Death by Cold


My son had his first lacrosse game of the spring season today, and it was damn cold!  I know 32 degrees with a stiff northerly wind and intermittent snow isn’t incredibly cold, but when you are just sitting there watching the game, it gets uncomfortable pretty quick.  My son is in his second year of college, so I’ve been to my share of cold lacrosse games, and I know how to dress properly, mostly with my waterfowl hunting gear.  Yeah, I might look a bit out of place at a lacrosse game wearing a hooded, camouflage coat, wool pants, and camo muck boots, but I stay warm.  However the young college girl, Mallory, who does the game statistics with me, wasn’t quite as prepared, and she froze her ass off during the game.  Driving home afterwards I realized that I had never written an article about how to treat hypothermia.  Not that Mallory was hypothermic, but if it were a survival situation, it could easily have led to that, so I felt inspired to write about hypothermia tonight.

Keep in mind that I am not a doctor, so what I am going to tell you is not medical advice.  I am a survival expert though, and basic knowledge is something I feel confident in sharing with you.  As you probably know, the ideal body temperature is 98.6 degrees (37 C).  If a person’s body temperature drops to 95 degrees (35 C) then hypothermia will occur.  It’s amazing to me that only a few degrees of temperature drop can have such a drastic, life-threatening effect on the human body.

What usually brings on hypothermia is moisture mixed with the cold.  If someone falls in water or is wet from rain or snow and the temperature drops, that’s when it gets dangerous.  And it can happen in seasons other than winter.  The signs of hypothermia are:

·         Confusion, memory loss, or slurred speech

·         Exhaustion or drowsiness

·         Loss of consciousness

·         Numb hands or feet

·         Shallow breathing

·         Shivering

To treat hypothermia, the first thing you should do is make sure that you are not suffering the same condition; you can’t treat someone else if you are hypothermic, too.  Next, get the person out of the elements if possible.  If you are outdoors and don’t have access to a vehicle or a structure, get the person into some type of shelter.  Remove any wet clothing from the person, and wrap them in dry blankets or coats, whatever material you have available.  Focus on covering the head and neck.

Warmth is essential to treat hypothermia

Warmth is essential to treat hypothermia

If you have the ability to make warm water bottles, place them in the victim’s arm pits, groin, and stomach.  Be sure to wrap these in cloth; do not place them directly on the skin.  It is important to warm the victim’s core first, not their extremities, which can cause shock.  Do not immerse the victim in warm water as this can cause heart arrhythmia.  As you get the victim stable, give them something warm to drink.  Avoid any alcoholic beverages as that will worsen the victim’s condition.

treating hypothermia

Treating Hypothermia

If you begin to lose the victim, administer CPR.  I know CPR, but I am not going to give you instructions on how to do that in this article, it is really a skill that every outdoorsman should learn, or every person for that matter.  If you learned CPR a long time ago, you should take a refresher class as some tactics have changed and methods have improved.  But the basics still apply.

Your next priority is to get the victim to a hospital.  This act alone is often the cause of more mayhem than the condition itself, whatever the reason is for a trip to the emergency room.  A survivor needs to be able to keep their wits about them at all times.  If you are trying to get a loved one (or anyone) to an ER, you have to stay focused, alert, and calm.  I realize that is very difficult in the heat of a dire situation, but you have to bring that strength from within you, you have to be bigger than the situation.  Hopefully this knowledge, along with my other articles, will help you be the person that turns what could have been a tragedy into a story that gets told for generations by the campfire.