In Wyoming, Rulon Gardner went snowmobiling in 2002, a couple of years after winning the Olympic gold medal in wrestling. “I told myself it would only take a few days,” he said. “We planned to leave around three hours and return for supper.”
However, he got lost and spent 17 hours stranded. According to the AP, the temperature dropped as low as 25 below zero.
By the time Gardner was discovered and airlifted to a hospital, he had developed severe hypothermia and severely frozen feet. However, he only suffered one toe loss as a result of his ordeal.
What Most People Don’t Learn About Cold-Weather Survival
As I wrote in this article, one reason Gardner’s frostbite didn’t result in greater devastation is that his feet remained frozen after they were initially frozen. He didn’t thaw them so that they could freeze again.
That’s something most people aren’t aware of. He may not have either; he simply stated that he had to choose between keeping his hands or his feet warm. His father said that Gardner’s “knowledge of the cold” assisted him in surviving. However, there are critical medical standards for preserving life and limb that aren’t addressed in wilderness survival training.
Here are my top-15 things not to do if you’re caught in the cold. These ideas could assist you stay alive and have a better outcome when you are rescued.
1. Don’t reheat and refreeze. If you’re going to refreeze a frozen body part, don’t warm it up if you think it’ll just refreeze. Refreezing will certainly destroy the tissue. (With severe frostbite, the skin is gray or white and hard.) From my previous post:
Cover the surface lightly to protect it. If you expect to go to a medical facility within two hours, only rewarm if you think you can keep the area warm enough that it won’t refreeze.
2. If at all feasible, avoid walking on a limb with severe frostbite. This will cause the tissue to be further damaged.
3. Rubbing your skin to warm it up isn’t necessary. The blood is drawn away from the core and to the surface when you rub your skin. You feel warmer, but your vital organs are colder. When it’s at the surface, heat escapes from your body more quickly. Rubbing can also cause frostbite if your skin has been frozen.
4. Don’t get wet. That is, after all, a simple idea. You’ll become chilly faster and at a greater level of discomfort.
5. Don’t become dehydrated. You may not feel thirsty when it’s cold, but don’t forget to drink. Keeping hydrated keeps your blood moving and makes you warm.
6. Avoid drinking alcohol. In general, stay away from alcohol since it might dehydrate you, affect your judgment, and reduce the body’s ability to keep its core warm. There is, however, this tale of a man who subsisted on Coors light during the Great Depression.
7. Don’t forget to eat. Food, again, is something else on your plate that you should be concerned about. (If you do feel hungry, as well as sick and tired, keep in mind that those are early indicators of low body temperature.)
8. Don’t go adventuring. There’s a reason for it beyond what you learn in wilderness-survival training. Yes, staying in one location makes it easier for others to locate you, but tiredness raises your chances of severe frostbite.
9. Don’t concentrate on frostbite more than hypothermia. You may lose a foot if you have frostbite. You might lose your life if you have hypothermia. The first step is to maintain your core temperature.
10. Don’t rely on your sense of feeling chilly. Moderate hypothermia causes mental fog and weariness. Your shivering may cease, and you may believe you are becoming warmer. Some people who have hypothermia remove their clothing. We’re not sure why it happens, but perhaps they believe they aren’t cold anymore.
11. You shouldn’t count on your instinct. If you’re with someone, keep an eye on each other since hypothermia causes amnesia.
12. Don’t forget about the special requirements of trauma survivors. If you’re assisting someone who has been injured, they may not be aware that they are becoming chilly. It will be your responsibility to ensure they are adequately covered.
13. Don’t forget that small children and the elderly may require additional help staying warm. Children lose heat faster but may not be aware of it. Seniors also might have trouble determining their body temperature.
14. Don’t poison yourself. Be wary of carbon monoxide poisoning if you’re trapped in a vehicle or a tent. Even smoldering coals give off this odorless gas. Learn more about how to avoid and treat carbon monoxide poisoning here. Heating rocks outside before bringing them in for warmth is one method to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
15. Don’t put it off any longer. If you’re injured and need medical treatment, your best chance of surviving is most likely at a hospital. If you’re saved by passers-by, a wait-and-see approach in a warm cabin, for example, is probably not advised if you have the option of going to a medical facility. These articles might be useful if you don’t have the choice of getting to a hospital:
Do you have any unique cold-weather survival advice? Do you have any ideas to share on this issue?
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