Recognizing Medical Emergencies in the Wilderness

By Rachel Puryear

The thought of having a medical emergency is always scary. The thought of having one – or a loved one having one – when you’re a ways from a hospital and civilization, is even scarier.

Nature lovers enjoy escaping civilization and crowds by heading for the wilderness. That’s part of the whole point.

At the same time, there is an inherent risk in being further away from emergency assistance than you’d be in a city, or even in a town.

That risk is something for anyone to consider, but especially anyone in fragile health, or at high risk of a medical emergency. It’s also something to consider in terms of traveling alone, or with company.

Most nature lovers accept that risk if it’s feasible for them, but it’s still a good idea to know how to identify common kinds of medical emergencies.

Some medical emergencies are of such a nature that it’s hard to know whether to brush it off and keep moving, or whether it’s necessary to turn around, hurry back as quickly as possible, and seek help.

Accordingly, here are warning signs of a few common medical emergencies, which might not necessarily be immediately obvious:

Toy yellow ambulance. By Zhen Hu.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

According to the American Heart Association, heart attacks often start slowly and with only mild pain and discomfort.

Warning signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes. Discomfort can include pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort or pain elsewhere in upper body. This could include one or both arms, the back, the neck, the jaw, or the stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This may or may not occur with chest discomfort.
  • Cold sweat, nausea/vomiting, or lightheadedness.

Also note: Heart attack symptoms can present differently in men and women. Men and women both commonly have chest pain or discomfort – but women are more likely to have symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, or back or jaw pain.

If you or someone else might be having a heart attack, call 911! Time is very much of the essence.

Heartbeat line on red apple and stethoscope.

Stroke Warning Signs:

When it comes to strokes, remember to BE FAST:

  • Balance: Loss of balance, and dizziness.
  • Eyes: Changes in vision.
  • Face: One side of the face might be drooping, and the person may have a severe headache.
  • Arms: One side might be weak, or numb.
  • Speech: The person might have trouble speaking, or be confused.
  • Time: Time is of the essence, call 911 if you notice signs of a stroke!
Image of brain inside someone’s head.


A concussion is an injury to the brain resulting from a head injury (there may or may not be a gash or blood), and can be dangerous – even fatal – if left untreated. (Most people with concussions are fine and recover, but they should be evaluated.)

Signs of a concussion include: The person appears dazed or stunned, they have personality or behavioral changes, they seem clumsy or forgetful or “out of it”, they respond slowly to questions, they repeat themselves.

They may also have the following symptoms in a more severe concussion: Headache, nausea, difficulty with balance, blurry or changed vision, sensitive to light and noise, fatigue, drowsiness (don’t let them go to sleep), difficulty with comprehension, poor concentration and lack of paying attention, irritability, nervousness, emotionality, not feeling right or in a fog, reporting unusual sleeping patterns, pupils unequal size, bizarre behavior, lack of recognition of people and places, numbness or weakness, clumsiness, fainting, difficulty waking up.

Symptoms can present within a day or two after the initial injury.

Seek immediate medical attention for a possible concussion. Better safe than sorry!

Also, follow general precautions to stay safe and healthy out in the wilderness. As various injuries can happen to anyone out there, be sure to always carry a good first aid kit with you.

It’s also a good idea to carry a good hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for sun protection. If it will be rainy, carry a poncho. Also carry wet wipes with you for good hygiene. Also bring sturdy, closed, non-slip footwear.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to staying safe and healthy out in nature.

Got a question you want answered through this blog? Submit your question to me here – and if you don’t already, please request to subscribe to the Free Range Life newsletter while you’re there!

Check out my other blog, too – World Class Hugs, at It’s about better navigating relationships as an empathic and/or people-pleasing person, and traveling and nature photos.

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