A couple of unrelated events in recent months have brought to mind two health issues which can impact sea kayakers particularly when they are on extended trips and may be far from medical help.
The first topic concerns cardiac arrest, which given the fact that the kayaking population is also an aging population, can be a concern. Many, if not all, sea kayak guides are certified as a Wilderness First Responders (successful completion of a four-week course) or at least certified in Wilderness First Aid (completion of a two-day course), and all the Maine Guides in Sea Kayaking that I know are certified to perform CPR. This has become a personal topic for me since I recently found myself in a situation overseas where CPR needed to be performed on a patient who had suffered cardiac arrest. Mouth to mouth resuscitation is not always recommended if the patient is suspected to be infectious - for example with HIV, hepatitis C or TB - and some CPR courses recommend using a specialized paper mask fitted with a filter as a barrier to prevent cross infection. However, not everyone who is able to perform CPR carries the mask and also the simple paper mask may give only limited protection to the person doing CPR.
SOLO (Stonehearth Open Learning Opportunities), a global leader in Wilderness Medical Education, recommends that persons administering CPR use a CPR Pocket Resuscitator for mouth to mouth resuscitation which minimizes the possibility of cross contamination. The device is basically a plastic mask shaped like a clamshell which fits over the patient´s mouth and incorporates a tube with a one-way valve which directs expired air from the patient away from the user. The device is cheap, easy to use and I´ve recently purchased one to carry with me in the kayak and one for the car. I suggest that those certified to perform CPR take a look at this device and perhaps buy one. It may help to save a life.
The second medical topic has to do with bee stings. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, less than 50 people a year die from an allergic reaction to a sting from a bee, hornet or wasp. However, for those who (like myself) are allergic to bee stings, a reaction which can be debilitating as well as potentially life threatening, is a real concern since bees and wasps can be found on some of the islands particularly, I have found, during meal times. Standard protocol is to carry an EpiPen, a device for delivering epinephrine into the muscle of the thigh to prevent severe allergic reaction. In the past I´ve carried an EpiPen in the kayak. The problem for myself and for others like me who are allergic, is the cost. Epipen, which is a prescription medication and is manufactured by the drug company Mylar, has a list price of around $600, and due to patent protection this has been the price for a number of years. With a shelf life of one year that becomes expensive.
Fortunately, this year a company called Impax has a similar device available which is an auto-injector which delivers epinephrine just like the Epipen. The list price is significantly less – with a CVS coupon I recently purchased one for under $40 – which a lot lighter on the wallet for folks like myself who are unfortunate enough to be allergic to bee stings. So if you´re allergic and are planning for some sea kayaking this summer, be sure to purchase the device before your trip.