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Medics gone wild

From mouth-to-mouth to climate change, the Wilderness Medical Society has stitched & sutured it all



With the Westin's rock lobster waterfall crashing down behind us, Loren Greenway, Chief Executive Officer of the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS), keeps to the shade of the Firerock patio. He fixes me with a steady stare — a gaze perfected in all probability during his time as a Hospital Corspman for the US Navy. This is what it means to be under the manic eye of a medic, I think to myself. They see right through you to your bones.

Greenway, who can claim more experience than you can shake a defibrillator at — and whom I will respectfully, under pain of the bends, call an elder — is not only an avid fisher, diver, and search and rescue enthusiast, but a licenced Respiratory Care Practitioner and a Master's Fellow in Dive Medicine with a PhD in Business Administration. Greenway has been involved with the WMS for 10 years, holding down the fort as CEO since 2008. He and scores of other like-minded people were in Whistler this past weekend for the sixth World Congress on Wilderness Medicine.

Why does this matter? Well, with his medical interests, outdoor passions and rescue and relief background, Greenway epitomizes something of the spirit of the 501(c)3 "charity for the public good" that is the Wilderness Medical Society.

"The Wilderness Medical Society," says Greenway, "is a membership society that people with experience or interest in wilderness medicine can become a member of and participate in," reminding me that hey, I too could get in on the latex action. Anyone can sign up, be they physicians, EMTs, guides, or just layabouts who want to poke needles into soft and tender bits — the WMS is an open society, focused on research, publication, and practice, offering education and training on all levels.

"We don't treat them any different though," says Loren of the newbies, otherwise known as the medically unprofessionalized, many of whom put in the hard hours of education, training, and examination to become FAWNs — Fellows of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. Point being that the WMS provides next-level involvement for physicians, patrollers, guides, firefighters, and other response and rescue personnel, as well as an entry-level starting point for those intrigued in the outdoor medical profession and/or seeking to tune up their survival and medical skills.

Check–out from the ER... you like it so far?

It is strange to think that our entire medical system is based upon high-speed ambulances carrying the unlucky to well-stocked hospitals. What the WMS grapples with are the hard issues of access and survival where 911 is not an option. The WMS is the wild outlier to a medical establishment entrenched in urban areas; it is the Do-it-Yourself remedy to a system that relies upon ready access to advanced technologies.