NOLS Wilderness First Responder course

NOLS Wilderness First ResponderEarlier this month I took a 2 week vacation so I could take a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) class put on by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). My wife, of course, thought taking a first aid course was a dumb idea. (“Gee, if something ever happens we can just call 911.”) Whatever. We talked it over and agreed that I wouldn’t get any grief from her about spending money to take the class. I’ll say right off the class wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t learn what I thought I would, but I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t expect. Basically it cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had. I’d definitely recommend this course to anyone who spends time in the woods or anywhere off the beaten path. In other words, it’s a great class for a backwoodsman or backyardsman.

Day One – NOLS Wilderness First Responder

The class started on a Tuesday. That was nice because I had all day Monday to get reacquainted with my home town (I drove down on Sunday). The first day was kind of intimidating. First order of business was introductions.  Most people taking the class were younger, in better shape, and working in outdoors or wilderness related jobs. There were 3 police officers, but I was the only old, fat IT worker in the bunch. Thankfully that turned out to not be a problem. Everyone was friendly and I didn’t feel out of place.

Urban vs Wilderness First Aid

The first thing talked about was the differences between wilderness and urban first aid. Basically it boils down to this: In an urban setting, you call 911, try to stabilize the patient, then wait for the pros to show up in 5 or 10 minutes. Once the pros show up (EMT or Paramedic) they’ll be taking over patient care.

In a wilderness setting, the pros might not show up for 2 or 3 days. That means you might have to treat the patient yourself. For example, say you’re out hiking and your buddy takes a bad fall and ends up with a compound fracture. If you’re looking at 2 or 3 days for a medical team to show up, guess what? You’re going to have to do something about it. If you wait 2 or 3 days for the pros to show up, that open wound is probably going to get infected. If you know what to do though, you can help your buddy to not get an infection, maybe even saving the limb.

Besides spending more time with a patient, there are other differences between urban and wilderness first aid. Because of the time, you might have to think about the patient’s condition changing. You’ll probably need to think about the environment – hot, cold, windy, raining or snowing? You might need to improvise treatment methods or an evacuation plan. You’ll need to make decisions regarding patient treatment sometimes with no help from a medical professional. All of these issues were well covered in the class.

Lots of hands on practice

The best part of the course was all the hands on practice we got. I’ve had first aid classes before where you get to do one little practice exercise and then you’re supposedly “good to go.” That doesn’t really work well foe me. i need to practiced things a few times before I feel confident doing them. In the NOLS WFR class we had 4 or 5 outdoor scenarios every day, including the first day. Groups were 2 rescuers working on 1 patient. The first day, the instructors just watched and pointed out obvious mistakes. On the second day, they nitpicked more and also had the patients critique the rescuers. By the third day, everyone was picking it up pretty good so we switched to 1 patient to 1 rescuer.

On the fifth day, we did a simulated river rescue that took up most of the afternoon. It involved multiple patients, then packaging one f the patients in a litter and carrying him by hand back to the school, about 1 mile. Lots of fun. Oh, and the simulated rescue was on an actual (real) river. The night before final, we did a simulated bouldering accident rescue in a real boulder field. For me, the hands on scenarios were the best part of the course, especially the simulated rescues.

Things I didn’t learn…

Well, I didn’t learn to be a combat medic. OK, I wasn’t expecting to anyway. I was kind of hoping they’d talk about suturing, and they did, just not in they way I’d hoped. I wanted to learn how to do it. According to NOLS, suturing in a first aid context is a definite no-no. They did explain why in a way that makes total sense, and they trained a really good method of wound closure, so I’ll call this a cleared up misconception.

Things I did learn…

I did learn a lot of things that probably aren’t taught in standard first aid classes. How to recognize and treat frostbite and hypothermia. What to do about a compound fracture. Dealing with a head or spine injury. Recognizing and treating shock. Treating heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Different types of altitude sickness and how to treat them.

