Blisters and Band-Aids on the Juneau Icefield

By Sarah Bouckoms
With the change over of faculty we are excited to welcome long time FGER, Jack Ellis. He is an ER doctor in Burlington, VT with wilderness medicine experience.  We are glad to have him on board to expand upon the first aid we learned earlier in the summer.  The past few nights’ lectures have been filled with fun hands-on scenarios.

First we discussed the best practices for splinting ankles, knees, elbows and shoulders.  With the loose rocks found around camp, it is a real possibility to roll an ankle so we have to take care while walking. The triangle bandages and Sam Splints were very handy but we also learned how to be resourceful with bandanas, pieces of wood or rolled up jackets.

Kamil Chadirji-Martinez being lifted on  a backboard with the help of 6 fellow JIRPers, including Jai Beeman on the left with Jack Ellis and  William Jenkins to the right. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

We then moved on to heavier topics dealing with broken legs and spinal injuries. In most cases on the Juneau Icefield, if the weather is good, one can be in the hospital in less than an hour. However, we were rehearsing the possible scenario that help was not accessible, and a patient had to be evacuated by foot. After splinting the patient, we needed to package the patient up. This was easily done with a backboard. We tested our skills by inclining our nervous ‘patient’ Kamil Chadirji-Martinez at all angles of inclination. To his relief he did not slide around on the backboard.

Kamil Chadirji-Martinez is well secured. Don’t worry Mom, this is only practice! Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

In the field, it is not common practice to carry around a backboard strapped to your pack. But you often have materials in which to make a very suitable carrying rig known as a litter.  Using a combination of skis, poles, tarps and ropes, we made hypothermic body wraps or carriages to transport victims out of the wilderness. Communication is key when lifting and traveling with a patient, but thanks to our good leadership skills and teamwork, the system worked well. 

Christiane McCabe is wrapped up like a tortilla by Jack Ellis. Photo by Sarah Bouckoms.

Despite all the stress that we felt playing out scenarios involving an ‘injured’ JIRPer, the most likely first aid we will have to practice will be easily managed by the supplies in our personal first aid kits. An extensive first aid kit is part of our 10 Essentials and is brought with us whenever we leave camp. Blisters, sunburn, hypothermia and dehydration are the most likely medical issues we will have to treat on JIRP. Also lucky for us, many of the JIRPers this year already have their Wilderness First Responders or Wilderness First Aid Certifications.  Ironically, the more training you have in first aid, the more aware you are of the dangers and less likely you will have to use it. No matter the level of training you have, it is important to remember the first rule of first aid – always making sure that the scene is safe before you rush into help the victim. Here on JIRP, we look after each other, and ourselves, as we function as a group all affected by each member's well being.