Dr. Robert “Brownie” Schoene, an enormously talented, accomplished, and insightful physician who resides within the bedrock of wilderness medicine, gave a wonderful presentation about the concept of risk at the 2010 annual summer meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society. Risk is inherent in outdoor activities, whether it is part of exploration, adventure, science, or industry. I am going to summarize his approach to the topic, which is among the most important general concepts in the field, and editorialize with some of my thoughts.
When one thinks of risk related to outdoor health, it is about the possibility of suffering harm, damage, or loss. When a person is aware of the possibility of a specific risk, he or she usually weighs the risk against the possible benefits. When you hike on a slippery, snowy trail in early spring, where the trail winds over patches of ice near ledges from which a fall would cause a severe injury, is the experience worth the risk? When you ride a wave on your surfboard when the waves are intimidating and you are outside your comfort zone, is the improvement in performance worth the possibility of a tumble and possible muscle tear or broken bone? Sometimes the answer is easy. When I travel to a third world country, I always run the risk of acquiring infectious diarrhea. The benefits of the mission supersede the discomfort, and I both anticipate the risk and prepare for treatment by carrying oral rehydration supplies and appropriate antibiotics.
I love the quote from Winston Churchill that Dr. Schoene used to illustrate a risk-taker’s approach: Read more »