Nail Through Arm
Once again my three years were up. It’s almost like Logan’s Run with the light going red on my hand… Well not quite, but first aid certification in Australia only lasts three years. So last week it was back to the classroom for first aid update training!
Often the quality of basic first aid courses is pretty woeful. You sit there in front of an instructor who has the power point burning hot. He monotonously steps you through each and every pain-staking slide and reads everything to you that you could easily have read yourself. Most courses are simply the ‘compliance’ stuff you need to ‘maintain’ your qualification so you can treat a paper cut in the office or be eligible for the ‘official First Aid officer’ payment. If you can, avoid these sorts of courses at all cost, as they really teach you nothing more than CPR and how to dial 000.
Although most of the first aid you’re likely to be doing in your day to day work is going to be relatively sedate, you never know what will happen and you can get thrown in the deep end and find yourself outside your comfort zone very quickly. The reality is that most causalities don’t sit there calmly whilst you bandage their non-broken arm. If someone needs your help, there's usually going to be pain, covered in blood, collapsed, vomiting or all of the above.
Case in point, one day I was walking along the corridor outside the classrooms. One of my colleagues yelled out to me to come and help. I stepped into the room to see one of the students collapsed, fitting on the floor, frothing at the mouth and going blue in the face. Everyone in the room had frozen and didn’t know what to do. If you’re dealing with kids in particular, the reality is that something like this is eventually going to happen. You’re better to be prepared for it and not have it happen, than not to be prepared when it does. Walking into a confronting scene and being able to react appropriately is something that only training and experience can provide. The better the training, the easier it is to get your head around what needs to happen next.
I didn’t know what to expect from this course, as every course I’ve done over years has varied dramatically. Within the first hour, we were into scenarios and this was where it got interesting. Casualties were made up with some awesome looking wounds, injuries and scenes were staged with heavy machinery, vehicles and boats. With fake blood everywhere, it was scarily realistic!
First Aid Scenario
You’re thrown into each scenario with little or no information, which will be the case if you find yourself dealing with a similar situation in real life. It's up to you to work with the resources you have to contain and respond to the situation at hand. This is generally easy when you've only got one casualty, but add in two or three and a bit of anger and conflict to the mix, then you have some tough situations with which to deal.
The course was amazing with some short sessions of instruction, followed by a variety of these intense, realistic scenarios. Each and every one of them got the adrenaline pumping! From someone running at you yelling for help, to approaching a scene that's chaotic, full of noise, smoke, casualties, blood and screams, it was challenging. Even though you know it's setup, it still has the effect of raising your heart rate and throwing you in to manage what could be a real-life situation, a workplace accident, a vehicular accident or even an accident at home.
Training in this manner is important, as it helps you to pause, check for danger and potential risks and hazards as well as assess the situation in as calm a manner as possible. Many people rush into situations, which often puts them at risk of harm as well. Making situations feel real means that your brain is being pushed to make those informed decisions before you're confronted with the complex challenge of a real situation.
The great thing about the course was the fact that everyone was pushed. No matter how experienced we were, the scenarios pushed the limits and I certainly got a lot out of it. The remote area course was far more than just completing the 3 year compliance check. It was interesting, it was challenging, but overall it was rewarding, as I've come away with more confidence in how to assess complex situations that in reality might one day happen.
As a good guide for first aid training, forget Senior First Aid, seriously what's the point? In my opinion, it's a complete waste of time and money that won't really do anything more than train you in the most basic of first aid theories, which doesn't prepare you very well for the real thing. Look for something like a Remote Area or Wilderness First Aid run by a reputable provided such as Remote Safety Solutions. It's even better if it can be tailored to your specific areas of operation. It's well worth the time and effort to do this. You and your organisation will be far better prepared if something does happen.
This week, given the approaching holidays, it’s a bit of a short one, but at the same time, this is something I hope can provide the basis for some amazing debriefs. Whilst you should always adapt your questions to the specific circumstances, it’s handy to have a few ideas up your sleeve for a good debrief.
12 Handy Debrief questions:
What's your goal for (X period of time camp, month, year, etc)
What's been the most challenging thing about…
What was the most rewarding thing about…
What's been the hardest decision you've had to make?
How and why did you come to that decision?
Given what you know now about X, how would you approach something similar in the future?
Where do you see your life in a year? In three?
What's something nice that someone’s done for you or helped you with that you really appreciated.
What are you most looking forward to about…
What do you see the biggest challenge being in achieving...
How have you overcome a fear or challenge in the past?
What’s been a situation in which someone has surprised you (in a good way) and why?
