by Stuart Remensnyder,
“You are best American doctor” says the Balti porter as I
finish cleaning and bandaging his heel.
“Half-doctor!” I respond. He smiles broadly happy to have a
soft wrap on his badly scraped foot and a cheeky medic attending to him.
I say this because I am an EMT (Emergency Medical
Technician) and not a true doctor. (For those of you not versed in this
acronym it means that I can serve on an ambulance crew.) Actually I am a W-EMT
which means that I have additional training in how to apply my craft in the
remote environments where we will not have the luxury of ambulances, hospitals
and other more highly trained people to take over for me. In any event I may
as well have been an MD for the trust and hope so readily given to me by the
porters and climbers I encountered during the 6 weeks in Pakistan. During the
time I was asked to diagnose and treat any number of minor injuries, ranging
from cuts and stomach aches to superficial cold injury, to more serious
infirmities that included GI tract infections, an infected finger needing
lancing and draining and even a burst peptic ulcer. I found myself discussing
medications with Greek and Swiss doctors and even calling Hungary for a
||The ability to be of service during the
expedition added a significant dimension to my experience and enabled me
to find reward on a daily basis and not just when looking out at scenery
or on the mountain. I found myself interacting with Balti porters in a way
I could not have as “just” a climber. A genuine sense of respect and
friendship was afforded me from the very first moment I treated a
blistered foot in Paiju and continued throughout the expedition. I was
particularly happy, as a American, that my role enabled me to shed any
label as an aloof imperialist.
For a multitude of reasons I would encourage anyone
traveling to the Karakoram to have at least basic wilderness medical training.
I first received my training at SOLO in Conway, NH in 1989
when I took their month-long intensive WEMT program. I had one of SOLO’s
founders, Frank Hubbell, as an instructor and gained an appreciation for the
fine art of teaching and love of subject. From Frank Hubbell, Buck Tilton
(founder of WMI at NOLS) and the SOLO gang I received an education far
surpassing what I had seen in high school and college. The combination of
lecture, experiential education and mock rescues enabled me to learn as I
never had before. Exciting and full days went by very quickly and before long
I had passed all of the exams and was sent out into the world. I brought my
new skills to my hometown of Windsor, CT and to my work at Outward Bound. I
felt more confident as a soccer and hockey coach and infinitely safer when
hiking and climbing.
SOLO has been offering wilderness medicine
training since the early 1970’s and their WEMT course since 1983. Their
courses cover the spectrum of wilderness medicine and rescue from wilderness
first aid (WFA) and first responder (WFR) courses to high angle and water
rescue. With a staff made up of people active in their fields (as EMT’s, Fire
and Rescue personnel, nurses, doctors, paramedics, guides and climbers) and
constantly examining the latest techniques and studies, they are able to
provide courses that reflect the best understanding of how to handle medical
and traumatic emergencies in the backcountry.
SOLO offers courses at their home base in
Conway NH but instructors will travel to nearly any location and SOLO has
taught courses in South America, Asia and Europe. SOLO students come from all
walks of life and include outdoor enthusiasts, outdoor instructors for
programs such as Outward Bound and NOLS, trip leaders for the AMC, trip
leaders for college programs all over the eastern seaboard, military and
medical personnel and mountaineering guides.
I was so happy with my training in 1989 that I came to work
for SOLO and have found this experience equally rewarding. I work side-by-side
with talented, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people and get to work with a
tremendous number of outdoor enthusiasts.
||To find out more about the wilderness
medicine, SOLO’s history and courses they offer please visit the web site
I hope to see you on a course soon! Stu