When to stop CPR even if the patient hasn’t been revived. Yep, that’s a decision you might have to make in a wilderness first aid situation. It’s also a decision I hope I never have to make…

Some of the best things I learned were prevention. A lot of injuries and illnesses in the back woods can be prevented if you take just a little care. I think all of this is useful to a backwoodsman or backyardsman.

More to come…

I really can’t recommend the NOLS Wilderness First Responder course enough. Anyone with even a remote interest in wilderness first aid would benefit from taking this course. IMO that should include anyone who likes to spend time in the outdoors. As for me, I enjoyed it enough that I’m going to try and take the NOLS Wilderness EMT course next year. I’ve also decided to retire from my current job much sooner than I’d been planning to (more to come on that later). Until next time…

Peace out,

Related Links:

NOLS WFR Course Outline
NOLS WFR Course Dates (2019 – 2020)

First Aid for the Backyardsman

When I first got into this whole prepping / backwoodsman / backyardsman frame of mind, the hardest thing to find was first aid training. I signed up for CERT training and got a little bit of first aid from that, but it was very basic. I wanted more. many hours of looking online didn’t give me what I wanted. A lot of what I found was contradictory. Local Red Cross first aid training was disappointing. It seemed like nothing more than get the casualty breathing, call 911, and wait for the professionals to show up. That doesn’t cut it in the woods, so I kept looking.

A couple weeks ago I found what I’m looking for. The funny thing is it was on a blog that has nothing to do with first aid. One of the posts mentioned something called “WFR training.” My reaction was “WTF is WFR?” so I googled… WFR means Wilderness First Responder. Hmmm, might be related to first aid that’s actually useful to a backwoodsman or backyardsman…

When I searched for “Wilderness First Responder training” I found an outfit called National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). They offer a lot of classes that might be of interest to backwoodsmen and backyardsmen, but the one I’m interested in is their Wilderness First Responder course. It’s a 9 day course that looks really comprehensive. I WANT to take this course. So I have to talk to the wife…

And then a miracle occurs…

I talked her into letting me take the class. Keep in mind the class itself is $800, plus I’ll be away from home for 2 weeks. Oh, and about $1000 for a motel plus gas to get there, meals, etc. So I’m not exaggerating much when I call it a miracle that I’m going with my wife’s blessing. You married guys know what I’m talking about…

The class starts in about 5 weeks. To kind of prime my brain I’m taking a BLS CPR certification class this weekend. As a bonus, the WFR class is being held in my home town. Been meaning to get back for awhile and this gives me a really good reason to go.

Besides the WFR course, NOLS offers a 2 day Wilderness First Aid class and a 26 day Wilderness EMT class. The WFA class might be good for the Backyardsman who doesn’t have 9 days and ~$2000 (total) to burn. The EMT class is a full blown EMT licensing course and is priced accordingly (around $4500, but the tuition includes lodging and meals for the entire 26 days). If I like the WFR class I’ll probably take the EMT course next year. That might be a good job for me to have if I can retire next year.

First Aid for the Backyardsman

I think having first aid skills is important for anyone spending a lot of time off the beaten path. So far I’ve had a hard time finding good first aid training. The NOLS training looks good, and a friend who is a volunteer fireman knows about their program and recommends it. So we’ll see, and I’ll post a full review of the class when I finish it.

Peace out,

Related Links:

NOLS Wilderness Medicine course offerings

Relief from knee and ankle pain

I’ve been having trouble with knee and ankle pain for the past 3 years or so. Originally I thought it was gout, but now I’m not sure. What happens is the ball of my foot or my ankle gets sore. Within a day my foot is swollen so badly I can barely get my shoe on. It hurts like hell to walk on, then not being able to walk right puts extra pressure on my knee so that gets sore and starts to swell. Even taking with taking NSAI medication the flair up can last a week or longer.

My last flair up was about 2 months ago. This time was different… even after I was back to normal, my left ankle still felt stiff. Going down stairs was a ‘one step at a time’ deal instead of just walking down normally. My walking speed was a lot slower than I’m used to, and my legs would get sore if I walked any significant distance. This really sucked because I really like walking and hiking with my wife and kids.

