By Carey Miller
Everyone’s heard the harrowing tales of people succumbing to the elements, disappearing in the woods, or hurting themselves in the middle of nowhere with little hope of rescue.
It’s enough to make any Mississippian reluctant to leave the safe, air-conditioned confines of their homes, particularly in the hotter months.
But Dr. Philip Blount wants you to know you’d really be missing out—countless folks have a blast safely enjoying the splendor of Mississippi’s outdoors every year.
“If you look at the risk versus benefits of engaging in outdoor activities, the benefits far, far outweigh the risk,” said Dr. Blount, a former park ranger and a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Methodist Pain & Spine Center in Flowood. “Injuries that happen outdoors are about 9 per 100,000 participants, with deaths around 2.6 per 100,000. That’s rare, like getting struck by lightning.”
A 2008 study of outdoor recreational injuries published by the Wilderness Medical Society found winter activities like snowboarding and sledding to have the highest injury incidence rates, with hiking a distant third with 4.6 per 100,000.
Activities more common to the Mississippi outdoors, like fishing (2.4), boating (0.5), water skiing/tubing (2.6) and mountain biking (3.6), have even lower rates.
“Getting people out of doors and engaged in physical activities is something I highly advocate,” Dr. Blount said. “It’s fun, it’s healthy, and it’s free.”
The outdoors is both a personal and professional passion for Dr. Blount, who also specializes in sports medicine.
Dr. Blount has been involved with the Outward Bound program. He’s also earned his Wilderness First Responder certification from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), one of the country’s foremost educators in the field of wilderness medicine.
“It’s a nice, well-rounded training with a lot of carryover into sports medicine and really, just basic everyday life,” Dr. Blount said. “It helps me with my medical practice in many ways.”
Wilderness medicine, Dr. Blount explained, is the application of medical care in a remote setting, which is usually defined as being greater than an hour away from definitive care.
“If you think about it by that definition, there aren’t many areas in Mississippi that could be designated as true ‘wilderness,’” Dr. Blount said.
Wilderness medicine in practice is about the assessment, improvisation and overall decision-making to provide basic life support and stabilize things until the victim can receive definitive care.
“It’s not something crazy, like MacGyver or Rambo,” Dr. Blount said, adding that the most crucial aspect of wilderness medicine is prevention.
“It’s a lot easier to prevent an injury than deal with one when it happens,” he said.
Regarding injury prevention, Dr. Blount says the Boy Scouts motto has it right: be prepared. But that’s doesn’t just mean to be sure to pack accordingly.
“The more you know, the more prepared you are,” he said. “Knowledge is infinite—you can always learn more. And knowledge will always outweigh gear or equipment.”
That’s why when asked about what essentials to bring on a trip to the outdoors; he doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all recommendation, even for a first-aid kit.
“There is no universal first-aid kit,” Dr. Blount said. “You’re really looking at something specific to the event or activity you’re going to be doing. A kit for a snow skier is going to look a lot different from a water skier’s here in Mississippi. And a first aid kit is great to have and I certainly recommend them, but you really have to be familiar with using what it contains.”
For example, packing a suture kit isn’t going to help if you’re not experienced stitching up wounds.
Dr. Blount does universally recommend, especially during the Mississippi summer, access to water and an oft-overlooked natural resource: shade.
“If you look at Mississippi and you look at what are the most common causes of death, you have drowning and then environmental exposure—either hypo- or hyperthermia,” he said.
There were 11 deaths due to heat stroke in the state in 2012 according to the latest data collected by the Mississippi State Department of Health, said Liz Sharlot, MSDH director of communications.
“Knowing where shade is, and knowing how to get people cool, including having some water, is key,” Dr. Blount said.
One thing to remember above all is to look out for yourself. Never risk your own safety to assist another who has been injured.
“That may sound selfish, but the worst thing that can happen is for one victim to turn into two victims,” Blount said.
7 Tips to Enjoy the Mississippi Outdoors Safely
1. Educate yourself properly. Know and identify the possible scenarios for injury regarding your activity in order to prevent them. Learning basic first aid is also invaluable for outdoor recreation.
2. Always pack accordingly for your activity. A first-aid kit with basic, versatile supplies is a must, and tools such as a hatchet or compass can be essential in the outdoors. Also make sure you have packed an ample supply of drinking water, especially during the summer.
3. If you are going hiking, camping, or any other outdoor activity in a remote location, notify someone of where you are going, what you are planning to do and the time you expect to return. Leave a phone number to call if you do not return on time.
4. When engaging in water sports, always wear a floatation device and abstain from consuming alcohol.
5. Be aware of your surroundings and what you have on hand. Knowing where your nearest sources of water and shade are located can be crucial when dealing with heat stroke or other types of injury. And common items like a bandana or other items of clothing can be used as bandages or slings.
6. Know your and your companions’ medical histories to anticipate any complications that may arise and prepare accordingly. For example, if you have an allergy to stinging insects, it’s a good idea to carry an EpiPen.
7. Remember that you are “number one.” Never put yourself at risk to help or rescue someone in distress. Seek help and let trained first responders do their job.