Whilst (thankfully) personally never having been in a situation where an EpiPen was an essential
immediate course of action, any fan of sustained periods in the outdoors or abroad will insist that
such items are indispensable. The EpiPen is the ultimate example of ‘I’d rather have it and not need
it, than need it and not have it’.
Indeed, I have no regrets in admitting that it was with this rationale in mind that I, as Expedition
Medical Officer, went about the task of assembling a comprehensive (yet somewhat financially
viable) medical kit for our expedition to Arctic Norway. The final collection of dressings, painkillers,
ointments and dressings ensured that we as a team were comprehensively prepared for the trials
the Arctic might have imposed upon us.
My primary inspiration and direction came from a comprehensive Royal Geographical Society
wilderness medicine training course I attended between the 15 th and 16 th of May, 2018. Myself and
fellow team member Olly Rice left Oxford for a warm break in central London, where we were given
a crash course in everything from altitude sickness to snakebites. The course even provided us with
party bags; all attendants were given a USB stick containing useful PDFs with further information and
basic kit plans. I also made the decision to arm myself with the reassuringly thick book: The Oxford
Handbook of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine, which adds even more information to the mix,
even containing a reassuring section on basic dentistry!
The RGS Course and the Expedition Handbook pushed the same key themes. Firstly, prevention is
better than cure. Dehydration and blistered feet (at risk of infection) can be avoided through regular
water breaks, good boots and an ample supply of blister plasters for example. Secondly, it quickly
became apparent that wilderness medicine is less about helping people to get better; rather, it is
primarily concerned with stopping people from getting worse. Looking at my frightening selection of
bandages, slings and limb splints prior to departure reiterated that the purpose of this kit was to
prevent the transition from bad to worse. At the stage when a limb splint becomes vital, so does
prompt evacuation from the field. As a result, medical planning hammered home to me the
importance of sound planning and a reliable escape plan. Medicine, safety, and organisation, it
seems, are all synonymous.