The scene was horrific; everyone’s worst nightmare. Four people were trapped inside an SUV, a woman was wedged underneath. The screams of those who were still conscious seemed to penetrate my bones and I quickly took a deep breath to calm myself. I was the rescuer; I had a job to do.
Maneuvering around the chaos, I popped open the back left car door and saw my first victim: a teenage girl. Working quickly, I assessed her situation using the emergency protocol. The patient was on the verge of losing consciousness and on her forehead was a two inch laceration, bleeding profusely. Grabbing a wad of gauze, I pressed it firmly to the wound, hoping to quickly stop the bleeding. My other hand worked quickly to wipe dripping blood from her ear and cheeks. At the same time, my rescue partner informed me that our patient’s pulse and respiration were increasing. Her ICP was increasing too; she had to be evacuated. I lifted the gauze off her forehead to check her bleeding but immediately froze. The wound had stuck to the gauze! In the intense Belizean sun, the fake wax laceration had melted, welding itself to the fabric. My victim’s eyes were now wide open, a smile spreading over her face. Laughing and shaking my head, I attempted to peal the sticky wax off the gauze but I was mostly unsuccessful. I had gone into this Wilderness First Responder (WFR) simulation ready for everything; everything but this.
I traveled last summer to Belize for multiple reasons. The first was to explore my interest in medicine and train to become a Wilderness First Responder (basically an EMT for the wilderness). In fact, most of the time on the trip was spent either in WFR training or in activities based on medical training, such as creating and running a free clinic in a village and working in a regional hospital. My second reason was to escape my friends. Having been at the same school for fourteen years, my friends are like an extension of my family. They’re awesome. Actually, my friends are so amazing that I haven’t ever tried to find new ones. The thought of immersing myself in a situation with sixteen strangers was very intriguing. My third reason for taking this trip seemed the easiest: take advantage of every new experience possible. That would be easy, right? I would go spelunking, try new foods and work on my Spanish all at the same time. Little did I know the new foods would include termites and scorpions, and working on my Spanish really meant resorting to hand signals and laughter.
Although it would seem my biggest challenge in Belize would be balancing my work (yes, we had homework during the course) and play time, it wasn’t. Finding time to work was the easy part, especially when I had hammocks to read in and friends to study with. The lack of clean clothes, one hundred degree days and my ninety-two bug bites were definitely worse. Instead of distracting me, the great environment helped me focus and my hard work paid off; I surprised myself by earning a 94 in the course. I am now a card-carrying “woofer.”
The company advertising my trip to Belize said that you could earn a Wilderness First Responder certification. What they should have also said was you can find best friends, learn to hand wash your clothes before college, conquer your fear of the dark and find your independence. Although the trip was amazing and I couldn’t be more proud that I earned my WFR certification, I am the most proud that I did it by myself; no parents, no long-time friends, just me. When I am at home, yes, my friends give me the confidence to try new things. But, my self-confidence is just as strong when I am on my own, and when I go to college next year, I’ll be ready for anything. I am a termite eating, tarantula taming, “woofer,” after all.