Hi all! My name is Nakia Wighton, and I am an ’18 from Northern Vermont. I am the Risk Management Coordinator for First Year Trips 2017. My sophomore year, I became certified as a Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician, and now work as an EMT both on campus and at home in Vermont. I also teach First Aid and CPR classes on campus. My role on trips is primarily to make sure that we as a program have the resources and knowledge we need to minimize and manage illness and injury during trips.
When I was preparing to go on First Year Trips myself, my family and I had many questions about safety and medical concerns. I had been camping before, but never for more than a night. What if I got sick or hurt? What did I need to do to make sure I felt my best so I could enjoy my trip? And what if I didn’t like any of the food? Though it was a new experience, I managed to have a great time on my flatwater kayaking trip. In hopes of easing some anxieties, I have compiled some common questions that people have when preparing for trips.
What happens if I get sick or hurt during trips?
The trips volunteers are here to help you in any way that we can. All of our volunteers are required to be certified in both CPR and First Aid, and many are trained as medical responders and technicians. If you are feeling sick or get hurt, let your leaders know. Both during and after your trip, there will be people available to make sure you get the resources that you need to recover. We have an entire support croo of individuals at the ready to respond to the needs of any trip.
I am new to the wilderness of the Northeast. Is it dangerous?
The natural landscape of each are poses it’s own unique potential hazards- but don’t worry! With the right gear and knowledge, you can manage your risks and have a great time! Here are some common things that people worry about in the wilderness:
SPIDERS: Most spiders in this area are relatively harmless. Some of them do bite, but most are not poisonous. They leave a bite very similar to mosquito bites, though they may be slightly more red. Contact with poisonous spiders in this area is not common, but always let your leaders know if you have recently been bitten and are experiencing any symptoms, as allergies to spiders are possible.
SNAKES: Like spiders, most snakes in New Hampshire are not poisonous and will not harm you. The one venomous snake in the area is an endangered species, and you are very unlikely to encounter it. Like any wildlife, however, it is best not to disturb any snakes that you come across. Simply walk around or avoid the immediate area of the snake. Many types of snakes are common in grassy areas, but these are generally harmless.
WILDLIFE: In general, wildlife will not bother you if you do not provoke it. Avoid touching wild animals or running away. In most cases, animals will avoid humans and this will not be an issue.
Staying Healthy on Trips
Being in the outdoors can be a fun experience, but there are a few extra steps you can take to make sure you stay well in the outdoors, especially while exercising:
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! You have heard this many times in your life, and you will hear it many times on trips, but this is super important. Even if you are used to being outside or exercising, you need to make sure you are hydrating properly. Depending upon weather and your activity level, the typical recommendation of 64oz might not be enough to meet your minimum needs. Fill up your water bottles any time you have access to potable water (or water that can be made potable with iodine treatment, which all trips are supplied with). Drink continuously throughout the day, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you need a water break. Signs of dehydration include: headache, dizziness/lightheadeness (including dizziness/lightheadedness that occurs only upon standing), nausea, and vomiting. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, let your trip leaders know immediately. You should rest and drink water (slow, small sips if you are feeling nauseous) until you feel completely better. This is very common, and has happened to most people at one time or another, so please do not feel bad about speaking up. Rest and rehydration are important at this stage to prevent more serious complications. It is also a good idea to have a snack during this time if your stomach is not overly upset, as dehydration and low blood sugar can look very similar.
- Eat plenty and often. Even people with no known medical conditions can experience low blood sugar as a result of prolonged activity. That sounds really scary, but all it really means is that you get to eat lots of snacks! I was concerned going into trips because I wasn’t allowed to bring my own snacks, but don’t worry, we provide plenty of snack variety for you! You may find that you are hungry more than usual during trips, and this is to be expected if you are more active than usual during trips (I mean, how many of us really spend hours hiking, kayaking, swimming, or climbing for days in a row normally?). Increased activity means increased caloric needs, so eat if you are feeling hungry! Eating plenty of complex carbohydrates and protein will help provide you with the energy you need throughout the day and help prevent low blood sugar. Your trip won’t run out of food and leaders will be taking snack breaks often throughout the day. Common symptoms of low blood sugar include shakiness, dizziness, headache, nausea, cold sweats, and confusion. If you experience any of these, let your leaders know. You should rest and eat something with simple sugars (fruit, candy, jam, or glucose tablets) in addition to something with complex carbohydrates or protein (nuts, seeds, cheese, breads, pasta) in order to raise your blood sugar and keep it steady. You should also hydrate during this time (symptoms of low blood sugar and dehydration can be very similar).
- Stretch! Stretching at night can help prevent sore muscles and help you recognize problem areas so that you can adjust your form or modify your activity to prevent further irritation.
- Make sure we have your information! If something has changed with your medical history or dietary concerns since you filled out the forms, let us know! Your trip leaders are given your medical information to review prior to the start of your trip to make sure that they know how to support you. Your dietary information ensures that your trip is equipped with plenty of food that is consistent with your dietary needs and preferences. The more we know, the more we can do to ensure that your medical or dietary concerns do not interfere with your trips experience. Please also be sure to bring any medications and supplements that you take with you- even if you only take them as needed. Be sure to keep your medical equipment (medications, etc.) in a safe place in your belongings so you don’t lose them.
- Wear bug spray and check for ticks! Ticks are small insects that bite by burrowing their heads into the skin, allowing them to feed off of the blood of the animal or human. Tick’s are notorious for carrying Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria. This may sound scary, but a few simple measures can help prevent the spread of tick-borne disease such as:
- Wearing insect repellent containing 20-30% Deet
- Covering skin with pants, long sleeves, and socks (this may or may not be practical depending upon the conditions, but is an option to consider). Choose clothing that is light in color so that ticks can be spotted more easily.
- Avoid areas where ticks are most prevalent whenever possible, and perform a thorough tick checks after exposure to these areas. Ticks are most frequently found in wooded brush and long grass. When moving through these areas, stick to paths as much as possible.
- Check yourself for ticks (have someone else help!) multiple times per day, every day while on trips. Ticks are most commonly found on the body in warm places. These include the backs of the knees, armpits, back of the neck, the back, and the abdomen. Remember, ticks need to be on you for 24 hours or more before they can infect you with Lyme Disease. Look/feel for bumps on the skin with a small black body attached. Your trip leaders will receive training about how to look for ticks, so if you have any questions ask them!
- If you find a tick, don’t panic. Have someone help you attempt to remove it by gently grasping the tick by the body and pulling backwards until the skin tents. From this point wait until the tick lets go by itself. This takes some patience, but the tick will get tired and release itself from the skin after a few minutes. Commercial tick removers can also be used, but generally this method is the best method for removing the whole tick from a human. Many of these measures are also helpful in preventing mosquito bites and mosquito-borne disease. Though West Nile Virus is still rare, it is possible to contract it in Vermont and New Hampshire, but this can often be prevented through use of insect repellent, wearing long clothing, and avoiding standing water.
All of this is to reassure you that we are prepared for and experienced with the New Hampshire outdoors and camping for multiple days. Our leaders and croolings have gone through lots of training to be ready for this and we can’t wait to meet you!