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Women in Mountain Rescue: Karen Greene

Womenclimb recognises the importance that Mountain Rescue volunteers play in ensuring that climbers and hillwalkers are educated and safe when enjoying the outdoors. They are the unsung heroes who ensure that those lost are found and that those in accidents are cared for.

Women are under represented in Mountain Rescue as they are in other outdoor professions and Womenclimb want to encourage more women to see Mountain Rescue as something they can get involved in.

Over the next few months we will be interviewing a few key women in Mountain Rescue to find out what made them get involved, what commitment it takes, and what they get out of being a member of a team. We’ll also let you know how you can find out more and get involved.

Today we catch up with Karen Greene, one of the Wasdale Team’s Doctors to chat about her involvement in the team, the highs and lows and what she gets out of being in the team.

Mountain Rescue provides voluntary search and rescue cover in some of the most remote, difficult to access and difficult terrain in England and Wales – Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team, based in one of the most remote valleys in the Lake District, is no exception.

Karen has been a member of Wasdale MRT since 1992 after movinKaren Greeneg to the area and wanting to give something back to her new community and the mountaineering world. She cares passionately about the team and their commitment to saving lives.

Wasdale MRT gets over 100 call outs per year. These tend to be a mix of people lost, reported missing by others, or injured. Given the popularity of certain routes the team has known areas where people make navigational errors and specific sites where accidents are common, so they structure their rescues and searches around these in order to be efficient and effective.

In Wasdale everyone is a team member, we all train in all areas. All team members must have a good grounding in mountaineering skills. They must be able to look after themselves, navigate, be fit and strong in all weather conditions, day and night. We will then teach them first aid, search and rescue and boat handling (for Wastwater).

Anyone with specialist skills is then encouraged to use and share them and I have been one of the team doctors since I started. This involves not only caring for the patients on the hills, but also teaching the lay members in depth medicine allowing them to administer some drugs.  I also have a pastoral role caring for the well being of the team members who may be distressed by some of the incidents we attend.

What’s the best thing about being a member of Mountain Rescue?

The camaraderie of the team and the satisfaction of helping someone in need and just being out in the hills in all weather, day or night.

For example, we once rescued a man and his 10 year old son. I walked down with his son whilst the man was in the stretcher. It was a really cold dark starry night and we walked hand in hand looking at the stars and constellations. He was transformed from a scared child who never wanted to go on a mountain again to one who was full of wonder and planning his next "dad and son" trip.

We had a young man seriously injured in a big fall in a quarry. We resuscitated him and I flew him to hospital.  I looked after him for some time on Intensive Care and we have stayed in contact for years. He has become a remarkable man and still raises money for WMRT and other charities.

Those are the moments.

I also have had great support from within the team which have influenced my involvement in the team. In 2007 I had treatment for cancer, including 4 surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

My team mates supported me throughout and when I was ready, allowed me to come back at a pace that was right for me.  The daily grind of treatment was hard, but family, friends and the pull of the mountains was what I needed to keep going. The experience has taught me much about true friendship, the need to have focus, to be patient, to be content in ones own skin and in ones surroundings.

This experience has taught me to be more patient with those in trouble who need help, but I can be intolerant of those who waste what precious life we have been given.

What’s been the most difficult thing for you during the time you’ve been involved in Mountain Rescue?

Times can be tough. Dealing with the dead and seriously injured is my job. I have been trained to deal with complex and unpleasant situations, but the normal team members have not had that experience.  Helping them and seeing their pain can be hard.

In a small community dealing with people you know who have died or been seriously injured is tough.  I have had friends seriously hurt and died who we have had to go and rescue....that will never get easier.

During the Cumbria shootings in 2010, in which 12 people were killed and another 11 injured, we were tasked to search the roads and fields for further victims, to help the police. Although we didn't find further victims the psychological impact on the team was not insignificant. The fear of finding people we knew (we all knew someone dead or injured) was traumatic.

Dealing with the psychology is very personal to the individual. We have a great team attitude. We support each other and we have a pathway that the individual can use. This might be talking to their team colleagues, team doctors, GPs etc. This has always worked and we have not had an incident where someone has left the team because they don't have this type of support.

With over 100 call outs a year, how do you manage to fit in that commitment to the team around your work and family life?

I have 2 children, living in a small community helps with child care, especially when people know what you do. My children had "callout" rucksacks next to mine. Whereas mine contained mountaineering gear, theirs contained nappies, pyjamas, food, cuddly toys and some games.  I had a group of friends who I could ring (no family locally and my husband is also in WMRT).  They were as much part of the MRT as I was.  If friends were busy, they could just say so; No guilt, no discussion. I would then ring the next person.  I have never had to miss a call out because of lack of child care.

I work part time and if I was at work I couldn't go to the call out. However if the patient needed hospital treatment I would see them in A&E or iTU. This meant great continuity of care and the team would get feedback on the patient’s condition.

Over the last 25 years the time commitment has increased. When I started we would be called to 30-40 rescues a year, now it is over 100 and rising.  We have a training session one evening a month, 4 full days training each year and 1 training session with the search helicopters per year.

For those training to be casualty carers we also have 2 full days first aid course and 10 evenings. Of course on top of this there is also cleaning up and checking equipment after rescues and training, fundraising and team meetings.

As the appointed medical officer in the team I’m also involved in the governance of Casualty Care and its teaching, manage the governance of the first aid kits and drug and audit our medical activities, as well as maintaining stock of medical equipment and staying up to date with current practice. This is all shared amongst a group of people within the team.

If someone would like to get involved but aren’t sure they have enough experience or knowledge what would you say?

Contact us. You can come and talk to us then put in an application form. The team read the forms and you are invited to an interview and then a day out walking on the fells as an assessment- very informal. You will then have a discussion about whether you and we feel you have enough experience to join us.

If you do, you join as a probationer until you have completed the required competencies. If you don't we will suggest ways you can gain the skills/experience required and suggest a time frame for re-application.

Mountain Rescue is a great organisation, whose role is beginning to diversify to include urban searches, swift water and flood rescue, assisting stretched ambulance service. There are plenty of other roles that are not mountaineering, such as base organisation & maintenance, treasurer, fundraising, vehicle maintenance.  If anyone has any other time they would like to give, but are not strong mountaineers them contacting a local team would be very valuable.

If you want to find out more about joining a Mountain Rescue Team visit www.mountain.rescue.org.uk to find your local team.

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