The first time I talked to Paul Auerbach was by telephone in the early 1990s. I was an undergrad art major in college with dreadlocks, just thinking about medical school, and had heard about a way to combine my love for wild places with medicine. When I reached out to Paul and told him that this “wilderness medicine thing” sounded like an awesome career path, he asked me, “Do you ever want to own a house? Have a family? Then you’re going to need a real job…” What started as an innocuous conversation almost 30 years ago would go on to define my career.
The first time I met Paul in person was 8 years later. I was in my last year of emergency medicine residency and was keen to take my newly learned skills of “anytime, anywhere” medicine out of the hospital and into resource limited conditions. We hung out at a SCUBA diving conference for a week, talking emergency medicine and career paths in wilderness medicine.
I went back to Manhattan, dreaming of coral reefs and blue water pelagics. Then I got an invitation from Paul to co-author a book chapter with him on dive medicine. Paul was the ultimate initiator, with a world of opportunities he had built from a lifetime bringing wilderness medicine into existence. He seemed to drop projects like fairy dust, sprinkling it among the hungry academic masses to see which sprout would take those gems of opportunity to walk through the doors that he had shouldered open.
The first time I worked with Paul was a year later, ten years after we had first spoken by phone and he had called out my naïve aspirations. I moved out to Stanford after residency and joined the emergency medicine faculty as a Wilderness Medicine Fellow—the second fellow in what was the first fellowship of its kind in the United States.
Over the ensuing 17 years, I found Paul would always be available to crack the doors of opportunity. When I was searching for a publisher for my first book, Paul gave me a number to call. When I was looking for funding to establish a high altitude clinical trial registry in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, Paul found the pathway to get me the green light. When I asked Paul for insights—how to give a national lecture, where to write a new book chapter on the under-appreciated subject of foot blisters, or how to best define and defend our nascent specialty wilderness medicine within the house of medicine—he sprinkled his fairy dust and made it happen.
One of the major life lessons Paul taught me was a form of magical realism: that through a unique world vision and purpose, we could create something novel and wonderful and magical—and will it into existence. I saw this through Paul’s words and actions too many times to count, and I always thanked him for it. His generosity of spirit and time to the world was inspiring, and his constant enthusiasm to grow, redefine, and create something new and poignant was amazing to behold.
A few weeks before Paul’s untimely death, I shared with him my latest project, the GOES Health App (Global Outdoor Emergency Support). This is the first digital expression of wilderness medicine. Through the GOES Health App we have been able to harness the talent and energy of 25 emergency physicians fellowship-trained in wilderness medicine. Anyone experiencing an outdoor emergency can now connect with them via a 24/7 emergency hotline or text support. Also, we have concentrated decades worth of evidence-based wilderness medicine information, and curated it by activity and environment for an individualized approach to help plan and prepare. This is all designed to help make the best decisions in an outdoor medical situation, even when off-line.
I wanted to let Paul know that for the first time, a group of doctors who had specialized trained in an area of medicine he created, were helping take care of people as they traveled in the outdoors—epitomizing a career path Paul spent his life celebrating.
I don’t know if Paul ever read my email. I wanted him to know that GOES Health App was my personal expression of how to take wilderness medicine into a new dimension, making outdoor activity safer, more inclusive, and more accessible than ever. GOES is a direct result of Auerbach’s almost 30 year role to me as a teacher, mentor, collaborator, and visionary—in a specialty that he created out of the strength of his own vision.
As a tribute to Paul Auerbach’s life and memory, I would like to offer a one month membership voucher to the 24/7 emergency hotline. Please contact us if you are interested.
Get out there and stay safe,
Grant S Lipman, MD
Founder, Global Outdoor Emergency Support