At higher altitudes, the body has to take deeper breaths and a greater number of breaths to acclimate. People often feel a shortness of breath as a result for a couple of days. Sound sleep can be compromised and exercise is made more difficult. Low humidity can lead to dehydration.
This is an environment that can challenge anyone. With all the trials the average HTM professional has to deal with everyday, you would think that adding the thin air of extra high altitudes would not be welcome. Think again.
Bryan Hees is a biomed with St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, Colo. The medical center is a Level III Trauma Center. Summit has served the residents of Summit County and the surrounding area since 1978. It is also the mountain base for Flight for Life Colorado with a helipad that can accommodate two helicopters.
There are currently only two biomeds who service the high altitude ski area hospital, Summit Medical Center, and ski area resort clinics; Copper Mountain clinic, Keystone Clinic, Breckenridge Clinic and Breckenridge’s Peak 8 Clinic.
Hees digs life above 9,000 feet. He is an avid outdoorsman and is in his element in some of the country’s highest altitudes.
Preparing for Mile-High HTM
Like many biomeds, Hees first learned of the HTM profession while visiting a hospital. In this case, he was a patient.
“I was hospitalized after a fall when climbing. During my hospital stay, a biomed came into the room I was in to work on the equipment and we got to talking about work and what he did on a daily basis. It got me interested enough (that) I checked into it and decided to pursue it as a career,” he says.
“I went back to school and got my associate (degree) in Biomedical Engineering Technology followed by my bachelor’s and am working towards my master’s in Healthcare Management,” Hees adds. “I do currently hold OEM (manufacturer) certifications in several fields including anesthesia, ventilators, C-arms, networking and monitoring systems (and) ultrasound and on the job trained in most modalities of imaging, life-support, and monitoring systems.”
Hees started out working in field service for Catholic Health Initiatives servicing the CHI hospitals in the greater Denver area, and decided to take the in-house position at Summit Medical Center for a more stable environment. Plus, he adds, “the enticement of all the activities the high country holds” made it hard to resist.
Working in an environment that can have extreme conditions does pose challenges that aren’t always found elsewhere.
“Our winters can last up nine months, during which (time), our ski clinics are running full blast. Getting to these clinics entails driving steep mountain passes on roads covered with snow and ice,” Hees says.
“Most days, our roads have up to four to six inches of snow and ice, which is where you pretty much have to learn to ice skate with your vehicle to make it where you want to go,” he adds. “Just getting to our clinics can be very stressful at times with traffic to the resorts and towns.”
On ski days, the town is double the capacity of its normal threshold and traffic jams occur due to accidents. Hees had to act fast one bad snow day. About a foot of snow fell in 30 minutes as he was called to duty.
“One such fun adventure came from this as I was called to fix some equipment on a clinic up on the mountain at Peak 8 clinic,” Hees recalls. “With overfull parking, the only way to get there was to grab my tool bag and a ticket on the gondola, ride it up the mountain to the ski patrol outpost clinic, where I proceeded to fix said equipment.”
Being one of only two available biomeds can mean being called to duty at any time.
“I was spending Christmas Eve evening with my wife and daughter in town checking out the Christmas lights and doing some last-minute shopping at the local outlet malls when I got an manic call from one of our surgical techs, who was repeating everything a very worried anesthesiologist was saying,” Hees remembers.
“There was a patient on the table, he had no O2 stats and was bagging said patient. I quickly collected my family, jumped into our SUV and sped up the interstate. Unfortunately, due to an accident on I-70 due to adverse conditions, we had to turn around (and) retrace our route. So, by the time I got there, the anesthesiologist had calmed down enough (that) we worked through to find the issues and fixed them quickly, so they could finish the case with a good outcome.”
Enjoying the High Country
You might think that Hees would retreat closer to sea level when not on the job. That is anything but the case. Leisure time will find him shreddin the slopes.
“Shredding or ‘shreddin,’ as the locals say, is a term used for skiing or snowboarding down the ski slope or backcountry mountainside during perfect conditions, leaving a trail cut by your skies or board — cutting up the mountain side and the snow,” he says.
“We have some of the best backcountry mountain biking in this county. Our trails are designed to punish and give you that great rush of excitement all rolled into one. Most trails will take you along mountain peaks with breathtaking views, down mountain sides with excellent jumps, turns, and switch backs that can get you seriously hurt if you don’t pay attention,” Hees enthuses.
In addition to skiing and mountain biking, Hees says that the kayaking is the best anywhere.
“My favorite runs include Ten Mile Creek and the Platte River. All of which are extremely dangerous for the amateur kayaker, with several deaths each year,” he says.
“Even though the hunting has gone downhill as of late, it still rates some of the best with the largest elk herds in the U.S. You get to spend beautiful fall days in the deep backcountry chasing some of the most majestic creatures on earth,” Hees says. “Plus you get to do some awesome fly-fishing during your hunts.”
He also enjoys backcountry snow-shoeing, although he cautions that the sport can be dangerous due to the potential for avalanches in the area. Along with working at high altitude, Hees and his family live at high altitude also. He even learned that the house they rent is owned by some famous celebrities.
In short, Hees says he is happy to live, work and play in the mountains.
It helps to work somewhere when you are in your element.
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