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View Full Version : hypothermia and frostbite



jeseymour
11-12-2009, 06:18 PM
I'm almost embarrassed to be asking this, because I was a ski patroller for years, but I can't find a definitive answer. I have a character take a hike up a mountain in an ice storm and seek refuge in an old lift shack at the top. (This is an abandoned ski area.) The shack is not insulated, but it is dry and it is shelter. After the rain stops, the temperature is going to drop. My character gives his parka to another person whose coat got soaked through. He's sitting in this little building in blue jeans and a cotton turtleneck. I expect him to be there for a minimum of six hours. During that time the temperature will drop to about ten degrees farenheit. No gloves. Uninsulated boots, but his feet are dry. His jeans are probably wet from the hike in the rain. No hat. Can I realistically have him get seriously hypothermic? How about some frostbite, especially tips of fingers and maybe some toes? I don't want him to die, but he needs to be pretty much incapacitated for at least 24 to 48 hours after. If he loses a couple of fingertips and even some toes, so much the better. He will be taken to a small local hospital for treatment. If needed, he could be med-flighted out to a major hospital. What is a good time frame for him to develop serious hypothermia? I'm thinking maybe early stage 3 (body temp around 86 farenheit.) I do not want him to suffer any long-term effects though, no brain damage, no lasting organ damage. I'm not trying to kill him, but he has to be out of the picture for a day or two. Is six hours long enough? Too long? There is another person with him, but she has a large parka with a hood, she tucks this over her legs and pulls her hands inside the sleeves. She's also wearing a wool sweater and Sorels. They can't share the coat because they are tied up. :D

Thanks in advance! Any thoughts on the scenario that make it work would be welcome.

Maxinquaye
11-12-2009, 06:37 PM
Hypothermia is fatal after a few minutes in cold water. I don't know how long it would take on land, but since i grew up north of the arctic circle i have respect for cold weather.

You would have to have stage 3 hypothermia (where body temperature drops below 32 C 89.6 F ) to incapacitate a person. But stage 3 hypothermia often leads to vital organ failure.

How cold do you intend it to get?

(I should have read the middle too... Paragraphs! ;) )

Addition
You still need to define HOW cold it is. The body will cascade in hypothermia. Ie, stage 1 will lead to stage 2 when the body gives up outer extremity defences to protect internal organs, stage 3 will come when the outer extremities are cold enough.

But how long, i couldn't say - if it's on land. In the water, it could take just a few minutes to die.

DrZoidberg
11-12-2009, 07:26 PM
A detail for immersion is that when the body freezes the sensation is that, first it goes numb, you lose all feeling in it, then it burns and after that you feel sleepy. Also, when you reheat the body the pain is excruciating. I was quite young when this happened so my memory isn't 100%. Bits on the body that our frozen appear as white and after a patch like it is reheated it will be bright red, and can be for months.

Another detail is that I wasn't in any particular trouble since after defrosting I was fine without any permanent damage. I had good clothing, I was just outside, way too long in -35 Celsius, and it was windy.

Kitty Pryde
11-12-2009, 11:27 PM
I reckon the girls with the coats would be fine, but I would think your guy would be dead! Six hours in wet jeans in sub-zero temps, tied up so he can't move? Brr! I'm just making a guess here, but I would think for me I'd be near unconscious after half an hour of that, death to follow soon after. Also, no hat=your ears fall off!


I'm almost embarrassed to be asking this, because I was a ski patroller for years, but I can't find a definitive answer. I have a character take a hike up a mountain in an ice storm and seek refuge in an old lift shack at the top. (This is an abandoned ski area.) The shack is not insulated, but it is dry and it is shelter. After the rain stops, the temperature is going to drop. My character gives his parka to another person whose coat got soaked through. He's sitting in this little building in blue jeans and a cotton turtleneck. I expect him to be there for a minimum of six hours. During that time the temperature will drop to about ten degrees farenheit. No gloves. Uninsulated boots, but his feet are dry. His jeans are probably wet from the hike in the rain. No hat. Can I realistically have him get seriously hypothermic? How about some frostbite, especially tips of fingers and maybe some toes? I don't want him to die, but he needs to be pretty much incapacitated for at least 24 to 48 hours after. If he loses a couple of fingertips and even some toes, so much the better. He will be taken to a small local hospital for treatment. If needed, he could be med-flighted out to a major hospital. What is a good time frame for him to develop serious hypothermia? I'm thinking maybe early stage 3 (body temp around 86 farenheit.) I do not want him to suffer any long-term effects though, no brain damage, no lasting organ damage. I'm not trying to kill him, but he has to be out of the picture for a day or two. Is six hours long enough? Too long? There is another person with him, but she has a large parka with a hood, she tucks this over her legs and pulls her hands inside the sleeves. She's also wearing a wool sweater and Sorels. They can't share the coat because they are tied up. :D

Thanks in advance! Any thoughts on the scenario that make it work would be welcome.

StephanieFox
11-13-2009, 04:52 AM
You can get hypothermia when the temps are in the 40s, expecially if you are wet, but you need freezing temps (32 or below) for some time for the flesh to freeze and get frostbite. The colder it is the faster the freeze. Think the freezer section of the fridge and a steak.

I've had pre-frostbite a number of times. We call them chillblaines (not sure of the spelling and it might be a regionism). So have most kids who went out sledding and stayed out a little too long. It's no long term problem. I always put lotion on my feet and my mom would rub them to warm them. As they got back to regular temp they changed from white and pale to my normal color and itched like the Dickens. There was no after affect.

Your characters should huddle together as much as possible to share warmth.

L.C. Blackwell
11-13-2009, 05:30 AM
Stage 3, whew! I'm afraid if you don't go a little easier on the boy, you're going to kill him. Here is a nice little article from our friend Wiki (who I do not completely trust, so please check all data), which includes details of the hypothermic stages.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothermia

If you need to keep him in the hospital for a day or so, just have him fall down and hit his head good and hard--something the young lady keeping him company can tell the doctor. That plus a case of moderate shivery slightly confused hypothermia would make any sensible country doc keep him at least 24 hours for observation. And the doctor can always be late coming in the next day to sign the discharge papers. Ten degrees plus light clothing, plus wet, plus six hours immobile: BRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!! I am afraid we would be talking organ failure if not death.

Any doctors want to comment?