I was down in the Michigan wilderness on the weekend participating in MedWAR, which is like Amazing Race but with a medical twist. It was a fun way to learn about wilderness medicine, which I knew basically nothing about at the outset (which ended up costing my team dearly). My lack of knowledge contributed to the paralysis or death of many innocent victims over the course of the 7 hour race. Each mistake resulted in some kind of penalty involving physical exertion, such as running into the forest to find a password. There were 30 teams of 3. Our team came in 5th…from last. But we did win a special prize which I’ll describe later. To be fair, a lot of the people were obviously hard-core wilderness medicine people wearing military camouflage and carrying state of the art first aid equipment. There were firefighters and paramedics. That we didn’t come in last is an accomplishment, especially considering the number of penalties we incurred and the competition we were up against.
There were physical challenges as well as medical scenarios that had to be dealt with using nothing but the gear we had packed in with us. In one case we had to evacuate a victim with a cervical spine injury from the shore of a lake to a campsite about a kilometre away. Unfortunately we paralyzed her on the first attempt because her neck moved while we were trying to get her onto a tarp that we were intending to use to transport her. One area where I did excel (believe it or not) was getting a fire going and building a shelter.
In another case we came upon a hunting accident in which the victim had been shot through the chest with an arrow. The victim had a collapsed lung which required sticking a needle in her chest to let out the air that was compressing her lung. (We didn’t actually do this, but we had to describe what we would do and we had to show that we had a needle).
Another challenge was to compress, wrap, and splint a fractured ankle and transport the victim across a stream without putting any weight on the ankle.
Our worst performance came when we came across multiple victims of a lightning strike, plus distraught relatives in hysterics. One victim wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. A second victim had a branch sticking out of his chest. A third victim, a child, had a pulse, but wasn’t breathing and was making a gurgling sound. We started by taking turns doing CPR and artificial respiration on the first victim while we tried to figure out what to do with the other two.
It quickly became apparent that the child needed an emergency trachiometry. One of us had a pocket knife, so we made an incision in the what we thought was the trachea in the child’s neck (not a real child – a dummy). Blood (ketchup) came pouring out. We were told that we could stop what we were doing because we had sliced into the child’s carotid artery and he was now bleeding out. I guess we missed the trachea.
Aside from killing the kid, we had not considered possible spinal injuries, nor did we manage to do anything for the branch-in-chest victim before he bled to death so the penalty we incurred for that medical challenge was huge. In all we made 8 disastrous mistakes at that station, each one requiring us to transport 10 mL of water from a lake to a urine jar located about 500 meters away using a 5 mL syringe. We did a lot of running before we got the water level up to the 80 mL mark. About 5 teams passed us while we were relaying the syringe back and forth. It turned out that 80 mL was the highest penalty incurred for any of the teams that day. At the awards ceremony after the race that night we were given the head of the kid we had killed with a pocket knife as a “dubious prize” for our nefarious performance. Our team name was “The Toronto Terminators” (I had no part in this I promise), but it became a fitting name because we “terminated” so many of our victims. I’m pretty sure the organizers made up the “dubious prize” especially for us after witnessing our shocking disregard for human life. I feel sorry for our future patients.