We are always excited to get the chance to shine a light on medical providers doing challenging things outdoors. This week we are virtually heading to Spain to talk to Georgina Davenport, a paramedic currently working in EMS and as the office manager for The Benegas Brothers Expeditions, with twin brothers and super climbers Willie and Damien Benegas.
Georgie gives a quick tour of her journey from outdoorsperson to paramedic and working in multiple continents, from Patagonia to Nepal and now in Spain. So read on and enjoy. Thanks, Georgie, for sharing your awesome story with Musa!
Can you tell us about how you got into paramedic work? What inspired you?
Well, it’s a long story but I escaped a boring life in the UK and ran my own adventure travel company in Patagonia from 2008 – 2014. The trips were horseback riding and fly fishing in the Andes, so I had to wise up fast on at least the basics for wilderness first aid, being so remote. A CAT scan facility, for example, was five hours away. I started by taking a WFR course in Spanish in Argentina.
I am lucky to have travelled in five continents and adored Nepal my first time there, so when the opportunity came to work at Everest with BBE in 2012, I couldn’t have been happier! That year, in 2012, it was a relatively calm season, but after the avalanche in the Khumbu icefall, which killed 16 Sherpas at Everest in 2014, I realized fast that my WFR was far from adequate. That sewed the seed for studying EMS in the USA.
Having taken a major in biology in the UK as an undergrad, I was able to fast track into paramedic school, moving on from Argentina in 2014 to Colorado. I spent two years there, based out of Aspen, and had access to the most incredible clinical sites: Denver Health ER, UCH and Denver Children’s, amongst others. I was also lucky enough to work in the Snowmass Clinic for six months, which is piste-side, and sees from coughs and colds to major fractures, pneumonia and HAPE cases, and one or two knee injuries, too! This was all a very good grounding to return to the backcountry.
Similar to that, how about your climbing experiences? How did you come about mixing the two? (That’s pretty much what we are always trying to do here at Musa Masala!)
I’m not much of a mountaineer, but an avid trekker, ex runner and obsessed skier and fly fisherwoman. But mixing EMS work and the outdoors has always been through adventure tourism. One of the highlights for me is our annual Everest Base Camp mini first aid and rescue course for Sherpas. We go over the basics of the pathophysiologies of the life threats that come up for Sherpas working at Everest (medical and especially altitude related and, of course, trauma) and how to package and evacuate, too. We make it simple and fun and it makes a HUGE difference to everyone to go over these topics.
You now are working with Willie Benegas. Can you tell us a bit about what your job entails?
I run a large proportion of the office to allow the owners of BBE, Willie and Damian, to focus on a busy guiding schedule. It’s a very broad role! From the medical side, I take care of office health and safety, and, with our insurer, our guide medical protocols—working with insurers for trips, trip design, planning and sales, and some of the marketing, too!
And we launched a new website this spring. I’m also the Everest Base Camp manager on our larger spring expeditions, which tends to come up about every other year.
On an expedition, can you go over your duties as the medical practitioner in a remote area? Do you have any good stories to relate?
We are lucky enough to have the HRA at EBC, the Himalayan rescue Association, whose three incredible wilderness medicine doctors work out of a tent! So we tend to pass our worries onto them once we are at EBC. While getting our group up to high altitude always has its surprises, it’s more the other groups on the trail that provide the stories.
We get to see normally unguided trekkers making some bad decisions with regards to whether they should continue ascending! During our acclimatization hike, we monitor the whole group exceptionally closely. We track vitals twice a day, AMS scores and so on, and try to keep on top of the inevitable bugs that invade us as foreigners, whether gastro or respiratory!
Success means becoming a germ freak, which is quite novel, as I am certainly not one at home! We have to take extra super care of our health at altitude. The mildest bug can totally wipe you out. We have to be super vigilant on lung sounds and fevers, as pneumonia and HAPE present similarly. I’ve also been lucky enough to learn a lot about rescue ops in Nepal. This has been amazing to be a part of and a really interesting and steep learning curve. Kathmandu has a frostbite treatment, yet to be patented (still, I think?) in the USA, also very cool (Iloprost).
You now live in Spain and work in EMS there. Can you tell us about the differences or similarities you find there?
I’m not full time (yet), but looking forward immensely to a job coming up nearby. Meanwhile, I’m just picking up a few shifts here and there in the wider local area. From what I have been lucky enough to experience so far, I can tell you it’s a very different system here in Spain!
Firstly, any ALS ambulance is manned by a doctor and nurse whilst the EMTs (2000-hour course) assist and drive, but don’t make decisions (unless it’s a purely BLS call with two EMTs). It’s a good learning opportunity, but of course I miss making ALS decisions.
I sure need to brush up meanwhile on my medical Spanish, so everything step by step! I’ve worked at some amazing bike races and bull runs, bulls with huge horns, and the risk of some interesting trauma. Right now I am working in the local ER reception for the summer, which is fantastic. I’m learning tons about the system. We triage ambulance calls through here as well, and we have patients speaking Spanish, Catalan, Aranese (the local dialect here), French and English just for starters! Aran, he valley where I live, is in the middle of the Pyrenees and has it’s own language.
Any words of wisdom for young climbers or EMS workers?
Never give up! Practise your assessment to an art form, and delve deeper and deeper. Practise scenarios with your team. If you get burned out, try working in a new language. And travel lots!