Trusting Your Gut in First Aid

Lots of first aid stories this year! Hopefully everyone can learn from these stories! Here is a story from Evelyn Robertson (@TheGirlWhoPaddles) Make sure to give her a follow!

My first trip in a canoe was when I was 6 months old. My first official first aid certification came at age 14. My first actual first aid experience occurred when I was 18. Then when I was 19, I had a first aid experience that changed the way I approach injuries (and I didn’t even administer first aid).

In 2016, I joined a Leadership Development Program to bring my outdoor knowledge and mentoring skills to campers. Twice a summer, my team would take around 15 kids who had just finished grade 9 for three weeks to focus on team building, leadership, and a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. During registration, a camper came to us who informed the leaders of a superficial cut on their foot. As coordinator, I was provided with a prescription medicines that were provided by a doctor. The camper was extremely responsible with this injury, and since they were old enough, they were more than able to treat the cut. They would kick soccer balls and run around never complaining of any pain so no one thought anything of it – after all, it was just a cut right?

Program Coordinator (left) and myself (right) of the Leadership Development Program in 2016 with our trusty canoes.

Well, it came time for our trip in Algonquin. We were a bit late getting on the road so when we got to the Shall Lake access point, we were informed all sites on Crotch Lake were being used (classic, am I right?). These were the days before the online booking system was up and relied on and since most of the kids had never been in canoes for prolonged trips, we try to ease them into the tripping experience. Luckily, there was a site at the Whitefish Group Campground so we loaded everyone on the bus again and got on our way. Once we were all set up, we took to the water to practice canoe-over-canoe rescues and to refresh paddling techniques. On the second day, we did a day trip up to Pog Lake and spent time on the beach.

On day 3, we got terrible weather and ended up hanging around the site. We also played Apples to Apples for about 4 hours straight (suuuuuper fun – not!). On day four, well, day 4 was our ‘big’ trip day. The plan was to paddle to Rock Lake with a stop at the old railway bike trail bridge for lunch. Paddling out in the stern with a camper in the bow for our day trip. So, we set out on the trip down to Rock Lake and stopped for lunch at the bridge. We set up our lunch of crackers, dehydrated hummus, grapes, cheese, meat sticks, and granola bars as the kids were in and out of the water. It was then that we noticed the camper’s foot. The leaders of the trip and I immediately called the camper over as it didn’t look good at all. The camper said there was no pain and they hardly noticed it all.

At this point, the prescribed medication the camper brought for inflammation had been done for a few days, so we had some decisions to make.

Option 1. The trip is done tomorrow, so we could take him to get it checked out then. It looked bad but there wasn’t any pain so clearly the camper could physically finish the trip.

Option 2. Complete the trip to Rock Lake and once we got back to base camp reassess the situation and maybe go to the Barry’s Bay Hospital. Once back at our site there was that nagging gut feeling that the camper should just go to the hospital. If this were me and an injury, I would’ve just said “It’ll be fine, I’ll go when we get back”. But once you’re responsible for another person, I think we’d all rather be concerned over something that turns out to be nothing than not doing anything that ends up being serious. So we sent the camper and a couple leaders to Barry’s Bay Hospital.

Me (standing) in the raft of canoes giving instruction on regatta activities to fill our afternoon while our camper and leaders were at the hospital. At the Barry’s Bay Hospital, they did x-rays and tests and the camper was admitted with a broken toe and sepsis. The doctor estimated that the infection was 24 hours away from reaching the camper’s heart. To think we almost waited that 24 hours before heading to the hospital still gives me chills.

This experience changed the way I look at minor injuries when tripping and in everyday life. Something as small as a cut toe can turn out to be something much bigger. Listen and pay attention to injuries that do happen and never be afraid to cut a trip short if you need to. There will always be more trips and you’ll want to be around for them. I’m so thankful that myself and the other leaders listened to our gut and the camper was able to recover.

2 Responses to “Trusting Your Gut in First Aid

  • That was a really close call!! As they say better to be safe than sorry – glad you were there to make the right call Evelyn ☺️

  • This event shows how simple things can be much worse. To think that one of our other options was to paddle and portage into Booth Lake because there was room there chills me to this day. We made the right call to go to Whitefish and to send him to the hospital.

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