All photos/art by Josh Allen
Skiers and boarders know: our sport is exhilarating, beautiful, filled with memories, but also with an inherent risk. We are, after all, descending a snow covered mountain. And that’s why we train so long and hard. Most skier and boarders never get hurt. If you look at statistics for the number of participants and injuries skiing ranks among the safest. But things happen, whether we are hiking, swimming, fishing, playing baseball or soccer—or even bringing wood in from the shed. And when something happens our job is to bring an injured guest down safely and quickly.
Today I was just skiing, doing a routine trail check and all of a sudden I see someone on the side of the trail wave at me, and I notice another person lying down. Many words and thoughts ran through my mind. Time, for a split moment, seemed frozen. My first reaction—”Oh no, what am I doing!?”—gave way to “Don’t worry, I know what to do from my awesome two months of training.” And it was that second thought which was correct.
Although I was not able to do anything hands-on because of my soon to be upgraded [I hope] status as a trainee, I stayed on the scene, radioed up to the patrol hut, and found out what happened. I felt a bit awkward standing there without being able to help my patient, but I explained the situation the best I could, and mostly just kept talking. I’ve learned that talking to injured people relaxes them a bit, because it helps them ignore their pain, or at least dulls it a little. And sometimes just a little is all they need to know that they’re going to be taken care of by patrol.
Within a few minutes the other patroller appeared from the snowy reaches of the summit. I assisted with a few other minor things, such as gathering cravats to be used for a splint, and setting up the patient’s “seat” in the toboggan. We make an effort to give people seats of comfort made from cardboard, wool blankets, and foam as we ski them down in a metal sled. It might not sound like much, but that extra effort can make a huge difference.
Now that I’ve seen that with my own eyes, I feel like my winter work here means a lot. It means a lot to me, and a lot more to my potential patients, and it’s that second part, just like that second thought that overcame the first, that is really the essence of working as a ski patroller.
Okay, so I thought yesterday was a fluke. But it certainly was not. At each scene, I once again explained I was still in training, though they may have wondered why I wasn’t helping them more. But I stuck to the rules for everyone’s sake, and all was well.
It was really interesting, actually, to finally see how my training actually applies in reality. For some reason, it was a bit surprising to me…but in an excellent way. I guess while training on your friends as patients, you lose touch a bit with the fact that your patient may be in pain, and perhaps not smiling all that much. I wouldn’t smile, I don’t think, if I’d just twisted my knee and couldn’t ski for the rest of my holiday break.
But there were extra little things I could do to help. I asked where they were from, and if I knew that area, I’d talk about it. Something like that might make them feel more comfortable, as if they were with someone that knows more than just their name and injury. Because at the end of the day, we’re dealing with endless dimensional human beings, we are not just dealing with names with injuries. Certainly we are doing first aid, but we are also just being there for our patient, as someone to talk to and as a comforter in a time of distress. I see both parts as important, and I think to be a really effective patroller, I will need to develop both sides and avoid having an “aid imbalance,” where I might focus on the physical aid, over the mental, or vice versa. Yes, we treat physical ailments, but just as much, we treat our patients as they should be treated as dynamic, unique individuals who on this day needed us.
I arrived at the mountain this morning as a bundle of excitement. I knew my test was going to be soon, and I was feeling just about as ready as I think I’ll ever feel for anything that I’ve spent two months preparing for. Of course, I also think this was the first test that I’ve spent more than a few days preparing for.
And I sure am glad I had two months of training because my test required just about all of the knowledge and skills I’ve learned as a part of Okemo ski patrol. All morning I was visualizing what condition my “patient” might be in, and what steps I’d need to take to successfully bring him down to the base. Different scenarios ranging from some crazy middle of the woods extrication, to something simple ran through my mind as possibilities.
So when I was told where to go, and found my fellow patroller lying on the edge of the trail as my patient, I had to quickly clear my mind, and begin reacting to rather than anticipating what injuries he might have. Although I had awesome help from a few of the veteran patrollers during the test, I was the leader and dictated what needed to be done, and in what order. Leading the operation and care of a patient is a difficult task, but a necessary one. Even if the leader is not using his or her hands on the patient — although I was also doing that today — the leader has the responsibility of assigning people to various tasks. On a real accident, with all of the skier traffic and activity around an accident site, one can begin to see how the care leader could have the hardest job of all. But it’s rewarding too — knowing what to do for just about any problem I’ll be faced with, and knowing that I can finally go out and help those in need…
Tomorrow in fact, I’ll be leaving the summit hut and heading off across the snow to my first real patient. Now it really begins…