures. Splints was the word, traction splints, pelvic splints, SAM splints (a very nifty bit of kit if you break something) and improvised splints, we addressed them all. Now obviously these things are easy to put on a willing subject and so to step up the difficulty level our next task involved an all too realistic accident scenario.


It’s all too worrying how all the practical theory, DR ABC and all that, can flee from your mind when you’re confronted with a screaming figure lying prone on the ground. Not that there was anything truly wrong with this person but throughout the weekend each of us were to become well practiced patients whilst our peers tried to do all they could to save the “casualty” in need. As it turned out being the casualty entailed making things as difficult as possible for your “rescuers” so screaming, writhing and falling over in the most inconvenient of places was mandatory. Yet as first aiders we persevered and gradually got to grips with how to treat all the major common injuries we might face. Patients refusing to breath, haemorrhaging from multiple wounds, almost paralysed with fear that their broken spine will end their days it all came up. I can only respect our instructor’s superb imagination when it came to plotting these devious scenarios. Eventually it was with great relief and satisfactions that we finally returned indoors again and after a speedy biscuit orientated, refreshing break we dove into the next subject.


Hereafter the structure of our course became clear. At each stage we’d spend an hour or so discussing the theory behind the treatment and then come wind, rain or, thankfully more often, sunshine we were back outside saving further “casualties” from near certain death. In this manner we learnt about common infectious diseases such as malaria and rabies (not my personal favourite as you may well recall), the dangers of venomous snake bites, travellers diarrhoea (almost ubiquitous on travels to exotic places), thoracic trauma, internal bleeds and altitude sickness amongst other things. What’s more our knowledge of diagnostic tools blossomed with the introduction of sphigmometers, stethoscopes and other methods for monitoring vital signs. The idea being that a first aider can dramatically enhance the chance of survival for their patients just by giving the doctors a few diagnostic signs so as to make all the difference when it comes to rapid professional treatment. I’d recommend telling the operator your pulse, blood pressure, breathing rate, level of conciousness and past history as soon as possible next time you call 999. All in all it was certainly a lot to take in over a short space of time!


Finally as the second day drew to a close the test loomed…


There’s not an awful lot I can say about this part of the course just that I was relieved to pass despite there being some contentious answers to some of the questions. However I think that made clear one of the main points about first aid and that is that there’s no definitive sequence of actions you can take when treating someone in the field. There is no definite right answer, although there are countless wrong ones, as all anyone can do is their best. No amount of preparations can drill a person to the extent that they will make perfect choices every time because no-one can anticipate the effects fatigue, hunger, cold or heat or personal relationships will cloud your judgement. Moreover the environmental conditions are so changeable there’s no telling what problems we’ll face, for instance, in Ladakh. All I can say is that I’m confident I’m well prepared to meet most medical eventualities and for those stick a real spanner in the works, the rest of my team will be there to help! On the plus side where every little helps this big training weekend should certainly help a lot.


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