Heartwarming Moment: 12:20-1:09 p.m. Steinman suggests a warming technique pioneered 30 years ago by Lief Vangaard, a physician in the Danish Navy. The Coasties fill four buckets with warm water, one each for my hands and feet. Studies have shown hand and foot immersion can be a safe and effective way to rewarm victims. The water feels great, but my core temperature advances at a snail's pace.
Beardsley walks me over to an ambulance, then ferries me to the Coast Guard station's shower room. En route, my temperature drops again. Then the blessed hot water splashes over my body, and for the first time in three hours, I feel warm. After 25 minutes my core reaches 98.5 and I begin, ever so slightly, to sweat.
Some Like It Hot: At lunch, I down three pints of ice water. "Once you rehydrate all the fluid you lost from the diuresis," Steinman says, "you should have no residual effects from today's experience."
It's hard not to imagine hypothermia victims whose fates were not so fortuitous. For today's experiment, I immersed myself inches off a Coast Guard dock, flanked by a dozen folks trained in search and rescue, a fully equipped paramedic, and one of the world's most knowledgeable experts in immersion hypothermia. Despite all this, my rewarming still went slightly awry, something to keep in mind the next time you venture offshore.
Undoing a Dunk: If you're planning to cruise chilly seas, it's critical to be prepared for an inadvertent dunk. Depending on how cold the water is-and how far from populated areas you plan to venture-a survival suit may be de rigueur, says Al Steinman, M.D., a retired Coast Guard Rear Admiral and one of the nation's preeminent immersion hypothermia researchers.
A man overboard situation is an all too likely occurrence. Assuming you manage to get the victim safely back on deck, you'll need to assess his condition and take prompt action.
If the hypothermia is moderate to severe (rectal body temperature below 90°F, confusion, cessation of effective shivering), call the Coast Guard immediately so a Medivac unit can take the victim to a hospital for emergency rewarming. Until help arrives, handle the person gently to reduce the chance of cardiac instability. Provide insulation and an external heat source, but don't give any food or beverages-they can cause choking.
For milder hypothermia (rectal body temperature above 90°F), if the victim is lucid and effectively shivering, he can usually rewarm effectively on his own, provided you stem any further heat loss. But there are still steps you can take.
- -Shelter the victim from wind and rain.
- -Remove any wet clothes and replace with dry.
- -Insulate his body with a space blanket. If you don't have one, try a sleeping bag. In a serious pinch, wrap him in your boat's canvas.
- -Apply external heat, such as chemical heat packs or hot-water bottles, to high heat exchange body areas such as the armpits, neck, and groin. Wrap him in a towel so you don't burn the skin.
- -If you're certain the victim can swallow normally, offer warm liquids and high-energy foods. Never give the victim alcohol.
- -Consider crawling into the sleeping bag or under the covering with the victim. Though studies have failed to show this hastens rewarming, some people find it psychologically appealing.
- -Once the victim's temperature is back to normal, make sure he drinks plenty of liquids to make up for the dehydrating effects of hypothermia.