Wilderness First Responder training recap

There was no one reason why I decided to take a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course and get WFR certified. There are many descriptions for the WFR program, but all follow this rough description:

“The definitive wilderness course in medical training, leadership, and critical thinking for outdoor, low-resource, and remote professionals and leaders.

The Wilderness First Responder program is the ideal medical training for leaders in remote areas including outdoor educators, guides, military, professional search and rescue teams, researchers, and those involved in disaster relief. The curriculum is comprehensive and practical. It includes the essential principles and skills required to assess and manage medical problems in isolated and extreme environments for days and weeks if necessary.” [1]

In the U.S., WFR is the nationally recognized standard for outdoor professionals. I knew a WFR certification was a prerequisite for becoming an AMGA Rock Guide, so that was certainly a consideration. But, more importantly, I wanted to feel like I was prepared to deal with a medical situation in the wilderness and/or backcountry. While my days of spending a lot of time many hours/miles/days away from a road are somewhat behind me, there are still a number of situations I can be in, either alone or as a group, where medical attention is delayed.

So when my friend and frequent climbing partner asked if I wanted to take a WFR course, I said, Sure! even though a WFR course is a significant time commitment (70 to 80 hours) and a fair chunk of change.

We had some constraints: the course had to be within 300 miles of the Boston area, and it had to be in January 2016. I suggested the condensed 5-day WFR course  (WFR courses typically take place over 7 days) offered by Wilderness Medical Associates since a) it would require less vacation days, and b) overall costs (accommodation etc) would be cheaper. Dave, being the good sport he is, agreed to my plan.

The condensed version of this course made for very long days. But I learned a ton. Aside from theory, the course really focuses on scenarios and the practical aspect of rescues. I found the latter to be the most useful thing for me.  It is one thing to learn, have the knowledge and understanding of what you should do given a particular circumstance. But it is a different think to be able to make decisions in a very stressful situation (severity of injuries, poor weather conditions, shitty evac options etc.)

Making a body splint for a full pelvic and leg fracture out of sticks, foam and paracord. I am the one in dark blue. Oh, I didn't bring a brush with me so I ended up looking like a Gremlin towards the end of the course.

Making a body splint for a full pelvic and leg fracture out of sticks, foam and paracord. I am the one in dark blue. I didn’t bring a brush with me so I ended up looking like a Gremlin towards the end of the course.

One benefit to taking the course in Central Maine in the middle of January is that we got a lot of practice working through these scenarios in very cold, snowy conditions. That is probably more realistic, and it also helped me practice how to make and apply decisions under stressful and inclement conditions. I definitely get stupid and shut-down when I am very cold.

WFR pic_splinting

Here I am splinting an injured skiers fractured and heavily wounded leg. Since I neither have a beard, nor am I blonde, you can guess who I am in the photo.

I learned how to do the appropriate scene and patient assessments, how to record this information and relay it to a rescue team (e.g. medical/helicopter dispatch); different techniques to treat injuries in the field, different evacuation options. And, most importantly, how to put all this together to maximize the likelihood that the patient has his/her best possible outcome.

I did realize, however, how important being able to lift and carry a person/people is. I felt bad that I was limited here. I could manage carrying a litter with other people, but I still could pull my “full” weight. Obviously, I have a pretty good explanation for this, but I still felt bad.

My buddy is 6’4″ and around 210 lbs; so he is a total clydesdale and was able to be the workhorse in a lot of these practice scenarios.

Practicing a carry-out.

Practicing a carry-out.

Later, in the car ride back, Dave asked me, so, do you think you could carry me out in a rescue situation. I said, hell no and that he was fucked. While there is some truth there, perhaps, I am aware that having the skills to perform basic life support and treat illnesses and injuries in remote settings is a very useful skill for myself and my partners. And it feels pretty good to be WFR certified.

[1] https://www.wildmed.com/wilderness-medical-courses/first-response/wilderness-first-responder/

Realization (of the not-so-great kind)

A personal motto of mine, and one that is quite apparent as I climb, ski, and live life is “No excuses.” This past weekend, I realized that I was being hypocritical. I realized that I was using my introversion as an excuse to not go to large social gatherings, not hang out with friends sometimes, not do this and that. I realized that I was using the argument of “this is just who I am” as an excuse for avoiding certain things.

These kinds of realizations do not feel good. But shitty as it feels, I believe that one outcome of this is that I try and take ownership of my introversion, be in control of it, and turn it on/off when need be. It might be the only way I can fully maximize Wendy and, hopefully, the people around me.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving.

Our contribution to the Thanksgiving meal.

Our contribution to the Thanksgiving meal.

It is interesting that even though I have spent half of my life in the U.S., it is only in the last year or two that I have embraced some American traditions. Well, “some” meaning one: Thanksgiving. It is not a holiday that holds much significance to me as I grew up in Hong Kong. But having a true Yankee as a partner, and my sister and her family living fairly close by, has made it hard to avoid celebrating this occasion. I find it interesting to see what traditions I, and other people who arrive in another country as students and adults, choose to partake in, and which ones we do not. And what guides our choices?

