Renewing a Longtime Skill
After recovering so well from my August back surgery, I have been eager to return to favorite responsibilities and challenges.
Am I ready?
To walk the dog, take a longer hike, kayak, garden and mow the lawn?
How do I return without injuring myself?
I have no sciatica pain, but strained muscles along the surgery site and a tender three-inch scar: how do I listen to my body now?
How can I be of service at this time in my life?
A more complex question, but important to me, and my service has always included physical challenges.
What about recertifying my Wilderness Medicine First Responder status?
Known as WFR (woofer), this certification is granted only after a rigorous 10-day immersion into deep first aid and emergency response training. In wilderness, a WFR may be the only medical attention available for hours, even days. To retain WFR status requires recertifying every two years, usually a three-day weekend, in which participants first pass the written exam, and then spend two-and-one-half days in outdoor scenarios—sometimes the victim, sometimes the responder. I had until the end of 2022 to take a three-day training from the National Outdoor Leadership School. A mid-November training was located nearby. I signed up.
To get a permit for guided camping on U.S. Forest Service land, one leader needs to be a WFR. To get insurance for the wilderness trips and quests PeerSpirit has offered, a WFR needs to be on staff. Question #1: I am now officially retired from that work. Do I really need to do this?
Answer #1: Yes. Around home and outdoors, family and friends count on me to respond to any level medical emergency. In my neighborhood, I am part of the informal emergency response during storms and power outages. My skills are useful to people I love and care about. As long as I have stamina for the rigors of training, I want to keep recertifying.
Question #2: Am I up to the task? The only way to find out was try. I registered, found a simple AirBnB nearby, and began studying.
Twenty-five students ranging in age from 22 to 73 (me) and two instructors arrived at Camp Indianola Methodist Camp the morning of November 18. We were an even mix of men and women dressed in outdoor gear preparing to spend most of the day outdoors practicing rescue scenarios. Heavy frost covered the ground. Our meeting hall was an old wooden, not very well heated building. We sat in a large semi-circle on chairs behind folding tables.
We introduced ourselves by name, number of recerts we had done, and something interesting we learned this last week.
I said this was my twelfth recertification and the thing I had learned in the wee hours of the morning was that my longtime co-guide, friend, and sister WFR had just passed away after a long battle with cancer. It was important to me to speak Deborah Greene-Jacobi’s name into a circle of guides on the day of her death.
My instructor was honoring and sympathetic and as we moved on, part of me was doing this certification for Deb as well as for myself.
The young man sitting next to me said, “Geez, I was not even born the first time you did his training!” (I later learned from the NOLS office that they don’t exactly keep records on who has done the most certifications “but there are only a handful of people who have certified as many times as you have!”)
After the check-in, we took a 50-question multiple choice test. We needed a score of 70 to continue: I got a 94. My mental confidence was boosted: now for the physical challenges.
After an injury or illness, it takes a while to resume body/mind confidence, especially for those of us in the over-70 bracket. Though my surgeon said I had coped pre-surgery “like a trojan,” I realized how essential it was for me to get on my bike and ride distance, get in my boat and paddle, don a daypack and hike. I have always had strong body confidence and am determined to regain that sense of physical selfhood.
This course would require me to bend, lift, kneel on the ground, endure cold conditions. How much was I my “old self?” And what are the capacities and limits of my “new self?”
In those three days, combining lecture and small group scenarios, we covered burns, hypothermia, lightening, drowning, acute mountain sickness, gastroenteritis, evacuations, infections, broken bones, interfacing with front country EMS, and so on. A third of the students would be chosen for a scenario and go with one instructor to receive information on how to roleplay their situations.
The rest of the group paired up, went to find our patients with a minimal amount of equipment and proceeded carefully through our patient assessments to determine why the patient was in trouble and what we might do about it. In the scene shown below we found a patient in extreme pain with a broken femur that we had to splint and get ready for evacuation.
Wilderness medicine is defined by illness or injury occurring greater than one hour from definitive care. There are many challenges to wilderness medicine: the environment may add to the problem (cold, heat, darkness, etc.), the patient’s condition can change over time, equipment for treatment or evacuation must be improvised, decisions are often made without outside contact.
Most of the participants were staff for schools and outdoor programs, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and adventure tourism companies. We all can be responsible for big decisions in difficult situations. As always in these trainings, I am enormously impressed by the caliber of people doing this work.
In another scenario (this one in the indoor classroom) we worked in groups of 5 to practice cleaning and closing an open wound.
