Several years ago, the day after returning from guiding a backpack sheep hunt in Mexico, I developed a massive pain in my lower back. Within an hour it became unbearable and shortly after that I was in the local emergency room under heavy narcotics for kidney stones. Anyone who has ever had kidney stones will tell you it is about the most painful thing you can experience. Aside from pain medication, in most cases, there is not much a doctor can do for you–you simply have to ride it out until the stones pass.
After that horrible experience, it got me thinking: What would I do if that had happened on a week earlier while I was on Tiburon Island hunting desert sheep? Considering that I typically spend between four and seven weeks a year in remote locations on unsupported backpack hunts, both guided and solo, what would I do if I developed kidney stones on day one of a hunt? Ruining the trip of a lifetime seemed like the best possible scenario, full on medical evacuation being the worst case.
Since then, I have run into many hunters who have similar reoccurring health issues that could present a problem on a hunt, ranging from non-life threatening heart conditions, debilitating acid reflux, balance issues from inner ear flare ups, and so on. The ailment is rarely the same but the overall problem presents on a hunt is.
Below are two tips that may help you prepared for the worst case scenario on your mountain backpack hunt. While I hope you never find yourself needing any of this advice, you find it helpful should an emergency ever arise.
Brendan Burns, KUIU Director of Industry Relations
Develop a Plan Ahead of Time
After you are having a medical emergency is not the time to figure out how to manage the problem.
After consulting my physician about prevention and management of kidney stones, we came up with a plan to put the odds on my side that it doesn’t happen on a hunt. First, I get a yearly x-ray before the season to identify any potential problems. Second, my physician has put together a pain management package for me that I take on every hunt. Basically, it is 10 day kit of prescription medication that would get me through passing a stone or at least keeping the pain in check should I have the bad luck of having one of these painful ordeals occur on a hunt.
If you have a medical condition that could potentially be a problem on a hunt, consult your physician ahead of time and explain your concerns. They are there to help.
Have Access to Communication
Unfortunately, most medical emergencies don’t give you the luxury of be able to plan ahead for. This is why a reliable communication plan is crucial. Personally, I use a satellite phone. There are several other communication devices on the market today, but none as reliable as a satellite phone. I have found the Iridium system to be the only truly reliable satellite system for all locations. They are fairly reasonably priced and aside from being a literal lifesaver, they are a great way to keep in touch with family while on a hunt. I always bring my own sat phone on every hunt, whether I’m solo or on a guided trip. Someone else having a phone is not going to help you if you really need one.