I did some reading and found one way to help weak joints is to make the supporting muscles stronger. I’ve never been much into physical fitness but I knew I needed to do something. I’m only 55 and I don’t want to be all crippled up before I’m 60. One of my friends said to look at the Stronglifts 5×5 program. It looked like something I could do and it’s free. I hate going to gym so I convinced my wife to let me get my own weights. I bought a York Barbel set, a Rep Fitness PR-1000 rack, and a cheap trap bar from Amazon.

Knee and ankle pain: going, going…

When I started, I was afraid of doing squats because of my knees. Also, the barbell rows were hard on my back. So instead of doing squats 3 days a week I did deadlifts and curls. On even days I did bench presses and odd days are overhead presses.

After about 2 weeks something funny happened. I walked downstairs one morning and when I got to the bottom something hit me. I’d just walked down the stairs normally for the first time in over a month? I hadn’t even thought about it. Just to make sure I went back upstairs and came down again. Sure enough, just walked down normally. Knee and ankle pain are… gone? Not completely, but at least I can make it down a set of stairs now.

Since my ankle seemed better, I decided to try some squats. To my amazement, I was able to do a complete 5×5 set. Sure I wasn’t loaded heavy, but still… After a month of doing the weight thing, I decided to take a test walk. We went on 1 .2 mile loop hike. About half the trail in on a fairly steep hill. Going up I took a wrong turn so to get to the top we ended up climbing a steep rock pile. I didn’t have any problems keeping up with my teenager. And afterwards, no knee and ankle pain. I was pretty stoked.

Can you get stronger after 50?

I’ve only been doing this for 5 weeks now and I already see big improvements in getting around. My knee and ankle stiffness isn’t completely gone but they’re much better than they were just a month ago. I’m also walking faster, even though not quite as fast as I could a few years ago. I’m improving though. What really surprised me was how fast things are getting better. I’ve read a lot about how hard it is to get in shape if you’re over 40. Or how it’s damn near impossible to gain strength after you’re 50. That you need special supplements, a high priced exercise program, or blah blah blah…

I’m 55 and I’ve seen a very nice improvement in just 5 weeks. I didn’t sign up with a gym (did I mention that I hate going to gyms?). No expensive personal trainer. I don’t take expensive supplements. To tell the truth, I know I need to change my eating habits but I haven’t even done that yet.

So what’s all this have to do with being a Backyardsman? Well, I can go hiking with my kids again. I’m probably putting off by years the day when I won’t be able to do that any more. I have more energy to get things done. I’m not trying to sell you anything, just trying to encourage you. If you can’t get out and about as much as you’d like, consider doing strength training. Even if you’re someone like me who has zero interest in body building. I don’t have bigger muscles but the other benefits have been awesome for me.

Credit where credit is due:

I probably never would have tried this if not for the constant harping on the importance of physical fitness at mountainguerrilla

A really good (and free) program to try is Stronglifts 5×5

Until next time…

Peace out,

What about gout treatment?

what about gout treatmentFor the past few years I’ve had occasional gout attacks. Usually only a couple times a year, but in the past 2 months I’ve had 3 gout attacks. If you’ve never had the “pleasure” of a gout attack, let me just say it’s impossible to do just about anything except sit on your butt during the gout attack. Obviously not a good place to be during a situation where you need to me moving and moving fast. So what about gout treatment? I’m not a doctor and there is lots of good information online. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert telling you how to treat gout. Instead I just want to talk about my experiences with gout. What causes it, symptom relief, and where to get more information on it.

So what the hell is gout?

