Twelve-year-old Erick Cole was sick at heart, and scared. Erick and his little brother, Andy, 4, had been sledding together out in the Nebraska snow. When it came time to go home, Erick decided to make another run; Andy said he’d wait for his big brother at the bottom of the hill.
But as Erick reached the end of his final slide, he discovered Andy had vanished! The temperature was dropping quickly, and soon Erick was desperate in his search for Andy.
Where could he be?
The older boy walked near an abandoned construction pit, calling “Andy! Andy!” That’s when Erick heard a weak cry. His brother had slipped into the pit and was too small to climb out.
Erick jumped down into the pit to rescue him. Andy was dazed, crying and unable to walk. Gently, Erick picked him up and carried Andy to the nearest house. It was a close call. Andy survived, but the cold had almost killed him.
Your body gets energy from the food and water you consume. As you process food and water, heat is released, keeping you warm inside. Usually you make more heat than you need. Your body sheds the excess heat through conduction, convection, evaporation, and radiation to stabilize your inner (core) temperature at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Too Much Cold
When you lose heat faster than you make it—Andy’s problem—your internal temperature begins to fall. A drop in core temperature is called hypothermia. A hypothermic person develops increasingly serious problems as his body continues to cool down.
- Confusion and trouble solving problems, plus mild shivering.
- Stumbling and stronger shivering, pale skin, having trouble speaking and an “I-don’t-care” attitude.
- Inability to walk and horrible shivers.
- Slow heartbeat and breathing. Skin turns blue. Muscles grow rigid. Shivering stops for the same reason a motor dies—there’s no more fuel. Then, death.
Someone who can still shiver, walk and talk has mild hypothermia. You can warm that person back up to normal body temperature.
It’s simple. Here’s how:
Change any wet clothing for dry stuff. Add extra dry layers of clothing to provide more insulation. Also, use blankets or something similar to insulate the person from the cold ground. Offer him fluids, especially warm, sweet fluids like hot cider or sweetened tea, as well as high-energy foods, such as candy. If you can, get the person to a source of heat, such as a fire.
Severe hypothermia starts when someone can’t shiver anymore. Handle the person with care. No rough stuff. Take off his damp clothing. Bundle him in warm, dry layers and make sure there’s insulation underneath him.
Wrap him in something waterproof and windproof, such as a tent fly, and be careful that his head is protected from the cold, too. Then go for help.
The best medicine is prevention. Here are some ways to prevent hypothermia:
- Wear clothes designed to keep you warm in the cold.
- Wear lots of thin layers of clothes instead of one heavy garment, such as a coat. If you get warm and sweaty, take off a layer to let the sweat dry. If you start feeling cold again, add layers of clothing.
- Drink and eat a lot, so your body has plenty of “fuel” to generate heat.
- In a group, watch out for hypothermia’s symptoms in others. They may not realize they are becoming hypothermic.