sep 2012

Survival Medicine in Estland

How to survive with a minimum of resources

Upon invitation of First Lieutenant Erki Vaikre, coordinator of the Kaitseliidu Kool, the Survival School, I made a brief visit from Friday August 31 to Sunday September 2, 2012.  The training centre lies near the village of Kirna, about 150 km southeast of Talinn.


The school is located on a former Russian army base, dominated by a brand new angular army building, flanked by a number of decrepit stone barracks which appear to symbolise the bygone era of Soviet rule. The terrain is located within a vast nature reserve called Alam-Pedja Looduskaitseale. The reserve is full of inaccessible swamps ruled by stinging mosquitoes and horseflies, but also has shiny white birch trees which stand out against stark blue magical skies in which dreamy clouds seem to just glide past.


It is the first time the Estonian Defence League is holding this two-day course for over forty combat medics and other military personnel, and therefore they had asked me to attend so that I could advise and contribute to further improving and developing their course.
The essence is the fundamental connection between survival and medicine. Our physiological and mental system is based on and consists of numerous processes which keep us alive.  When the heart stops pumping, that is an existential (physical) fact and five minutes later we are dead. In that sense you can say that our body and spirit are inextricably connected. Our health is also determined by the quality of our breathing, motion level and nutrition.

Survival Medicine

For emergency services and military units which find themselves in tactical situations, it is clear that stressful situations can place immense pressure on physical and mental systems, leading to life threatening situations.
Whether you live in the overregulated Netherlands or in the sparsely populated Estland, a situation can occur in any persons’ life where you find you must depend on one another for an indefinite period of time.
This can be because you are lost and trapped in a swamp or alpine area or witnessed a major disaster in an urban area with numerous deaths, wounded and diseased persons.
The level of (individual) resilience and self-sufficiency can possibly mean the difference between life and death.


The scenario for this survival first aid training plays out that the emergency services can not be reached, or do not have the capacity to provide relief, which is why you will need to rely on yourself and your fellow companions.

Survival First Aid

This survival first aid training is about learning to secure your own safety, recognising danger signals, regulating your breathing and learning to deal with fear and stress. It is also includes learning basic anatomy and physiology, elementary first aid techniques, the influence of our environment on our system and how best to protect ourselves from this (potentially hazardous) environment.

Wilderness Medicine

In Sweden, Finland and Estland knowledge of flora and fauna originally is an essential part of survival training and healing herbs and plants are used when treating trauma victims, for instance to stop bleeding and to promote the healing of wounds.


It is essential that participants learn to improvise with only minimal available resources. This ability is stimulated in an open and safe learning environment where a critical exploring mind and the ability to take on responsibility for your actions should be central. The training takes place in the field under basic conditions, where thinking and acting “out of the box” is a prerequisite to be able to save one's self.This is why it is essential to let go of all assumptions and to train the individual in asymmetrical and contrair thinking (and acting) and placing responsibility back with the individual.

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