My First Rite of Passage as a Professional Fly Fishing Guide: Wilderness First Aid

Recently I was asked by Angler’s Covey Fly Shop, Colorado Springs to work with them as an Orvis endorsed, independent fly fishing guide. One of the first requirements for this position is that I need to be certified in first aid.

Curiosity led me to take it one step further. I signed up for a National Safety Council’s wilderness advanced first aid/CPR certification course offered in Loveland, CO.

I knew that not only did I want to be prepared for any accidents on rivers and streams, but after the bombings in Boston, I wanted to be one of those people who could step in to help during an accident, with no hesitation.

The class was full of mainly scout leaders, some in uniform. And a few outdoor guides and male nurses. I was the only woman. And the only fly fishing guide.

Almost immediately, there was a lot of touching and feeling. We were asked to find each others pulses.

We carefully took turns checking wrists, throats, upper arms, and then turned to another and practiced all over again.

Soon, we were folding each others limp bodies into various positions, this lesson for the purpose of leaving someone to lie safely, semiconscious, and still be able to vomit to the ground.

Then the subject matter became more real.

The videos were graphic. Many were actual accidents caught on film. Impalements, severed limbs, deep knife wounds, head traumas, legs and elbows broken and barely hanging on, and electrocutions by lightning.

Next it was CPR training. The instructor handed us our dummies, pale, white and plastic with their mouths agape. Then they handed us barrier masks (to prevent vomit “backflow”) gloves, and a mat.

We all put the mats under our dummies and waited for the next instruction.

“No, the mat is for YOU…For your kneeees people.”

Blushes and a lot of reshuffling. Then we began to pump.

Apparently studies show that people can identify whether or not someone is breathing. Listening for a breath is no longer required, and is in fact a time waster. The brain dies too fast from lack of oxygen.

While compressing away on my foam dummy, 2” deep, between the nipples, locked fingers, 100 beats per minute, 30 compressions and two breaths, I could see I was getting the hang of this.

Then the guy next to me leans over and says, “The real thing is a lot harder…”

The instructor played Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” as we fiercely performed our compressions. He said studies have shown that if practice is done to a beat, its easy to remember the pace later. Sure enough, whenever I pass an accident now, “dunt dunt dunt, another one bites the…” comes to mind.

I was sweating after just a few minutes. I observed some of the men in the room, noting their large size. I thought to myself how difficult it would be for me administer CPR because of my 5′-6” 140 pound frame. The instructor said I would just have to the best I can, or grab a bigger guy and quick study him.

Then, we learned how to carry a body as a team. With six people and the proper gear, carrying a body was still surprisingly heavy and difficult.

When the class was complete, I felt empowered to respond to every type of common situation until EMS arrives. From snake bites to strokes, I felt confident about first aid the first time in my life.

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A few things to pass along to my fly fishing readers.

1. If going on a guide trip, please please please be honest about the medications you must take? And if you forgot them, please tell your guide. We need to know.

2. Please wear eye wear at all times while fly fishing. I know we guides constantly harp on this. This is why. Cause if you get a hook in your eye, I have to be sure that hook stays in place (by constructing a frame of bandages around it) until EMS arrives to transport you to qualified eye surgeon. Then it will be removed.

3. Carrying a body is next to impossible. Keep it simple. Rental satellite phones are the way to go if you plan a remote fly fishing trip.

4. Broken ankles, shins and knees are common fly fishing injuries. Good rule of thumb I teach all my beginners. YOU ARE EITHER WADING or YOU ARE FISHING. NEVER BOTH. I discovered my forte is splints and wraps; however, I hope I never have to do this new found superpower if I don’t have to.

Fly fishing continues to take me down paths I would never expect…Wilderness medicine is another new and empowering aspect of the sport I did not anticipate I’d like so much.

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4 Responses to My First Rite of Passage as a Professional Fly Fishing Guide: Wilderness First Aid

  1. Great things to get under your belt. Kent and I will be taking similar classes in July at an RV gathering in WY in a few weeks. We are getting prepared to help with disaster relief. Will send you an update, and we can compare notes. Jan

  2. Nice going on taking that class. You’ll never regret it…until someone pukes all over you. But it’s a good feeling to be able to respond professionally and make a difference.

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