Also, I never had a conventional Thanksgiving because previous Thanksgiving weekends prior to my accident were always spent on climbing trips, or some road-trip or vacation abroad. Work and insufficient vacation time to go to warmer climes; and temperatures that are too cold to rock climb but too warm to ski or for ice to have formed for ice-climbing have made me stay in town and actually do the whole Thanksgiving meal thing. I am trying not to stew too much for the next month or two. I am trying not to lose to much of my climbing gains this past season. The goal is just maintenance, or even just maintenance at a level from where I can bounce back/improve quickly. I am, however, thankful to be able to spend time with my sister’s family who live relatively close by (closer than, say, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, Europe…). Time with family is precious, and I do not take it for granted.

Anxieties and preparations for NIAD

The last month has been incredibly stressful, due to balancing family and personal issues with preparations for NIAD. It has been challenging to train for NIAD around here because of 1) lack of long pitches and similar terrain, 2) the capriciousness of New England weather, and 3) pressing family matters that have sucked time away from this endeavour. While I am lucky to have a relatively flexible job, it is nonetheless, an office-job with an energy economics consulting firm that makes it hard to take days off in the middle of the week when the weather is good. The release of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan final rule has made August and September especially busy at work. My short time in the Valley and really only having one shot at this over one weekend is adding to the pressure I am feeling.

My main concerns are around my jugging stamina and not having my forearms and biceps cramp-up because I will have to rely on them more given the inability to transfer weight between my legs. While I have my set-up down for overhanging terrain, I am still not sure what I will do on slabbier/vertical terrain.

I have experimented around with some different equipment and set-ups, and for overhanging terrain at least, I am going to go with a Metolius Easy-Daisy attached to my top ascender (left for me, even though I am right-handed), a regular daisy-chain and Metolius Easy-Aider attached to my lower (right) ascender, and a Metolius pocket-aider or shortened Metolius ladder aider.

The closest place for me to set up a fixed line to practice jugging on has been Crow Hill in Central Mass. I’m going to try getting out there before I leave for the Valley at the end of the month.

I really should have started my bicep-increasing training plan earlier.

WTF.

WTF.

Despite my anxieties, I know I am in pretty good trad climbing shape. But, the length, exposure and all the other variables on a big-wall temper this a bit.

Sporadic posting over next month

I think it is easy for climbers, as a group, to lose perspective on things and forget that there is a lot more to life than climbing. I have certainly been guilty of this in the past and still have a tendency to have my moods be dependent on my climbing “performance” or how much/little I have been climbing etc. Part of this, I am sure, is due to climbing being such a time-intensive activity (staying in climbing shape, let alone training and improving; driving to/from climbing areas and actually doing the climbing). Part of it is perhaps due to climbing being an escapist pursuit for some of us, where we can put on ice the stresses and worries of everyday life, and focus on the very simple task of climbing a route without injuring ourselves/dying.

But life has a habit of throwing things at you that make you realize how unimportant climbing is in the scheme of things. I have been thrown such an object and while I will try my best at compartmentalizing my worries/fears/anxieties about this thing and keep myself well by doing things that I enjoy in my spare time, I have been, historically, very poor at this. I will certainly not be posting a ton as I will be emotionally and time-wise unavailable for awhile.

On a more light-hearted note, I leave you with this picture of me in an over-sized (Small) Metolius shirt and team cap.

How to look like a flat-chested 12 year old boy, yo. The photo also highlights how much skinnier my left leg is than my right.

How to look like a flat-chested 12 year old boy, yo. The photo also highlights how much skinnier my left leg is than my right. Hot stuff, eh.

It’s On(g) like Donkey-Kong!

I was just notified by the American Alpine Club that I was one of the recipients of the 2015 Live Your Dream Grant, for the Northeast Region in the U.S. My grant application was to help offset the costs of attending the 2015 American Alpine Club International Climbers Meet (I had to defer my participation last year because of the numerous broken fingers and right foot), and a Nose-in-a-Day (NIAD) attempt too.

For a number of reasons, I hesitated before accepting the award. I was not sure how I would find the time to train to do all those pitches and dial in a system with my prospective partner (who lives in California). The Northeast does not have long aid-routes or places where I can climb to the top of an area and drop down 1-2 full rope lengths and practice jugging. Ideally, I would make a trip before the planned one, to practice aid (I have not done a wall since before my accident), figure out how I can jug efficiently on slab (I suspect that will be far harder for me than steep overhangs). But, I have a partner (that is, a life/romantic one) who does not climb outside, and I feel bad about spending time away from him because that affects how much time we can spend together. Being in a relationship with a non-climber (he boulders on plastic inside) is a new experience for me, as I had always been with guys who climbed since I started climbing (before my big accident). I had dated lots of non-climbers post-accident, but that was before I got back into climbing outside more seriously again.

I heard a great quote the other day, from the host of the Enormocast podcast. He said something along the lines of, “Sport climbing is like chocolate cake. It’s great, tasty and awesome, but you can’t live on it. Long trad and aid routes are like the juicy hamburger.” Even though I do not eat land-based meat, this is exactly how I feel :) This is how I feel about pulling on plastic inside too. It has its place, but it doesn’t feed my soul. It did make me question living around here though, where I can’t fulfill my potential as a trad/aid-climber, because there just is not that much around here along those lines (ha ha, groan). But, I tell myself, there is more to life than climbing, including love and being with someone you are crazy about, who is crazy about you, and who you are so compatible with.

