Truly Mobile: Badwater Medical Team
By Greg Minter
"There's really not anything healthy about running 135 miles in 120-degree heat," says Dr. Lisa Bliss-Stranc. Speaking in the packed Furnace Creek Visitors' Center, she garners instant respect as not only a physician but also a past finisher of the Badwater Ultramarathon and other ultra endurance events.. With a race stretched over 135 miles of the world's most forbidding terrain, close to 90 participants, and several hundred crew and staff on the course at any one time, the potential for a medical emergency are quite real.
Having served as Medical Director for the race in previous years, Bliss helped coordinate this year's extensive medical support team, and recruited this year's medical director, Dr. Kent Wang. If that weren't enough, the staff will also be conducting a number of research projects during the race. "We're doing a couple of studies this year, one on Fluid & Electrolytes and another on anti-diuretic hormones. If you're interested, you can see us in the back after the meeting," she says hopefully to the anxious crowd. (Later Bliss was anxious to point out that these studies were true "field testing," not simulation carried out on treadmills in a lab.)
This year's 10-person medical staff includes physicians, nurses, and paramedics, and includes a mobile medical headquarters. As the race progresses, medical HQ moves from hotel to hotel along the route, and an ambulance awaits any emergency calls. In the event of a major emergency, life flight medical helicopters are available from nearby Pahrump, Nevada, but Bliss is quick to remind participants and their crew that they should hopefully never let things get that far. Each participant is given a numbered wooden stake with their registration package, not to vanquish vampires, but to mark a spot on the course to which they might want to return (landmarks are few and confusing in the hostile desert environment). Due to the strict observance and careful planning of volunteers like Bliss and Wang, the race has never had a serious medical emergency. "We've had folks take up to six units of fluid through an IV, but that was actually a crew member. As you know, the crew is often less trained for the race than the runner, but they're trying to keep up in the same heat."
Long time friend to many on the course, Mayor Badwater Ben Jones will also be checking in with the medical rooms; he's been a small town doctor in Lone Pine for more than 40 years, and mentor to many a hopeful Badwater finisher in that time.
Bliss ends her pre-race briefing with somme words of wisdom. "If you're having a hard time, or if anyone on your crew is having a hard time, stake out and get to the nearest medical room. Our number one goal should be to keep each other safe."