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Never take outdoors safety for granted


September 16, 2012
By Walt Young ( , The Altoona Mirror

It all happened so quickly that I had no chance to break my fall even slightly. One second I was making my way down a short but rather steep embankment; an instant later my right foot slipped, dumping me violently down the slope and onto my right side as my forehead smashed against a large rock at the edge of the stream. I must have presented an awful sight to my fishing partner who was just a few feet away. "Don't try to stand up," he urged.

At first, it was all I could do just to sit upright, so standing certainly wasn't my first priority at that point. My right eye was full of blood and muddy water, but after blinking a few times, I realized I could still see with it and somehow hadn't even lost my contact lens in the mishap. Blood continued to stream from my head wound as I made a quick bodily inventory for any other possible injuries. My head was clear and feeling no significant pain anywhere else, I finally regained my feet and walked back to my vehicle a short distance away.

Looking at my reflection in the truck window was the first opportunity for me to see the nasty, wide gash over my right eye. "Not gonna fix this one with a band aid," I thought to myself. We were able to stop the bleeding fairly quickly and then apply some antiseptic and a temporary bandage. After that, I spent the rest of last Sunday morning in the emergency room having my eyebrow sewn back into place.

Fortunately, I was able to rejoin my friends and resume fishing later that afternoon, although driving to and from the hospital provided ample time for reflection. Throughout my lifelong and very active outdoor career, I've experienced my share of bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes and sprains, but nothing that ever required formal medical attention until last weekend. And considering what could have occurred, I felt entirely grateful to escape that accident with a few stitches in the near term and probably a bit of a scar in the long term.

I also found it cruelly ironic that two pieces of gear that have kept me safe countless times both contributed in part to this accident. The first of those was my felt-soled waders. As most trout fisherman know, felt soles provide the best and surest traction on even the slipperiest stream bottoms, and I have worn nothing else when trout fishing for decades. On the other hand, smooth felt soles are not much good on dry land, especially a steep, rugged stream bank. Mindful of that, I always exercise extra care when negotiating such terrain, and probably had been up and down that very bank five or six times that morning. But one small misstep proved to be my undoing.

I was also wearing polarized sunglasses, another piece of standard equipment for most anglers. Polarized glasses will eliminate much of surface glare on water, allowing you to see beneath the surface. Not only is this a big advantage for seeing fish-holding structure and even the fish themselves at times, it can also help you to spot potential hazards underfoot when wading. A good pair of sunglasses can also provide physical eye protection, and I've lost count of the times my glasses probably saved my eyes over the years by deflecting hooks, sinkers, lures, tree limbs and other objects that accidentally hit me in the face while fishing. When I hit my head during the fall, however, the frame of my sunglasses literally sliced open my forehead.

Even though I have first-aid training, I'm sorry to admit that I didn't have a real first-aid kit with me and had to rely on another friend in our fishing party to provide some of the dressings for my wound. That oversight probably stems from a certain amount of complacency because I've never really needed much more than a band aid or two in the field until now. Be assured I will not make that mistake again.

Safety is something I've never taken for granted in the outdoors, and I will continue my vigilance in that regard and encourage everyone to do the same. But in spite of taking all reasonable care, the unexpected can always happen, so be prepared to handle such emergencies is vital as well. You can be sure I will from now on.

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