Winter First Aid
This will break off into all the types of cold weather-induced medical issues and I will have our resident Everest hardened, Army Mountain Division Trained, Green Beret Medic Ken Roberts lead that charge, but for now, I’ll skip past how to treat sunburn to heart attacks which are two of the winter concerns that he will cover and I’ll instead jump to the two that I look for the most during this time.
Frostbite is the formation of ice crystals in the dermal membrane which are formed by prolonged exposure to cold. This usually happens first in the nose, fingers, and toes and symptoms include loss of feeling or tingling. This is sometimes called Frostnip. Frostnip is not permanent but if it continues to the next stage it will become painful as the tissue begins to die. In the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, Frostbite was one of the leading causes of gangrene which ultimately resulted in amputation.
For treatment, don’t rub it. You can crush the crystals that have formed in the skin which will damage the skin. Instead, slowly defrost the appendage. Submerging it in warm but not hot water. From personal experience, it’s going to feel like you are getting stabbed in the hand. It can permanently damage the nerve endings in your hands. I remember after it happened to me one day I took a pan out of the oven and moved it to a trivet then smelled and saw the burns on my hand but didn’t feel it. Better go buy those mittens now.
Hypothermia is a condition when the body’s core temperature drops below 95*F. This is extremely dangerous and the brain is no longer functioning appropriately and so the victim may no longer have the clearness of thought to be able to treat themselves.
So how can you tell? Here are the signs I look for when determining if someone is hypothermic:
- Exhaustion or feeling very tired
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
What should you do if you find someone like this?
- Get them inside – If the elements are the thing that is killing them, get them out of the elements. I know that sounds elementary, but it needs to be said. Focus on getting them indoors.
- Get them dry – It is extremely hard to reheat an individual that is wet and cold. Solve the problem of them being wet first even if it means that you strip them naked.
- Get them warm – Focus on the center of their chest. If you can get the heart warm it will heat the blood and push the heat to the rest of the body like a boiler and radiators. Get electric blankets, heat packs, or even yourself against them to warm the core.
- Keep them breathing – If they appear not to be breathing, you have hit the next level of the ‘rule of 3’. You can only go for about 3 minutes without oxygenated blood. Start CPR immediately. You need to get oxygen into the lungs and to the heart and make the heart push it.
- Get them to medical care – Unless you are a doctor, get them to one. The damage done to them needs to be assessed and treated. Even if they seem like they are getting back to normal, get them to a doctor as soon as it is safe.
Family Communication Plan
So I created a whole separate post for this because it is too much to add on here. Check out How To Build a Family Communication Plan by following the link. In short, you need to understand how to find out if your loved ones are okay. If they are safe and somewhere else, that is fine. don’t risk either of your lives trying to get them back home. An auto accident is the most dangerous thing which is what you are trying to avoid. Check out the plan and test yours at least twice a year.
Stay smart. Stay warm. Reduce risk. Just be a good person. Those are the keys to living through winter weather.