- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rock climbing, backcountry survival, self-rescue — and don’t forget Tyrolean Traverse evacuation. They could do wonders for the bedside manner, perhaps.

More than 200 physicians and emergency-medical technicians arrive today at Cornell University for three days of disaster training inspired by wilderness medicine but tailored for a post-September 11 world.

Wilderness medicine? The emerging field emphasizes inventiveness and survival techniques for doctors who must tend to the ailing or injured under dire or unorthodox circumstances.

“There is a significant overlap between wilderness medicine and urban disaster response. How do you take care of people if there’s no backup support or the whole medical system has collapsed?” said Dr. Jay Lemery, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Cornell’s medical school in Manhattan and director of the new program.

“All of us had been in New York on 9/11. We went to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. In both cases, we improvised ways to cope with a chaotic environment, environmental hazards, heat stress, infectious disease, lack of safe water. It became obvious that we echoed what goes on in the wilderness medical community,” he said.

There is indeed a niche community.

Stanford University Medical Center, for example, established the world’s first fellowship in wilderness medicine four years ago.

Founded in 1983, the Kansas-based Wilderness Medical Society provides certification and continuing education for physicians and medical students in disaster medicine, search and rescue, and safety issues in extreme situations — from mountains and jungles to caves and blast sites.

Several private training centers in the nation’s remote areas provide training for outdoor professionals and emergency crews who frequent spots “where access to the national 911 system is not an option,” according to one school in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.

Those who attend this week’s program at Cornell’s upstate New York campus will be drilled in mock patient rescues, “extrication situations,” shelter construction, fire starting, rope safety and medical evacuations via Tyrolean Traverse — a mountaineering maneuver which uses twin ropes, a set of pulleys and plenty of muscle.

“It’s basic wilderness skills retooled for disaster response. Much of the previous thinking in this field has addressed hospitals and the emergency medical system. This training focuses on individual response. Physicians have got to be familiar with the physical and emotional demands they could face if that infrastructure is gone,” Dr. Lemery said.

The participants will be lectured on snake bites, diving accidents and pandemic influenza and drilled in water rescue, sea kayaking and self-rescue skills typically employed by rock climbers.

“We’re going to push the envelope. Can these folks be pulled up on a ledge in a rope harness and set someone’s broken ankle? … This is where a physician learns to overcome worst case scenarios,” Dr. Lemery said.

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