Well, gout is hell. At least it feels like hell when you have it. It’s joint inflammation caused by urate crystals building up in the joint. The crystals build up because of high uric acid in your blood. The uric acid is the result of your body breaking down purines. That’s about as far as I want to go, for a more detailed explanation click here. What’s important is the result. The joint hurts like hell, you can’t bend it, and if it’s a foot joint (most likely your big toe or ankle) you’ll have trouble walking. Wait though, sometimes it gets even worse…

If you have gout in one foot, you’re going to favor the opposite foot and leg (especially the knee) when walking. This puts lots of extra stress on the other leg, so guess what happens? The extra stress on the joints in the opposite foot can cause a gout flare up in that foot. Or, if you have a bad knee, that can go out too. If that happens, you can’t bend your knee so no driving to the store for simple things. Like pain medicine. Which is OK, because pain medicine doesn’t do much to relieve the pain from gout. So can gout be prevented or treated?

Related link: What causes gout?

Can you prevent gout?

In my opinion, no. Of course, some experts disagree with my opinion and they’re probably correct. Supposedly avoiding certain foods that are high in purines (meat, seafood) and alcohol (especially beer) can help prevent gout. Great… my 2 favorite food groups are the cause of grout. In my experience, that’s not necessarily true.

Yes, I’ve had gout attacks while eating meat. But I eat meat (and seafood) all the time. If that caused gout, I think I’d have attacks more often. The same with drinking. I’ve had gout attacks during periods where I was drinking pretty heavily, but I’ve also had them during times I wasn’t drinking at all. Sometimes when I have a gout attack I stop drinking, other times I don’t. It doesn’t seem to make any difference in how long the attack lasts.

Some doctors recommend taking medicine that lowers your uric acid levels, but from my reading, and talking to people who’ve taken them, I’m not going to. They can cause long term health problems that are worse than gout.

In my opinion, once you have gout, you have it and there is no “cure.” That doesn’t mean you’re in constant, every day, 24/7 excrutiating pain, but the potential for an attack is with you for the rest of your life. Making lifestyle changes can probably decrease the frequency of gout attacks though.

What about gout treatment?

Even though you can’t treat gout, there are things you can do to help with a gout attack. Try Googling ‘what about treating gout’ and you’ll get lots of hits with lots of different opinions. This is what works for me:

Anti-pain cream: I’ve tried lots of different anti-pain cream to try and treat my gout. In my experience, none of them work – AT ALL. Well, there is one exception. A product called Austrailian Dreams seems to provide some relief. Not a lot, but when you’re talking about gout pain, every little bit helps. Australian Dreams is available at most drug stores (well, at least CVS and Walmart pharmacies), but it’s expensive – about $30 for a 4 oz. jar.

OTC pain pills: I’ve tried several ibuprofin and acetaminophen. Neither do much good. I even had some prescription 800 mg. ibuprofin pills that didn’t make a dent in the pain.

Staying off it: This actually works pretty good. I’ve found that if I try to hobble around my gout attacks last as much as twice as long. If I can stay home (and avoid walking to the mail box, garage, refrigerator, up and down the stairs, etc.) the pain is less intense and goes away faster. Also less risk of blowing out my knee or having a secondary attack in the opposite foot.

Natural remedies: I’m not a big believer in natural remedies. I’m not opposed to them, I just don’t believe they work. Well, maybe except with gout. My wife said that goji berries are helpful. A friend at work (who has gout) says sour cherries can provide some relief. Other things I’ve read about that can help are raw organic honey, skim milk, yogurt (???), and tumeric. So for may latest gout attack I started drinking smoothies.

I use 60 dried gogi berries and boil them in about a cup of water until they’re soft. I throw them in my Vitamix with a handful of frozen sour cherries, half a cup of skim milk, a couple tablespoons of yogurt, and honey to taste. After blending it, I use it to wash down a tumeric tablet. I do this twice a day, plus take an extra tumeric tablet during the day and another just before I sleep. And you know what? It seems like it worked. My attack only lasted 3 days and the pain was less intense than earlier attack.  How about that natural gout treatment?

More to come…

This is getting longer than I usually like to go. I wanted to get into gout and how it could affect the backwoodsman (or backyardsman), but I think I’ll continue that in another post.

Peace out,