BOWERBANK, Maine — Resourcefulness and the ability to improvise are essential to rescue parties that respond to medical emergencies in the wilderness, miles from a hospital or accessible areas for aircraft or vehicles.
In a typical scenario that occurs about four or five times a year in heavily forested Piscataquis County alone, responders walk on foot for hours in difficult and steep terrain to reach someone who may have become sick, had an allergic reaction to a bee sting, or may have injured themselves.
Emergency responders not only must deal safely with the sometimes harsh environment, but they also must address the emergency using the limited equipment they were able to carry with them.
Twenty-four certified and licensed advanced-level medical practitioners are testing their skills this week in the only advanced wilderness training seminar being offered on the East Coast this year. Rescuers, who were learning to stretch their abilities to improve medical care in remote places, were from 11 states from as far away as Texas and Washington state. Wilderness Medical Associates is offering the seminar at Gerrish Compound on Sebec Lake.
“We’re preparing students for emergency situations that involve prolonged patient care, severe environments and improvised equipment,” Dr. David Johnson, president of Wilderness Medical Associates, said Thursday. “Anybody who works in a low-resource, remote environment and whose mission is medical care — those are the students who take this course.”
The goal is to provide the highest-quality medical training to people who work or play in remote areas, he said.
Johnson, a medical provider at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, said the course, which is taught throughout the world including China and Africa, gives students an opportunity to learn how to improve their response and care in unconventional settings, including incidents on the water. It covers emergencies involving water, altitude, cold, hot and everything in between, he noted.
For first-time Maine visitor Helen Webber-McReynolds of Indianapolis, a physician assistant, the course was “terrific.” She said the knowledge would help her as she continues to enjoy outdoor activities and her work in Girl Scouts.
Hali Ryder, a Mayo Regional Hospital paramedic, said the course was very informative. She said responders learn about wilderness emergencies from textbooks and local training, but the focused environment offered through the course gave participants great insight.
Paul Marcolini of Greenwood, a WMA instructor who assisted Johnson during the course, offered the participants training in how to improvise. That meant fashioning a harness out of a piece of rope to carry an injured victim or crafting a litter from webbing, a foam sleeping pad and pieces of wood. You make do with what is available, he said.
While the course was serious in nature, the participants found some humor while learning. When Shaik Basha, an Auburn doctor, lifted his “victim” onto his back in a makeshift harness, the victim pumped his hands into the air as if he was riding in a rodeo, eliciting laughter from the participants.
Laughter also erupted when one participant pointed to the seat of the victim’s jeans and said, “Just cut a hole here,” when Marcolini asked what they would do if the victim on Basha’s back had giardia, an infection that causes diarrhea.
Joking aside, Bourne Rigano, a nurse at the Charles A. Dean Memorial Hospital in Greenville and a white-water rafting guide, called the training, which included lectures and participation scenarios, very helpful.
It’s all about making good decisions, Rigano said.