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Derek Wolfe: Equal and opposite

By Derek Wolfe, Columnist
Published July 23, 2014

Calling the camp clinic the “clinic” doesn’t do it justice. For nearly 900 people at a time, we are the primary care, urgent care, ER and support system. Working here has taught me invaluable information about the “real world.” Specifically, in how we handle and respond to injuries. Quite frankly, we don’t always know what to do when bad things happen to us. It’s time for some education.

I’ll speak from current experience. Campers and staff get hurt and sick. But not all “emergencies” are emergencies. Keep this in mind.

Bumps. Bruises. Fevers. Scrapes. Strep Throat. If you can name it, it probably happens. Unfortunately, screams, cries and calls for help usually accompany these injuries too.

But, pardon me for a second as my inner science nerd is about to reveal itself. I’m not sorry about it.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

You have to love Newton’s Third Law. And though this law helped me a great deal in getting through my Physics classes, it actually carries more weight in my job at the camp clinic. What we often see is that the camper’s reaction to what just happened to them magnifies the actual condition of the injury — the definition of making mountains out of molehills — which makes assessing the severity of the situation a bit more difficult.

Here’s an example: A camper is playing a friendly game of soccer with his friends. When he was about to score a goal, he trips over his friend’s leg, falls on his wrist and proceeds to scream in agony.

“It feels like death,” he claims.

That’s the action. The reaction — by the counselors and clinic staff — is even more important. There are effectively two options: 1. Freak out and treat the situation as life threatening or 2. Take an objective, yet compassionate approach giving the initial shock of the incident to wear off before determining further significant action.

As someone who has been accompanying the first responder to these kinds of situations, abiding by option two is essential for the sake of the injured camper and for the medical personnel. You don’t want to make emotional decisions and send a camper for an X-ray he doesn’t need. In reference to Newton, you do not want to have an equal reaction. You must have an equal and opposite reaction.

Many times, after 15 minutes or so, the camper is completely fine. The “emergency” wasn’t an emergency. At worst, maybe he or she is a little sore for a few days. And in the cases he or she isn’t completely fine, you can have peace of mind knowing you did the right thing and get him or her the proper treatment.

So the real question is why should you care? Since you’re reading this, you’re clearly not a camper — I hope, anyways, because cell phones aren’t allowed. After all, there’s a big difference between camp and the rest of reality. At camp, medical care is often immediate for even the most minor injuries. Campers don’t even have to think twice about getting taken care of. Clearly, this isn’t the case at home. You don’t have a doctor or nurse arriving to your doorstep within minutes of a minor injury.

In the “real world,” we have to do our own decision making in regards to our health. Reducing time of care is extremely important for both the medical personnel and patient. But, how do we know if we’re supposed to go to the ER, urgent care or wait for an appointment with our primary care physician?

In 1996, there were 67 million emergency room visits. In 2008, 119 million. Disturbing if I say so myself. I’ve written in the past on why I believe a universal health care system is needed in the United States. But with the system as it stands, knowing what to do and where to go when we’re hurt would be the simplest way to improve the efficiency of our system. That’s it! We just have to be educated. There’s no doubt millions of those trips could have been moved to urgent cares, which are equipped for handling smaller injuries and sicknesses.

Unfortunately, that education isn’t really happening in the United States. The largest advocacy attempt is a campaign called “Choose Better.” But, that campaign is based in England. Sure, there are smaller initiatives, but nothing on a large scale.

In my hometown, I’ve driven past plenty of urgent cares and wondered, “Who would ever go to one of these?” Well at camp, we often use urgent cares for issues we can’t take of on site. They’re great, most definitely faster than the ER and have a more comfortable feel to them. It’s just that most people don’t know they can and should be using them.

So maybe, a little education and advocacy on this side of the Atlantic would be the appropriate reaction. Thanks, Newton.

Derek Wolfe can be reached at dewolfe@umich.edu.