The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Broken Skipper—What We Did Wrong

Okay, picture this: You’ve just crashed a long way down a flight of log steps a long way in on a hiking trail and smashed down onto a stump; you’ve analyzed the situation and realized you’ve broken your femur (a potentially fatal and definitely excruciating injury); you’ve moved into a safer and marginally more comfortable position and stabilized the leg as best you can; and you’ve hung tough for the 45 minutes it takes until the EMTs manage to fight their way along the trail to where you are lying, thinking that if you can just hang on until they arrive you will get some relief from the pain.

And, finally, there they are, with their beautiful bag of supplies! Finally, you think, relief.

Only to be told that EMTs are not allowed to give you so much as an aspirin, even once you’re in the ambulance. So now you have a further 5-hour ordeal ahead of you while they carry you out of the woods and then drive the hour it takes to get to the hospital. 5 hours that seem like 5 years while you suffer the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life.

No Pain Meds, What Were We Thinking?

It’s weird, we’ve always made sure we have painkillers in the boat’s first aid kit but we’ve never thought to add them to our hiking first aid kit. I guess we assumed that rescuers would carry them or that the person left standing would run back to the boat to get them; which, in hindsight, are actually not very smart assumptions. But we learned our lesson the hard way and from now on some of the good stuff will be in our backpack for all excursions. So that is what we did wrong in this situation.

Isn’t There More To It Than That?

But wait, you ask, wasn’t the fact that the fall happened at all a mistake?

Yes, you’re right, since the definition of accident is “lack of intention”*, or, I guess you could also say in this case, “lack of attention”. Yes, John’s attention wandered—this is his mea culpe, not me putting words in his mouth—and he was thinking about something else when his foot hit that invisibly moss-covered, incredibly slippery wooden log. But who hasn’t let their attention wander? I know I have.

However, John and I have learned from this accident—an accident where the outcome was way out of balance with the mistake made, since most people sprain an ankle in this sort of situation, not smash their femur—learned that the same attention we take when hiking in Greenland or Baffin Island, where the consequences of a slip could be even more catastrophic, is the same level of attention that we should be taking whenever and wherever we are. Newfoundland, to us, feels like home, and so we let down our guard.

The Fall-out (So To Speak)

And now we have to live with the emotional—no longer just intellectual—realization that horrible things like this can happen just like that and even in our own backyard. So I’ve warned John that he will have to wear a fully padded suit, sort of like the Michelin Man’s, while hiking from now on—he thinks I’m kidding!

Onward and Upward

But put all that aside. The bottom line is that John survived and, really, the rest we can and will deal with: get pain meds, practice awareness, overcome the fear, and enjoy every single day that we have together.


There are, as we understand it, medical conditions where administering analgesics to the sufferer can make things worse or even cause a death. It is up to you to decide whether you will carry pain killers into the wilderness or use them in the event of an accident. We are not making recommendations in this post.

*Free Online Dictionary
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