John called us Woofas. I thought I heard wrong.
Then he used the term again.
Other confused looks prompted a clarification: "A Woofa is a someone in our Wilderness First Aid program" (Get it, WooFA?).
Thirty of us had come to Lake Norman State Park in North Carolina. Everybody had a reason. I wanted to be a better prepared hiker and trail guide.
Our instructors, John and Brett, are medical professionals who contract with the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI) of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). They teach in venues across the American Southeast. Sometimes they teach the Woofa course; at other times, they present the advanced course of the program, Wilderness First Responders (WooFeRs, naturally).
John and Brett are talented teachers who reach their goals in different ways. John is a human Sasquatch: hulking, hairy, roaring. His unflinching approach and bad puns made us cringe, and then laugh. Brett is the guy with a quick wit. He prefers an ambushing style, illustrating principles with stories from his life as a paramedic. These differences worked well in tandem; John and Brett held our attention through 16 hours of instruction.
It was a daunting two-day to-do list. Woofas had to learn how to recognize patient distress, collect and communicate patient vitals, and administer basic first aid. Injuries specific to wilderness situations were presented along with treatment options. These included traumas to the head and spine, shock, lacerations, burns, infections, bone breaks, dislocations, and thermal problems.
Not only did John and Brett tag-team their way through this material, they effectively meshed instruction with hands-on exercise. Scenarios were created to either reinforce ideas that had just been presented or to anticipate material to come. Woofas were regularly taken apart from the group and prepped with makeup (trauma simulation) and scripts. Creative acting was encouraged as other Woofas encountered these individuals "in the field" and were challenged to exercise assessment and treatment options.
Among the cases that I faced were individuals who had been concussed by a tree branch, kicked by a llama, had a heart attack, and twisted an ankle. There was never a dull moment!
At the end of the weekend we were pronounced Woofas. We were also encouraged to continue our study and develop our first aid kits.
I hope to never be required to use these skills when traveling in the Bible Lands but it is good to have them just in case.