A while back, I talked about the weather and how it was a good way of pushing kids outside of their comfort zones when it was raining and a little bit tough. I also mentioned at the time, there was one experience in which I was sent out in conditions that weren’t safe, nor character building. Balancing this risk versus benefit is the ongoing challenge for the outdoor educator. However, even when you plan and prepare for everything, sometimes you find yourself caught by a weather front that's far more intense than anyone predicted and this was one of those times.
The morning started as most days towards the end of summer. Clear blue skies, hot, humid and not a hint of breeze. After a delicious cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs, we finished packing the trailers and I checked the weather. Despite this perfect morning, when I saw the forecast, I immediately raised my concerns. The weather was set to change early to mid afternoon and a severe weather warning had been issued. With severe thunderstorms and damaging winds forecast, it wasn't something I wanted to be taking the kids into.
Clear Blue Skies
I argued the point with the director, expressing my concerns that it wasn't a great idea to head out with that warning in place, especially when we were supposed to be camping near a river, which floods quite quickly. Despite all these concerns, I was told, “Don't worry about it. It will be fine.” Unconvinced, I left, having been told we were still going out on the hike.
It was about a 50 min drive from base camp to get to the trail head where we left the bus and our ute. By the time we'd done all our briefings and had lunch, it was around 1pm. It was hot and extremely muggy. The sky above was clear, but to the southwest an angry bank of clouds was building and I could hear the distant rumble of thunder. Setting out, I had a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The hike followed a winding track along a rugged ridge line. I'd hiked it many times before, but this time felt so different.
About an hour passed and, several kilometres in, the humidity shifted, the temperature suddenly dropped and that's when the storm hit. We were engulfed. The wind ripped through, mercilessly bending the trees above us. Suddenly came a flash. It felt as if the air had been sucked out of my lungs. The deafening boom rippled through the group. There'd been no time to count the seconds between the two.
I yelled out for the group to stop. “Everyone on their packs!” I instructed to try and insulate them in some way from what was about to hit. Moments later, another blinding flash, was followed immediately by the concussive boom. I could feel the ground shake. Quickly checking I had everyone and they were all in their rain jackets and sitting on their packs, there was nothing else I could do, as we were hit by wave after wave of lightning strikes.
My heart raced and I felt helpless as each strike hit, some of them only metres away and rain sheeted down. There was nothing we could do. There was no shelter and no lower ground to which we could safely get. We had to hold our position or increase the risk of getting hit.
Branches whipped and creaked ominously, several cracking loudly and crashing down below us. It felt as if it’d never end. The rain cascaded over us, soaking every inch of our Gortex jackets until they reached saturation point and no longer held the moisture at bay.
The storm crashed around us for what felt like an eternity, yet in reality, it had only been two hours. The rain began to ease, and the deafening booms of the thunder become increasingly distant.
I felt a sense of relief as I did a quick assessment of the group, but this was short-lived. I realised quickly that three students had all the signs of hypothermia and another storm front was rapidly approaching. With no time to lose, I left the other two instructors with the group and taking one instructor with me, we raced back for the vehicle. I'd had a lot of time to think of a plan whilst perched on top of my pack trying to avoid a subterranean strike through the tree roots and pool of water in which I was sitting. The plan was simple. Get the 4WD and find a safe alternate campsite. This was easier said than done, as we had to race the coming storm and run about 3km back to where we started. Through muddy puddles we dashed, slipping and sliding on the sodden surface.
Massive droplets crashed down on our back. The storm was here! Without our packs and with less than a kilometre to go, we sprinted for the vehicles. Lightning flashed around us as the thunderous boom smashed us again and again. I felt as if any moment we were going to get nailed by a strike. Gasping for air, I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. Turning a corner and charging down the hill, I could see the vehicles. Suddenly there was a blinding flash and a deafening explosion. I saw sparks fly from the roof of the nearby building, as I felt the air get sucked out of me as the concussion of the blast rippled through my skin.
With keys in hand I grabbed the door handle and jabbed the key into the lock. It clicked open and I leapt into the driver’s seat, safely out of the storm. Taking a few moments to catch my breath, there was no time to lose. Off we went to shuttle the group back to safety.
It was a slippery and treacherous drive in and out from where we'd left them. It took another hour and a half to complete the evacuation. We soon had a fire going, some water on the boil and our hypothermic campers in some warm dry clothes.
That evening, camp food had never tasted better and I was more thankful than ever before of my cosy sleeping bag. The evening air was filled with the sound of joyous frogs and cicadas. There was not even a hint of the storm that had torn through us that day.