Friday, February 18, 2011

Trail Injury and Sickness

First, a disclaimer. I'm not a doctor, nurse or even CNA. I've taken some first aid courses, been through various emergencies, and developed strategies for coping while out for months at a time.
As a minimalist, my pack contains basic supplies. Treating cuts, burns, bruises, sprains, diarrhea, various aches and pains are just normal stuff. When you head out alone, having these skills will make life easier.
Keeping your pack light allows you to carry the necessary food and water. That weight changes each resupply, and lessons. But if you're overloaded with fluff, those stress fractures and knee sprains will slow you down, depress your spirit until, seeking medical attention becomes an issue. Lighten up before heading out, both in pack weight and body weight. Muscle, not fat, is your friend.
Still, if you're out long enough somethings going to happen.
Treating the pains by taking Ibuprofen on an empty stomach can cause bleeding. Too much Tylenol will wreck your liver. Putting ointment on a fresh burn before cooling it down can deepen the damage to tissue. If at all possible, cool the burn in a running stream. If no stream is close, cool the burn with water you're carrying. Prevention, and attendance to all cooking will prevent this. Never use a wet bandanna to move a hot pot. I use my gloves as pot holders cause they're always dry.
When ever treating an open wound, cut, blister, or burn, keep things clean and sterile. Use antibiotic ointment after all debris is removed from scrapes, and the wound is air dried. Infection can be a killer, take this seriously, even that tiny blister on the heel. I never remove the skin, just drain the puss with a sterile needle. The skin protects the wound.
Its easy to over estimate your abilities and underestimate nature. Caution, and realistic expectations will keep you on trail. Watching for snakes in shady places, near logs, under rock ledges is important as soon as the first leaves appear in early spring.
Before pitching tarp or tent, check for ant hills. Don't pitch on the down hill side of a slope. If it starts to rain, you can become flooded.
It doesn't matter what type of tent or hammock you're carrying, the brand of your pack, the make of your sleeping bag. Whether you have a cat stove, a Pepsi can stove, or a whisper light, bottom line : you get the gear to Katahdin, the gear doesn't get you there.
You get the gear to Canada, the gear doesn't make or break the hike. The one thing thru hikers have in common is the burning desire to do the entire trail.
Giardia, West Nile, and Lyme Disease is on the rise. If you loose all energy, suffer vomiting and diarrhea for several days, get help. Go to the
nearest town, get to a clinic. If you don't have health insurance, ask for help anyways.
I was told, if you can stand the pain you can stay on the trail. That works up to a point. Be wise, and live to hike another day.
This is my final thru hiking planning post. Please e-mail with anything else, or comment.
Happy trails.

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