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Dogsled Expedition Medic Gets Crash Course in Artic First Aid from Minn. Paramedics

DULUTH, Minn. -- If Thorleif Thorleifsson ever has to plunge a dose of lidocaine into polar explorer Will Steger's arm, he'll have Cloquet, Minn., paramedics to thank for showing him how.

For the past decade, the Cloquet Fire Department and members of Steger's expeditions have teamed up to handle medical care during thousand-mile dogsled trips across the Arctic -- everything from treating simple colds to icy cold emergencies. Cloquet paramedics provide Steger's chosen medic with a weeklong crash course in first-aid and emergency assessments and agree to be available by satellite phone for emergency advice.

So it was that Thorleifsson was practicing his injection skills on an orange this week at the Cloquet fire station under the watchful eyes of paramedic Mike Garberg and Capt. Kevin Schroeder. Thorleifsson, of Norway, will serve as the medic on Steger's upcoming dogsled trip across Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.

Before he goes, the Cloquet paramedics will teach him about pain medication and frostbite, splints and broken bones and stitches.

The trip's medical director will be Dr. Skip Hofstrand of Saginaw, an emergency room physician and a longtime friend of Steger's. Hofstrad helped make the connection between Steger's expeditions and the Cloquet paramedics, and it's an arrangement the Cloquet paramedics enjoy, Schroeder said.

It's the fifth time they have shared their training skills for an Arctic expedition. And during each expedition, the paramedics refine their training and tailor their advice to account for extreme cold-weather doctoring, Schroeder said.

For instance, after Steger's trip across Baffin Island in 2007, the team looked for a creative way to keep IV fluids warm when treating dehydration. Rather than the usual method of dangling an IV bag overhead and letting gravity do the work, the team advises nestling the IV bag next to the patient's body to warm the fluids, and using pressure infusers that push the fluids into the body.

"We hope to get to a point in the next year or two where we can get this down on paper," Schroeder said.

On Monday, Thorleifsson was learning the difference between subcutaneous and intramuscular injections, how to mix certain injectables and what to do with used needles.

"Have you done any suturing?" Schroeder asked as Thorleifsson stabbed at the orange.

"Yeah, on dogs," Thorleifsson said. Not much difference, really.

Thorleifsson will stay with the Cloquet crew until Saturday. Then he's off to Baffin Island to help train Steger's dogs and build the third dogsled in preparation for the expedition, which will spotlight the effects of global warming.

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