Emotional First Aid Level 3
There is 40cm of fresh snow on the overnight weather board. The thermometer shows minus 5 degrees. The winds are calm and the sun is starting to spark through the trees. It is one of those winter days that you live for. I feel lucky to call this place my office!
I jump in the snowcat and introduce myself to the group of 12 skiers. There are 11 men and one female. She came to share in her partner’s dream trip, catskiing the BC’s interior powder snow. BC’s interior snow is one of the best kinds of snow in the whole world, so light that it is called ‘hero snow’. It does not matter how high the cliffs are to jump, this type of snow forgives any mishaps. I can sense that she looks nervous. Her facial traits are becoming more anxious as her gaze scans the crowd of expert skiers she will be skiing with today.
Over the last ten winters of working as a backcountry tail guide, I have developed a reputation as the first aid queen. Strangely, I seem to always be there when someone hurts themselves. I can wrap a twisted knee or broken scapula in less than five minutes, stabilize head trauma and safely evacuate my guests. I can do all that, but it requires an extreme amount of energy that I need to replenish afterward. A couple of years ago, I was the first responder on a broken neck injury. I found the teenager with no pulse but still warm. I unsuccessfully performed CPR for over an hour until we could reach an ambulance. The following day, all the responders involved were called to a debriefing session to make sure we all had the chance to deal with any psychological effects One could think this part of the work description is the most difficult. Yet, it isn’t. Performing first aid has become second nature; I do it without overthinking it.
I am ready for anything, including today. After the avalanche briefing, we head out for our first run. Kapow! Faceshoot after faceshot, I concentrate on keeping afloat. Slight shift in balance initiating turns, and aggressive pole plants are the key. Falling in deep snow is tiring. I get back to the cat. The moral is high! All I can hear is people giggling and raving about this run being the best of their life. “It was just a warm up run guys, we are heading up there next!” As I point out the top of the mountain. The guests return to the cat and I am loading their gear into the basket. “I don’t think I can do this” says the only other girl in the group. “I came here for him, I don’t want to waste the best day of his life.” I try to reassure her everything is going to be fine and to remember to focus on enjoying herself as I am sure her boyfriend wants the same thing. We head up to our second run. Catastrophe, the run takes 4 times as long as it should take. Strangely, she falls on every turns. I can see she is a good skier but her fears are taking over her whole body. She is almost throwing herself down in the snow, instead of doing what she knows! There is no other choice. Although this woman is perfectly capable of skiing this type of terrain she needs a sincere pep talk. I call the lead guide on the radio “Let’s just catch up on the next run, I have some first aid to do.”I take off my skis and use them to make a bench we can sit on. I take my thermos off my pack and pour some hot tea for us. We look around, it is so gorgeous outside. The light reflecting on the fresh snow is magical. I tell her the only joke I know. She laughs. Good! Carefully, I try to untie everything she is battling : the feeling of loneliness to be the only female guest, the negative thinking patterns she has developed along with her eroding self esteem, and the way she is responding to failure. It is a lot to unwrap. I can feel she is finally relaxing. She cries a little. The tension has melted.
The day goes on. She is doing much better but she needs a lot of reassurance and one-on-one coaching. It is sapping all my energy. No one told me I needed emotional first aid level 3 when I enrolled in guiding. How can I help my guest to build emotional resilience on the slopes? I go home with the hope that I can find an answer to this. Everyone thinks I had the best day ever. It was great but I am so depleted of energy, I just have enough leftover to take care of myself and my gear.
I wish we had debriefed the day with my coworkers, and discussed the difficulty it takes to support someone all day. I mentally wonder under a warm long shower “how can we better help each other. What is the intrinsic quality missing to this whole story? If only people took care of their psychological care as much as they took care of their hygiene.” I jump. “Yes, that’s it : emotional hygiene!” Can you imagine what the world would look like if humans would all be psychologically healthy? Our society is doing so well at training us to be better at answering physical distress. Why are we not trained to take care of bandaging our psychological wounds? Should employers take responsibility and offer guidance to better help people that are emotionally hurt? Is this their responsibility in the first place? How can we promote better self-care?
Battling negative thinking, protecting our self-esteem, taking action when we are lonely and changing our responses to failures. Taking care of our emotions, our minds, with the same diligence we take care of our bodies. Healing, thriving for a better self is the goal.
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