Answer to Question #2: Yes. I did it. I brought my renewed physical self and experienced guide self to the course. I opted out of only one activity: litter-bearing a pretend victim off the field. I returned home a bit stiff and tired, but with my body confidence restored in my ability to continue being of service in this way.
So thoughtful, caring, wise, courageous and inspiring. Thank you dear Ann for continuing to be of such valuable service to the community, near and far. with love and gratitude, Anne
You are welcome, my friend.
Thank you Anne for this. I’m very inspired by you. Physical limitation in the form of peripheral neuropathy have been challenging me, a former hiker, runner, and outdoors person. I’m going through a process of adaptation. But reading your story gives me hope.
Dear Connie, This is exactly why I wrote this—to possibly be helpful to someone else. Be determined, you will adapt in ways that are good for your soul going forward. Ann
Thank you for sharing this story – you inspire me (also 73) to continue meeting new challenges. My condolences on the passing of your dear friend.
Appreciate seeing your name here. Deb was just 70—a woman who packed a lot into all of those decades. Ann
having fallen numerous times and now carrying around a good bit of metal, I so understand our hesitancy in taking on strenuous training like you did. I had two friends helping me out with the last ones and they encouraged and pushed me faster and to levels I didn’t know I could get to. You did that for yourself ou amazing woman. You’re also wise enough to know when something is just too much. I would sure feel more comfortable taking a hike with you with or without your certification. Cheers
Dear Ann, May that hike together manage to happen sometime in the very near future! Ann #2
Blessings on all the dimensions of your spirit, Ann!
Blessings received and appreciated, Ann
You are not a Trojan, you’re Helen, courageous and mighty! I’m so amazed by your dedication and intrepidation. And I was hanging on every word of this post, even as I raced ahead to see what was coming next. You are an inspiration. I wish I’d been a meadow rover (and wooferism would be useful for that gig) for 12 recerts, but I’ll just be over here beginning now at 70, and channeling Ann Linnea.
Thank you, Gretchen, and keep up the fine work of meadow roving at Mt. Rainier National Park. If I lived closer, I would join you!
Congratulations, Ann. I’m duly impressed (but not surprised.) And I’m deeply sorry for the loss of your friend and fellow WFRer Deb. Losing our beloveds anytime is hard, as you well know. Sending big hugs and love and may great memories bring you some comfort now, and time a measure of peace. Xxoo
Thank you, Pammie. Even though I knew Deb was near the end of her time, it was quite a shock to learn of her death at the exact moment the class began. But then, in some ways it was perfect. I truly did the class for both of us. She was 70 and packed an extraordinary amount of life into those decades.
Annie banana I would let you save me anyday!
Promise I will do a super job (-:
Thanks for sharing this story as part of this chapter of your life. Very inspiring.
Best wishes most appreciated. Ann
Wow, Ann!!! This is spectacular. Such honesty and determination to do what you are called to do, and do so in such a mindful (and wisely) self-caring way. What a guide and inspiration for all, especially for those of us who have a few years on you. Much love and many thanks.
Well, miss newly published, hard working author—talk about determination and carrying through! Ann
Oh, Ann, your light continues to shine so brightly! At our age (I turn 70 on Dec 23rd), leaning and living into questions is wisdom. Your tenacity, courage and steadfast listening to the body’s own wisdom is such a gift to all who seek to be present to the reality of whatever is in this moment. You are a blessing!
Happy Birthday to you! May this big passage open the door to new opportunities and possibilities.
Fond and special memories of Deb holding circle, reassuring and guiding with you and Christine at Skalitude in 2011 (was it really that long ago?) Thank you Ann for continuing to embrace life and service and sharing with us. Sue ❤️
Yes, those lucky enough to travel to Skalitude for our annual Cascadia Quests really understand the multitudinal dimensions of Deb the cook, circle holder, ceremonialist, and kind listener.
Unlike you, I’ve never had much confidence in my ability to tackle physical challenges. It’s something I would “do-over” if I could but, at almost 76, that time is past. You’ve been an inspiration for many years, and I send you love and congratulations on what seems to me to be a mighty accomplishment!
Thank you, Meredith. As you well know, we all tackle different challenges and I stand in awe of the fine work you have done these many, many years. Be well, Ann
Congratulations on your survey and thank you for sharing it with us. I am sad to hear that Deborah died; I so enjoyed doing the practicum with her.
