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Book Review Midwest Outdoor Journal

Tim Mead

The first casualty of the corona virus, for me at least, was cancellation of the NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School)/REI Wilderness First Aid Course. For several years I’ve wanted to take the two day course. Brush up, you know, on the Boy Scout First Aid Merit Badge I earned in the 1950s. My knowledge was from a period when there was no polio vaccine, no heart transplants.
Each year when I sought the NOLS course, it was offered at a time when I would be wandering off into the wilderness somewhere or so far away I would need to get a hotel room. But in March of 2020, it would be 30 miles from home and in mid-March before I started my annual treks. Perfect. I had all the recommended gear stashed in my pick-up, ready to go.

The day before the course was to begin I got a phone call – course canceled. Had a nice chat with a young woman to the effect that NOLS did not want to take a chance with spreading the corona virus. I allowed I had considered dropping out but decided to attend. She arranged a reservation for the course in the fall.

Wilderness first aid, I think, is a matter most of us do not take sufficiently seriously. I always carry a small first aid kit, but most of my friends do not. No band aids, no antiseptic gel, nothing. Even if you go to the county park, something could happen when you would have to deal with an injury without professional help.
And that’s where Doc William W. Forgey’s The Prepper’s Medical Handbook comes in. Forgey says, “The basis of adequate prepping is being prepared for both common and dire events that may occur under the worst possible circumstances.” Can’t call 911, can’t get additional supplies, no one beyond you or your group to respond to an event. Doc Forgey knows what he’s talking about, from his current medical practice, service in Viet-Nam, providing medical care in remote sections of Haiti. And this is a comprehensive book.    

Forgey provides extensive help in situational assessment – is it heartburn or heart attack? Twisted, strained, broken ankle? And how to stabilize the situation. This is not so much a book to carry with you, but a book to read – cover-to-cover – every year or so. If things turn sour, what Doc Forgey calls prepping could be just what you need.
An example. With three buddies I was portaging gear from one lake to another in Ontario’s Quetico Park. As I picked up a canoe, I struggled to lift it, got it on my shoulders and headed down the trail. Though I was on my second trip that morning and had made the trail before, I wandered off. I started to feel chest heaviness, shortness of breath, weak. I dropped the canoe in the woods and stumbled my way to the end of the trail where my friends were waiting. John and Scott went back for the gear I pitched. Eric spread a poncho on the ground and covered me with it, feet low and head upright on a 30ᵒ slope. Just what Doc Forney suggests for a heart attack victim. After an hour of rest, I got up and finished the trip.

A couple of months later, with the same symptoms, I drove myself to the nearest ER (I caught hell from everyone for driving myself). Upshot: blocked artery and stent. I’m a gym rat, yet I had a heart attack in the backcountry.

Forgey’s book has lots of information we all should have before we head out. How to administer CPR, injuries to organs, poisons, bleeding and other wounds, broken bones, stings and bites. Among the key elements is an extensive that Forgey calls “The Off-Grid Medical Kit,” what to put in your wilderness first aid kit.  Doc does not merely provide a list but adds extensive commentary distinguishing over-the-counter and prescription-required items. Get the list and make sure all those items are in your bag.  


I’m still planning to take the NOLS Wilderness First Aid course. But there’s lots on Dr. Forgey’s book we all need to know. It would be well worth your attention. Who knows, like my buddies on the Quetico trip, you may really need to know this stuff.

(Disclaimer: Doctor Forgey and I are both members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. I have no financial interest in the success of his book.)  


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