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.See all posts »
There is a Limit
There is a story in the press about a 29-year old man from New Jersey who died a year ago from exhaustion and dehydration while participating in a wilderness survival adventure. According to reports, he exerted steadily for at least 10 hours in temperatures that at times exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Ed White of the Associated Press refers to the event as a "death march."
It is tragic that this man died, and made all the worse by the fact that he was accompanied by "expert" guides from the Boulder Outdoor Survival School who could have ended the exercise and administered water to the victim at any point. On May 7, 2007, it was announced that a law suit has been filed against BOSS.
I am not a jury or judge and admit that I do not have first hand knowledge of the specifics of what happened. The details will hopefully be revealed in court. If we have learned anything from the Duke lacrosse team fiasco, it should be that there is a presumption of innocence until all the facts are known.
However, from what has been reported, there may be a huge problem here. What sort of experts were these? If the accounts are accurate, what were they thinking to deny a struggling man a drink of water? If they were experts, what was their expertise? Did they know about heat illness, dehydration, exhaustion, and the obvious risk of pushing an inexperienced person beyond his physical and emotional limits? If they were wilderness survival experts responsible for the welfare of their clients, then they absolutely should have been educated about these topics. It makes no difference whether the victim was in shape or out of shape, signed a waiver form, or tried to wave them off. By eyewitness accounts, his mental status was altered, he fell repeatedly, and was no longer able to fend for himself. In this situation, there is a duty to rescue, and to say or think otherwise is untenable.
Forced dehydration has been abandoned as a conditioning technique by everyone who knows anything about its potential catastrophic effects. In sports, it is prohibited, and in the military, it is appropriately intensively monitored. Regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings that are now attached to this incident, everyone should know clearly that severe dehydration can be rapidly fatal, and take every reasonable precaution to prevent an episode such as this.
I am saddened by this event, for the victim, for the family, and for all responsible persons who teach wilderness survival. David Buschow's death appears to have been unnecessary, and only serves the purpose, hopefully, of instructing others to not put themselves into a similar situation, either as victims or inadequate supervisors. There is risk in the wilderness, for sure, but there was no risk whatsoever to this man's companions had they chosen to do the proper thing and try to save his life with cooling, rest, and water.
Tags: death, dehydration, outdoor survival, David Buschow, Boulder Outdoor Survival School, health, wilderness medicine, outdoor medicine, healthline
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