She died on what would have been my husband, Alan’s, 67th birthday. Alan did wilderness search and rescue for 20 years as well research in remote areas. He had bad knee injury skiing in January. He threw a blood clot 2 days after the reconstructive surgery and died May 6. His last search partner, Foyle (standard poodle), let me know yesterday that it was time to say goodbye.
I’ve shared your wildness posts with Alan over the years and he was very impressed.
Dear Katharine, So sorry for the loss of your husband. Such a shock! And then your dear dog . . . so much loss. Be gentle and careful with yourself. Ann
Just returning from Japan and walking 5-9 miles a day, and hiking 8-9 miles with significant elevation gain ( for me, anyway) on cobblestone, big stone steps, etc. I didn’t know if I could do it but I did…except the last half mile one hard day. But you blow me away, Ann. Asking smart questions for sure, but that indomitable spirit of yours… wow. I want to be like you in my next life!! No wild way would I do the WFR now!
Hmm . . . let’s see, this seems like calling the kettle black. You, my friend, have the indomitable spirit! Ann
Dear Anne, Thank you for this thoughtful essay and reflection on the common thoughts and concerns as we age. WE just never know, until we try!
I am also so sorry to read of the passing of Deborah. She was in our Whidbey Island retreat in April…so vibrant and full of life. Blessings for you and all…TC
Thank you, Terry. You have modeled to me many times the importance of just trying—so beautifully articulated in your book, Spoke by Spoke. Appreciate your kind words about our dear Deb. Love, Ann
I am so glad you initiated and met this challenge so soon after your surgery and visiting us in early November. It was wonderful to see you and Christina again!
Thank you, Sandy. It was a really important visit for us at many levels. A card coming your way soon! Ann
Thank you. I felt strengthened in my bones and being reading this story of a remarkable woman. Appreciation and tender blessings…
Tender blessings back to you, dear Jana.
Congratulations on your recertification and sharing your story as always. Your wisdom and passion are always an inspiration. I am sorry to hear of Deborah’s passing and I know her spirit is very proud of you. You are an amazing woman. Sending you love and a big warm hug for a well earned rest.
Thank you, Sharon. Wonderful to hear from you!
Dear Ann, you are amazing! I concur with every post here. I am turning 85 this week and those physical challenges are over but my heart bursts with hope and justice.
May I be doing the same when I am 85! Love, Ann
Thank you Ann! I mourn the loss of Deb Jacobi and remember fondly my time at the Vision Quest with Deb, you and Christina. I am so inspired by your determination to listen to your body. I feel that Those of us who are body centered will always have a challenge as we age, and also know that we will figure out ways to adapt. I am on my fourth different cancer journey and each time I feel compelled to get up, get outside and walk/hike, I know that my body is showing me the way to heal. I no longer do 5 mile hikes, but last week I got up to 3 miles and it felt great. It’s not about the distance but about feeling the air on my face, the strain in my muscles and the recovery at home with a body remembering the joy of movement. Betty Till
Dear Betty, Thank you for sharing your journey. “I feel that Those of us who are body centered will always have a challenge as we age, and also know that we will figure out ways to adapt.” Wise words, indeed. Be well, heal totally, and remember all of the things you learned from your journey to the mountain. Ann
Impressive! Both the healing happening in your bones and the care you take of your community. (It’s all connected though, isn’t it?) I both, admire and aspire, to a practice of such generosity. What a great example of how caring for self can translate so seamlessly into caring for others. I am so very sorry for your loss and touched that you would want to say her name. Thank you for being who you are in the world
Really appreciate hearing your kind and, as always, thoughtful words! Ann
Proud of you, Annie — as usual.
You’re an inspiration!
Thank you, Julie. I wrote this not to be an inspiration, but to inspire dialogue on the natural journey of aging and how those of us in the midst of it can keep those conversations alive in helpful ways.
Thank you for this story Ann, and for continuing to be of service to the world in this way. You are an inspiration!
Thank you, Glenda. I think I will simply repeat my response to my friend, Julie Glover. I wrote this not to be an inspiration, but to inspire dialogue on the natural journey of aging and how those of us in the midst of it can keep those conversations alive in helpful ways
I recently returned from a trip to Japan which was 5-9 miles a day of walking and hiking, including some good elevation gain ( for me), hiking in places on cobblestones, etc. I didn’t think I could do it , but mostly I did! It is good to feel the concern, the fear, ask the right questions, and then push off, trusting. This is what you did for yourself here. But there is no way I’d do a WFR now! Thanks for your story.
