Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Mountain Rescue Doctor

The following is a book review I wrote that appeared in the December 2007 issue of Diversion Magazine:

Wilderness medicine is the art and science of practicing medicine in unpredictable and sometimes extremely harsh environments, as found in the mountains at high altitude, at sea during expeditions to remote reefs or under the harsh sun of an equatorial desert. It is not for the faint of heart and requires a willingness to endure isolation, limited resources and physical and emotional hardship. With our culture's appetite for stimulation, and with the media's ability to bring current events into our homes with remarkable speed, stories of rescues in the wild have become prominent in modern life.

Most tales of search, rescue and wilderness medicine begin with an account of how the victims got into trouble. Sometimes they venture into inclement weather without having thought about how to prepare a shelter or what to do if they become injured or lost. Sometimes it's just plain bad luck, as the forces of nature conspire to produce an unanticipated storm or avalanche.

In Mountain Rescue Doctor: Wilderness Medicine in the Extremes of Nature, Christopher Van Tilburg, M.D. offers a collection of tales about mountain rescue in Oregon, where he is a member of the Hood River Crag Rats, reputed to be the oldest mountain rescue team in the United States. As an emergency physician and an expert in many aspects of wilderness medicine, he is well qualified to be part of such a team; as a skilled writer, he engages, informs and entertains the reader.

Van Tilburg's stories are highly personal, each describing the setting and events of an actual rescue. In river parlance, that is the main run - but as anyone knows who has floated the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon, there is much to be learned from the side hikes. Brief literary forays are scattered throughout Mountain Rescue Doctor as Van Tilburg shares his thoughts on what it means to be a physician, how he became an aficionado of wilderness medicine and how he depersonalizes rescue situations. He discusses topics such as injury prevention, rescuer and physician liability, and the risks, rewards, appropriateness and ethics of rescues. One of the questions I am most frequently asked by medical students and residents-in-training is how they can work wilderness medicine into their future as busy clinicians. Now I can suggest this book as an example of how one doctor answered his calling.

It is not a page-turner like Aron Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place or Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. There is an element of stream of consciousness to it, which does not detract from its value but illuminates Van Tilburg's approach to life, medicine and his mountain rescue avocation. Mountain Rescue Doctor is a useful addition to the literature of wilderness medicine because it sheds light on one doctor's motivation in devoting a large part of his professional life to this dynamic and essential specialty.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.