March 7, 2006

Doctor Tackles Wild World of Extreme EMTs

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Quick! You’re hiking through the Adirondacks and your fellow camper sustains a deep scalp laceration and you only have dental floss at hand – what should you do? And on top of that, your forest ranger is struck with a seizure seconds later and all you have are two safety pins – what could you possibly do?

Those were the types of questions that Dr. Jay Lemery, director of Wilderness Medicine at Weill Medical College, raised at a lecture in Goldwin Smith’s Lewis Auditorium Sunday.

“There’s been a recent Survivor trend,” said Lemery, referring to the increasing popularity in the CBS network show. “More people, especially the current generation of aging Americans, are going out into the woods. And it’s these people who are easily getting hurt,” he said.

Hence, the recent developments in the medical specialty of wilderness medicine are ever the more significant.

“With the occurrence of recent natural disasters – the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina – there is an increasing need for innovative and improvised treatments,” said Phil Rach, an EMT instructor with the Cornell Physical Education program. “Doctors need to be trained out of ivory research towers, they need to think out of the box,” he said.

Following President-elect David Skorton’s initiative to bring Weill Medical closer to the rest of Cornell at Ithaca, Todd Miner of the Cornell Outdoor Education program spoke of developing a pilot program between COE and Weill Medical.

“There are certain things that an EMT trained in wilderness medicine can do that a regular EMT cannot,” said Rach.

So to return to the opening scenario, how could you treat a scalp laceration with dental floss? “That can easily be remedied with hair sutures,” Lemery said, describing a procedure in which tresses of hair from either side of the wound are twisted together to cover the exposed flesh. And the dental floss? That’s used to tie together the twists of hair.

“Wilderness medicine involves coming up with creative solutions,” said Lemery.

Without the readily available tools and equipment that a hospital environment would provide, it is of essence that doctors and other healthcare providers make use of their immediate resources, whether it is dental floss or safety pins.

And what could one do with safety pins?

“You pin the epileptic patient’s tongue to his lips,” Lemery explained to the shocked audience. This would help prevent a patient with convulsions from biting his own tongue off and choking on it.

“It’s drastic,” he said. “But it works.”

One audience member quipped: “I even saw a guy like that in the Commons.”

Archived article by Steven Xian
Sun Contributor