Really appreciate your own thoughtful approach to discerning your ability to handle a big hike. One of my purposes in writing this was to facilitate a good conversation among folks about how we are each handling the aging issues. And, wow, what a hike you did!
I so appreciate your update / sharing Ann. And your commitment to knowing and doing such important things. A bow. A thank you. A hug. And a delighted “sheesh” for the 12 times!
Good to hear your voice, Tenneson! Appreciate the “Sheesh” comment. I was honestly surprised contacting NOLS to find out that I am “up there” in terms of numbers of recerts. I wrote them because several of my fellow students asked the question,”What is the greatest number of recerts done?” And I was genuinely curious.
Thank you, Ann, for this amazing epistle of gumption and grace. What dedication and endurance to navigate both the physical and emotional territories of this time. I appreciate knowing you stepped back from the one activity of litter carrying; it’s helpful modeling that we can step in fully AND honor appropriate limits. I’m so sorry for the deep loss of your wilderness sister Deb. She was a bright light, and I know you will carry her spirit forward like a lantern with all your ongoing journeying. Sending love!
Yes, I will carry Deb’s spirit forth like the lantern she always was in our lives. It has been amazing to read all the comments pouring in from former quester participants about how much Deb meant to them.
I am in awe of you for working so hard after your back surgery and being able to take the WFR Training and pass it with flying colors! You have always been an inspiration to me! Looking forward to our next hike together.
Kathy (your sister)
Thank you, my dear sister. I only wish we lived close enough to hike together more often.
Dear Ann, the context in which you did your recertification touched me. I’m sure we both imagine how Deb was there in spirit for you to continue to be in service in this way. I am so happy to read of your success and renewed confidence. Brava!
Finding out about Deb’s death that morning, even though we knew it was coming, was incredibly poignant for me. Took me a bit to regain my composure enough to feel I was going into the class strong. But once I got there, truly, she was right at my side the whole way! I so miss working with her at Skalitude! She, Christina and I built a truly remarkable experience together.
Congratulations on making it through your recert!
They are lucky to have you and your wisdom as part of the group.
Hello on the other side of the planet! So very happy to see your words here. Truly hope you are doing well. Ann
GO, Linnea!!! From India I send my sincerest “Bravo” and am inspired by your wit and will. Currently I’m climbing 135 (uneven) stairs up from beach hut to food and treatments and Internet a few times a day and won’t grumble after reading your latest venture!
Dear Cheryl, Oh you traveler of indomitable spirit, keep yourself safe and well over there on the other side of the world. Wonderful to hear from you! Ann
Yet another step in confirmation of the health and strength of your physical self after surgery! Perhaps the last step to full knowledge and trust in your present physical ability. Thanks for articulating your process in getting to your decision to recert. It inspired me especially in your honest assessment process without ego.
Surely the date of Deb’s passing was not random. No indeed. She wanted to arrive on time for this recert if only in spirit, to be by your side, Ann. What a gift friendship you both shared together.
Lastly, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your WFR certifications throughout these years. I benefited in the security of your knowledge and ability with each kayak and Quest adventure I attended. Truly invaluable.
“Woofer” to you, dear Ann!!!
Thank you, Jeanne. You are very kind. The presence of medical skill is really essential in backcountry situations. I know the reassurance that gives because our own son was a paramedic and I always felt secure when he was around. And so, November is a month of passages and losses for me: both my father and son and now Deb died in November of different years. This WFR recert was also an honoring of Brian who would have insisted I give it a try if at all possible. Love, Ann
Ann Linnea, congratulations on your great accomplishments and enduring strength and stamina!!! How fortunate are those who need your care and receive your gifts. May you tender heart have time to grieve and wishing you an adventurous New Year!
With appreciation for your comments, Gretchen. An adventurous new year to you, too!
Dear Ann: Congratulations on your WFR certification. Thank you so much for sharing your deep discernment and process.
As I sit here far on the rim of this circle in Wisconsin, I am grateful for your life teachings. I too am now 73; so far nothing major to worry about on the health front. I completed 10 years as a Board Member of a Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge (IL-WI Refuge) and now moved to being a general volunteer. I want to keep healthy to continue this work … AND to continue kayaking this summer (thank you too for being my kayak instructor too.
Appreciate all that I’ve learned from you and Christina. Blessings on all you do!!
Dear Audrey, It is terrific to hear from you! Bless your own journey of service and kayaking and good health! Blessings, Ann