This week's question is from Yvonne Osborne. She asks:
One of my characters falls through the ice far from civilization and is rescued but not before hypothermia sets in. Would she be confused about where she is and who she is? Memory loss? I've heard (and have written it so) that the best way to warm a victim after such trauma is to get them out of the wet clothes immediately and into a sleeping bag or under blankets, ideally with a healthy, warm individual who could best share their body warmth by disrobing and lying with the victim. Is this an accurate assumption? It makes for a steamy situtaion but I don't want to be too far off the logical track.
Steamy, indeed! But before the romantic body warming begins, let's talk about hypothermia.
Being immersed in near-freezing water, a human's chance of survival decreases the longer they're in it. So your character, assuming she needs to survive this catastrophe, would have to be in less than 20 minutes for the best chances possible.
Diving into cold water causes the "Mammalian Diving Reflex" which causes the blood in the body to be shunted to vital organs, namely the heart and brain. The heart rate will decreases and the blood vessels to the limbs constrict, keeping the warm blood circulating in the center part of the body.
The symptoms of hypothermia depend on how severe it is.
In mild hypothermia (core temperature of 90-95 degrees F), she might have difficulty walking straight, uncontrolled shivering, fast breathing, difficulty speaking, and impaired judgement.
With moderate hypothermia (core temperature of 82-90 degrees F) she might have a slow breathing rate, sleepiness and grogginess, the inability to shiver, and something called "paradoxical undressing."
As for the treatment?
With mild hypothermia, passive external rewarming is the treatment. It includes taking off any wet clothes and just bundling up the person in warm, dry clothes and letting their own bodies rewarm themselves.
With moderate hypothermia, you can do active external rewarming, namely stripping the victim down to the skivvies, and having a warm person do the same (steamy moment coming soon...) and have them make a human burrito in a sleeping bag.
Fan yourselves, readers!
The key is to rewarm the person's core, before you work on their extremities. If you rewarm the arms and legs first, that cold blood has a lot of acid in it from the poor circulation, and flushing the heart with that cold, acidic blood quickly can cause fatal arrhythmias.
For severe hypothermia, there is also passive internal rewarming, using warmed IV fluids and flushing the stomach and colon with warmed fluids. I know, I know. I'll say if for you. Eww. They can even flush the cavity surrounding your intestines and lungs too.
So Yvonne, you're all set for the scene. Except for the memory loss, which isn't a usual symptom, everything else looks good to go. It makes the best sense to make the romance happen that way. Why, he's saving her life after all!
Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!
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