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A “Half-Doctor” in Pakistan

by Stuart Remensnyder, WEMT

“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 consultation!

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 at www.soloschools.com.

I hope to see you on a course soon! Stu

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