Arctic Medicine Course Goes Beyond First Aid

Arctic Medicine course goes beyond first aid
Fortune Bay Expedition Team
January 13th, 2018

By Donald Alley

Fortune Bay Expedition Team (FBET) offers many classroom and practical courses to impart the knowledge needed to go out and truly explore the wild. This is not another recreational backpacking group or a hiking club… their excursions and expeditions are meant to visit people and places removed from our day to day world. And while this may not mean an overland trip through Tanzania, it does mean exploring the under-visited places and meeting with native cultures in North America still largely separated from urban and rural USA.

A focus of the group has recently been in the Hudson Bay area of Canada. A land geographically distant, a culture different to our own, and yet strikingly, humanly, similar. Far into our northern neighbor’s territory or far into isolated destinations in the US, FBET does not let seasons get in the way of exploration. In fact, seasons are a part of the destination. The character of a place is affected by it. Seasons help define who a people are. With this truth, it becomes an important task to prepare for these seasons, learn what to guard against, and learn what to embrace.

The FBET Arctic Medicine classroom course is intended to educate its students on the ‘physiology of cold’. This is not solely a cold weather first aid course (though that is covered); it is an in depth look at how cold and exposure affects the human body and associated physiological effects. It starts with a look at how the body wants to stay at a stable state, and what it does to keep it there. The instructor is indeed a medical doctor and adventurer, with first hand knowledge of successes and failures of people who have braved the cold for exploration.

This signifies the balance of the course: Arctic Medicine. In a first aid class, the instruction follows a “this happened, and now you must do this, because…”. As an example, “you get a gash, blood is spurting. You must stop the bleeding and apply pressure to the wound because the heart is still trying to pump blood that way…” and so on. The structure of this course was the opposite. If this example were used, the cardiopulmonary system would be covered to a decent understanding, so that when the ‘effects’ are applied (the wound), it is more mentally accessible for what is happening and what to do.

An advantage to this structure is that you are armed with knowledge ahead of time so that when the “what ifs” are posed, you have background to make a determination. You’re able to mentally make conclusions, which are better retained than simply being provided information.

Once an understanding of homeostasis is covered, the course methodically goes in to how the environment can deny the body this state. Hypothermia being a major example of exposure, the course material covers the realities of this condition as well as exposes some myths. Most notably, hypothermia is not a 3-5 minute killer. It takes at least an hour, and usually longer, to reach a point of imminent death from this condition. Once the effects of hypothermia are covered, the ‘first aid’ portion is almost elementary due to the knowledge already imparted. Of course, first aid is still covered as far as applications, but the ‘why’ of it is not needed again, and when good practices are detailed, they make sense right away.

The course goes on to cover immersion, frostbite, nonfreezing cold injuries, and more, using the same “educate then describe actionables” approach to cold-weather medical effects.

There were numerous phenomenon learned, such as afterdrop. In short, after rewarming a body area or core, blood flow to a cold area will get cold, and when returned to the torso area, will cause a decrease in core temperature. This effect can also affect blood pressure as once frozen extremities are rewarmed and absorbing blood. These effects are not widely known in layman’s first aid.

Once in the first-aid section, the course continues its organized approach to information. The effect is described, its presentation is detailed (how the effect will appear to a responders), and various do’s and don’t detailed. Such as for frostbite: don’t warm a frostbitten area until you can guarantee it will not refreeze (you are in a stable environment able to dedicatedly administer care).

In short, this class will impart far more knowledge than most people think there is around this subject, and it will do it in a meaningful way to understand what is supposed to be, treatment for when it isn’t, and how to get it back.



Donald Alley is a personal protection and emergency preparedness author appearing in multiple publications. He is a co-owner and instructor at Keep and Bear, LLC, and is a guild member at Fortune Bay Expedition Team.