Why an Outdoor First Aid Course Could Save Your Life




An older man is clinging to a tree, at the top of a steep, slippery slope, screaming. He's fallen from the path, and he thinks his arm is broken.

The sun will set in half an hour, and bandits infest the valley after dark. Slip-sliding up the hill, armed with a tarp and a medical kit, we steady him and try and work out how the hell to get him down.

No, it's not a scene from a typical RTW trip, mercifully. It's a practice scenario, part of the Outdoor First Aid course we're doing with High Peak First Aid, outside the pretty village of Hope in the Peak District.

“Outdoor First Aid is defined as any situation where you are at least an hour from medical care,” explains Nicola, our course instructor. “We call the first hour the Golden Hour, because that's the timeframe in which treatment can best help the patient survive.”

It was a cousin, an expedition caver, who pointed me in the direction of Outdoor First Aid, after my son broke his arm in the middle of bloody nowhere, Outer Mongolia, and I realised neither of us had any idea how to patch up a broken arm – let alone how to move him safely if he'd had head or spinal injuries.

“In normal first aid courses, they'll teach you never to use a tourniquet,” my cousin explained chirpily, over a beer. “In expedition medicine, they'll teach you to use one in some situations – you'll lose the limb, but save the life.”

Like a lot of RTW travellers, I've routinely been more than an hour's travel – sometimes a day or more – from any form of medical care, even the most basic and unskilled. You don't have to be trekking high in the Himalayas, upriver in the Amazon or exploring the Western Desert on a camel – all it takes is to be on a bus from point A to point B when it crashes, and, bang, you can be hours from help.

My son and I are doing the entry level course: 16 hours, over two days, alternating between the classroom and the muddy wilderness around us. (The course isn't usually open to under-16s, but Nicola figured that after Mongolia and Everest Base Camp Zac should have a reasonable handle on the principles of wilderness emergencies.)

Over the first day, we cover the management of routine injuries – burns, sprains, fractures, bleeding. We practise CPR and learn how to use a defibrillator. We're drilled, again and again, on the basic principles of ABC – airway, breathing, circulation – and discover how to assess and monitor a patient. And we learn an impressive amount of physiology and anatomy.

Day 2 takes us out into the muddy, chilly woodland for a range of scenarios. After inadvertently killing a couple of victims, I learn how to move victims with suspected spinal injuries, how to remove a helmet safely, how bloody difficult it is to keep a victim warm and, importantly, how to patch up a broken limb.

“The reason he's screaming,” explains Nicola helpfully, as I hastily wrap bandages around the poor guy's arm in fear of the approaching bandits, “Is that you're bandaging the wrong bit of his arm. You need to stabilise the break.”

Have I had to use these skills yet? Thankfully, no. But I have them, and if your RTW will take you off the beaten track, I'd recommend you consider acquiring them too.




Published by Stuart Lodge