Passing Out In First Aid Class

So I guess I’m more squeamish than I thought I was.

In preparation for hiking the PCT, I thought, “I should really take a wilderness first aid class.” When I saw that REI was going to have a class a week before I leave, I signed up without hesitation.

I would have been better off hesitating, though, because about a week later I realized that weekend was also Easter weekend, and since I worked Thanksgiving and Christmas, I kind of wanted to be with my family. Fortunately, they offer the class nearly every month in the Portland area, so after a brief period on the waiting list, I managed to get into one last weekend instead.

The first half hour was mainly business details: sign these papers, tell us why you’re taking the class, don’t be a creeper when you touch people, the usual. They gave is some snazzy stickers and a pocket guide to take on our journeys. Then they showed us how to do a patient evaluation system.


“Suppose you come across an injured mountain biker in the woods. Here’s a poem to help you remember remember what to do.” A poem!! And that said the English major would never pay off…

Everything was great. I resolved to begin frequenting mountain bike paths just so I could show off my about-to-be-developed skills.

That resolve cracked when they showed us how to check for spinal injuries.

Imagine this: you find an injured stranger in the woods. You don’t know exactly what’s wrong with them, so you do a patient evaluation. You’ve evaluated head, thorax, and extremities, and the only thing left to do is…risk paralyzing them by rolling them over and pushing all their vertebrae.

It’s much more technical than that, of course. You hold their neck still and keep them aligned so that their potentially fragile spines won’t snap in 2, but I didn’t know that and all I heard was, “You want to look for crunchy spots along the spine.”


Oh no.

The nausea hit me first, but I fought it back with some deep breaths and a sip of water. The room began to pixelate, then go black. Our instructor’s voice sounded like she was talking out of a tin can. I folded my arms on the table and laid my head on the back of my hand, only to pull it back moments later dripping with sweat. I pulled my coat on, even though when I’d walked in the room had felt too warm. I looked up at the instructor, who was continuing her speech on crunchy vertebrae while glancing frequently at me. When the room began to swim again, I put my head back down, knowing that if I did pass out, at last they had a nifty poem to help them remember how to care for me.

“You’re so not cut out for this,” a voice in my head declared. “Better to leave now and forfeit the money than to spend the whole day blacking out.”

A stronger voice in me answered. “That’s a great idea, except you’ll pass out before you get to the door.”

So I stayed. With a few sips of water and a change of topic, I managed to cling to my consciousness and soon felt normal.

It turned out to be a really useful and interesting course, and I would totally recommend anyone heading into the mountains to take it. After a mere 16 hours of instruction, I’m officially certified in Wilderness First Aid.

Feel free to sound the trumpets and throw a parade in honor of the occasion whenever you have time. Just do me a favor and call someone else if your spine feels crunchy.

Published by Andrea Umfleet

Writer, Backpacker, Freelance Technical Editor. Owner of Trask Mountain Editing. I like the Oxford comma.

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