The Ice Man Cometh: 11:09-11:15 a.m. On shore, Beardsley has fashioned a rewarming bed. To reach this, I need to walk less than 10 yards. By the time I make it there, my body temperature dips another half degree. This phenomenon, explains Steinman, is called "after drop," triggered when exercise causes the cold blood in my extremities to recirculate back to the core.
In victims of severe hypothermia, after drop can be fatal. The reason: A cold heart is a cranky heart. The blood recirculating from the extremities is more than just cold-it's borderline poisonous, thanks to an accumulation of unfiltered metabolic wastes. To an already vulnerable heart, this is a prescription for cardiac arrest.
Which is why rescuers such as Beardsley handle severe hypothermia victims with extreme care: minimize jostling, keeping them horizontal, and rewarming from the core outward. Some state-of-the-art ways to do this include providing heated, humidified oxygen; transfusing with 102°F fluids; and placing victims on a heart-lung bypass machine that removes cold blood, rewarms it, and recirculates it.
Fortunately, I have what Steinman defines as "significant mild hypothermia," which means my odds of cardiac arrest are nil. By the time I hit the rewarming bed, my rectal readout has dropped to 95.6°F. "Your heart," says Steinman, "is probably another degree colder than that because the rectal temperature lags the core." I am now literally the most cold-blooded person I know.
Mr. Heat Meiser: 11:15-11:20 a.m. Beardsley covers me with the Bair Hugger 505, a forced-air rewarmer that looks like a pool raft connected to a hair dryer. When he throws the switch, lukewarm air exits the vent holes and circulates over my goose-pimpled flesh. I tell myself that my skin is still too cold to sense warmth. Then I start a new round of shivering, far more severe than when I was in the water. In five minutes, my temperature climbs to 96.2 and the shivering stops. I feel colder than I have all day.
Hot to Trot: 11:20 a.m.-12:20 p.m. When my temperature suddenly drops back to 96.1, Steinman looks nervous-clearly, this is not the direction I'm supposed to be heading. For seven minutes, my temperature doesn't budge. Beardsley checks the Bair Hugger and finds a problem with the electrical outlet. Steinman puts some chemical heat packs under my neck and feet and Beardsley covers me with a space blanket and two thermal blankets. After five minutes, my temperature creeps up 0.1 degree. After a full hour, I'm up to 96.8-still 3.5 degrees below this morning's fever.