I went ahead and accepted the grant award. I knew if I rejected the award, I would regret it and be resentful of Scott. I’ll be putting thought into how to go about achieving my objectives this Fall. One possibility is practicing on Dolt Tower; and it would be prudent to get the Traverse from Sickle to Stovelegs down too. If anyone has any ideas of places not too far from Boston where I can easily drop a fixed line and do jugging laps (this would mean a place where getting to the anchors (ideally, fixed bolts, or places where I can put in very solid natural anchors), please let me know!

Ouray addendum: No biggie

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What happened to my foot??

 

I need to work on looking more suitably alarmed

Yes, this is what happened when you don’t have much sensation on your left leg/foot, poor ankle flexibility/mobility, and a slightly too large ice-climbing boot (I size them a bit bigger so that I don’t get super cold feet). Paradox Ice might be the only event when this can happen and people are more likely to laugh than be alarmed.

Exclusivity

As I wait in Chicago O’Hare airport, hearing my flight to Montrose, Colorado get continually delayed, I think about how my extended hiatus from skiing, and my exposure to the disabled community has renewed my conflicted feelings about the expensive, white-people sports I engage in. I had always been aware of how relatively few minorities engaged in sports like climbing and skiing, but it was only after being away from those worlds for awhile, that it made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. I don’t have data to support this, but my guess is that a disproportionate of people with a handicap fall towards the lower ends of the economic spectrum, because their physical (and/or maybe mental) limitations, prevent them from earning a high salary. That isn’t to say the only people who climb and ski are wealthy; there are many dirt-bag climbers and ski bums. But, for the most part, the high barriers to entry for skiing in particular will exclude a lot of people from trying or doing it frequently enough to get good at it. With climbing at least, after the initial investment in gear, access is cheap/free. I know I have been out of the skiing scene for awhile, but I was still gobsmacked by how expensive lift-tickets were at Telluride, CO, where I am headed to right now. A full day lift-ticket at Telluride is $118. So for one day, a family of four would spend close to $500, before gear rentals (if they don’t ski frequently enough to warrant the purchase of gear), before accommodation and food, before transportation to get to the resort. And in a destination resort like Telluride, a family isn’t going to ski for just one day. It is kind of ridiculous. But I’m not sure what to do about it. Not skiing in some kind of futile protest is rather silly, and I am not in a financial position to donate tons of money to organizations to bring underprivileged kids up to the slopes. But is it enough to just be painfully self-aware that I am in the fortunate position of being able to afford weekend and the occasional extended ski trip? I really do not know.

Holy Larabar!

Holy Lärabar! Lärabar sent me a box full of mini bars as part of their Ambassador program. It’s like Halloween candy, but better for you. Fortunately, I love Larabars because there are 300 of them (at least according to the enclosed letter – fortunately, I am not OCD enough to count). As most of you know, my bowel/bladder issues mean I am very particular about what I eat when I am outside (e.g. climbing, skiing, whatever) for long periods of time without ready access to a bathroom. These are one of the few bars that are agreeable with my faulty plumbing and that I like the taste of. So, I am really glad to have a few to nosh on for myself and keep me fueled; and spread the love and give these out to folks.

Entropy

Entropy

IMG_0570

Order restored. Okay, so I am a little particular about some things.

 

Daily and non-daily reminders

It is surprising how I am not crushed by all the daily reminders I have about my accident and the permanent effects of it. These include: cathing myself several times per day, plodding up the stairs to our third-floor walk-up apartment, negotiating icy sidewalks this time of year, taking the elevator up to the second floor at work as opposed to taking the stairs, parking in Handicap Parking spots (it still amuses me that the acronym “HPV” is used on signs). But sometimes certain things will serve as a jolting reminder of what I can no longer do, and make me feel very down. One such example was when I was researching rental car options in Europe. I scrolled through all the available small, non-luxury vehicle options and found that none of them were Automatic Transmission. Now, in my youth, I prided myself on being an excellent stick-shift driver (and, yes, an Asian female at that too) and owned manual-transmission cars exclusively until my accident in 2010. I enjoyed driving a heck of a lot more driving stick-shift and liked the control it gave me. As I assessed my rental car options, I felt gutted, feeling like somehow, a special exception needed to be made for me. I bloody hate being special in that way. Thinking about the extra inconveniences definitely made me reconsider my travel plans. What is funny is how something like that can feel like a punch in the stomach, whereas other reminders do not. For example, a co-worker of mine has a tennis racket in its case by his desk. I used to be a pretty talented tennis player, and played it pretty regularly/seriously for a decade and a half. But spotting my colleague’s racket each day as I walk towards my desk, doesn’t make me feel too sad. Neither does seeing all the bicycles hanging on the bike racks in the office. Again, I used to cycle pretty seriously, but I don’t really miss it that much.