What to do in a Hiking Medical Emergency

February 19, 2016

Paul Cooley
By Paul Cooley

Dr. Curt Kommer may be the best thing that ever happened to a hike gone wrong for a Sedona Westerner. Dr. Kommer gave a presentation on "Hiking Related Medical Problems" to the February 11th meeting of the Sedona Westerners and gave some invaluable tips and information regarding solutions to all of those things a hiker does not want to have happen when he or she is out on the hiking trail.

Curt Kommer is the former Trail Boss (President) of the Sedona Westerners and is a primary care medical doctor presently practicing in Cottonwood, AZ with 26 years of past experience which includes service in Chicago, Nicaragua and the Navajo Nation.

Curt Kommer is the former Trail Boss of the Sedona Westerners hiking club.

In his presentation Dr. Kommer literally covered everything from head to toe: head injuries to blisters and "hot spots" on your feet. Dr. Kommer suggested that hikers practice a simple regimen in the event a fellow hiker is injured on the trail: safety first, which means taking stock of the situation, remaining calm (don't just start doing stuff without thinking), generating reasonable options and once a plan is decided upon, proceeding to execute that plan.

One of the essential matters for hikers is to plan ahead, Kommer said, by having a comprehensive First-Aid Kit that would include a variety of Band Aids, Antibacterial ointment, Tweezers (for you know what - cactus thorns!), gauze pads, cloth or paper tape, Moleskin or corn pads, hand sanitizer and/or wipes, ACE bandage, medications such as Aspirin/Tylenol/Ibuprofen, Antihistamine and Pepto-Bismol, and any personal medications, and a SAM splint. A SAM Splint is a light weight splint built from a thin core of aluminum alloy and sandwiched between two layers of closed-cell foam, and easily folds and stores into a backpack. When used, it can be bent into any of three simple curves, becoming extremely strong and supportive for any fractured or injured limb.

Dr. Kommer stated that in the event of a laceration or puncture stopping the bleeding is essential and can in many instances be accomplished with direct pressure applied by a kerchief or gauze pad. In addition, irrigating and cleaning the wound is essential, removing any foreign objects if possible, apply antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with an appropriate protective dressing. Blisters or "hot spots" should be addressed as soon as irritation is felt, as preventing the blister or "hot spot" to develop in the first place is imperative to be able to continue on with a hike..

Two items of great interest to the audience were Scorpion Stings and Rattler Bites. Dr. Kommer indicated that there are over 11,000 Scorpion Stings in Arizona in the average year and immediate treatment would include washing the area, applying ice or cold water and taking Ibuprofen and antihistamines. If red flag symptoms occur, such as muscle twitching, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, and/or vomiting medical evaluation by a trained physician should be sought immediately. Dr. Kommer said that in Arizona in the average year there are approximately 250 rattlesnake bites causing 4 to 8 fatalities and resulting in disability in half of the non-fatal cases. Dr. Kommer says he was recently aware of a case of a rattlesnake bite occurring on the front porch of a person's home when they were attempting to prop their feet up on an item and in turn disturbed a snake. This demonstrates that you do not have to be out in the wild to have a serpent encounter. He said that if you are bit in an area away from civilization, it is essential to try and keep the body portion that was bit below the heart so that the venom does not flow to the heart and to keep the victim calm. But, this must be balanced against the fact that it is vitally important to get the victim to the emergency room care within 6 hours for evaluation and possible treatment. Dr. Kommer cautioned that a dead snake can still give a venomous bite for up to 4 hours. Symptoms of a venomous bite include, he said, sweating, nausea, dizziness, pain, bruising, blistering, difficulty breathing, muscle twitches and spasms. Dr. Kommer said that 1 out of 5 rattler bites are non-venomous "warning strikes", however, any bite by a rattlesnake needs to be evaluated by a trained professional.

To download a PDF of this presentation, click here.

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