Monday, 22 November 2010

Emergency first aid and the death of Gísli Súrsson

I learnt an enormous amount on the two-day St John Ambulance course I attended over the weekend, most of which I hope I never have to put into practice. All very good to know, though some of the material was less relevant to survival in Iceland. As in Ireland, there are no snakes over there so I won´t have to deal with venomous serpent bites. In the notes I took on dealing with dog bites, I idly jotted down 'polar bears?'...but while a number of these beasts have drifted over to Iceland on icebergs in recent years, they´ve been rounded up practically before they were given the opportunity to open their jaws. I paid careful attention to recognising the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite and to how to treat these conditions; shouldn´t think that heatstroke will be a particular problem. 

My thoughts turned to the sagas when the course instructor, talking about how to treat puncture-wounds to the abdomen, advised us not to attempt to poke intestines back in if they´ve slipped out. They´re like sausages, apparently, and if one tries to stuff them back inside, they'll just pop out again... One of the most famous medieval Icelandic outlaw-heroes, Gísli Súrsson, clearly had the right idea here as far as emergency gut treatment is concerned (Old Norse-Icelandic, followed by my loose translation). Amazing what the sagas can teach you.

Nú sœkja þeir Eyjólfr at fast ok frændr hans; þeir sá, at þar lá við sœmð þeira ok virðing. Leggja þeir þá til hans með spjótum, svá at út falla iðrin, en hann sveipar at sér iðrunum ok skyrtunni ok bindr at fyrir neðan með reipinu.

"Now Eyjólfr and his men attack Gísli hard; they saw that their honour and reputation depended on this. They thrust at Gísli with their spears so that his guts spill out, but Gísli gathers his intestines and shirt to him and binds them fast underneath with a rope."

The sagas have less to say about the inner workings of modern road vehicles: my intensive first-hand crash-course in Landy mechanics starts on Wednesday. Details to follow -- and perhaps an action shot of me wielding a spanner in my ultra-stylish padded orange overalls.

Illustration of Gísli Súrsson by C. E. St John Mildmay, in The Story of Gisli the Outlaw, trans. Sir G. W. Dasent (Edinburgh, 1866). Disclaimer: I am not sure how widespread the jaunty style of hat Gísli is sporting here actually was in 10th-century Iceland.


  1. Hope you won't have to play "SurvivorEmily"!

  2. @Janne -- don't worry, I won't let anyone come near my tummy with spear x

  3. A pair of necropants could come in handy