Most of the USA goes into a deep freeze at some point during the winter. Sadly, people have been known to die because they get stuck in their cars during blizzards. Some have frozen to death in their own homes when power was lost and the heat went off. Tragedies to be sure.
Why can’t humans survive in the severe cold? What happens to the body?
Damage to the eyes:
Your eyeballs can’t really freeze solid in ordinary outdoor activities, but you could do serious damage to them if you don’t wear goggles in extreme temperatures. Runners note: the eyes might tear a bit more, but the eyelids will blink, and deliver the salt (naturally found in tears) to coat the eyeball, effectively lowering the freezing point of the tears themselves. It is possible for the eyeball to freeze temporarily during extreme sports – like the challenging cross country Iditarod races in Alaska – but lesser symptoms (blurred vision, frostbite) can also impair a contestant’s ability to complete the course. Doctor intervention might be necessary if either of these problems occur, because otherwise, injury to the body can be permanent.
Damage to the skin/muscles:
Feet, fingers, and toes can freeze to the point of pieces falling off, or needing to be amputated. Frostnip can freeze the skin, but frostbite can freeze not just the skin, but muscles, tissues and fat beneath it. Plus, if the wind chill drops below -40F, your skin can freeze within minutes if you’re not wearing the proper gear.
I had the wrong gloves with me while on a ski trip in colder-than-we-expected temperatures years ago. True story: it only took ten minutes for my fingers to be in great pain. I knew there was a problem after five and headed to the lodge. I got first aid, and new gloves, but I stayed inside until the outside temperatures rose in the afternoon. My thumbs hurt now, just thinking about it.
Sound scary? How about this: the longer you’re exposed, the more likely it is that any damage will be permanent and/or involve amputation. I got lucky. I was minutes away from help.
Cold can kill:
Listen to the weather forecasters and government officials when they tell you to stay indoors during extremely cold weather. If you’re not dressed properly or are in a place without shelter, you might die in the wrong combination of circumstances. Every year, people in North America die from a variety of situations where exposure to the elements overtook the body’s ability to cope. In the first week of January, 2018, when temperatures dropped unexpectedly across wide swaths of North America, ten people died.
The human body maintains a core temperature of 98.6F (37 C) and when it drops, hypothermia can set in. Even a 4-5 degree drop, if accompanied by constant shivering, tiredness, and rapid breathing, can signal the onset.
We wear insulated jackets, gloves, and hats to avoid getting chilled. They trap the air around our bodies and keep in the heat. But, if the clothes get wet (say you fall through the ice while skating) the insulating effects are gone and there will be rapid body heat loss, as if you weren’t wearing that winter jacket at all. Interesting factoid: Your body type also determines how quickly you lose heat: Tall, slender people become cold much faster than shorter, heavier types.
There are levels of hypothermia. In moderate hypothermia, symptoms might include poor coordination, slurred speech, confusion, and slowed breathing. In severe hypothermia, symptoms might make it hard to tell if the person is alive or dead. They’ll lose consciousness, their breathing might become too shallow to detect, the pulse will be weak, or irregular, and pupils will be dilated. Severe hypothermia is often fatal.
How could this happen? Why would people put themselves into a situation where they might lose limbs, or even die? That forgotten bottle of milk at the store that is 20 miles away? The unexpected emergency trip to a sick relative, when you left home before the storm arrived? Braving the elements to prove something to your friends? Extreme Sports competitions? You name it. Be prepared and most of the risk for a bad ending goes away.
Dress in layers, wear a hat and gloves, wear goggles or glasses when in the snow, cover exposed skin, bring pets indoors, stock the car with water and blankets. Read “Snow Shoveling and Heart Attacks,” and “Get Ready for the Blizzard” for more prevention/survival tips.
Now that you’ve read all the bad things about getting too cold for your own good, remember that First Responders – police, firefighters, and EMS personnel – have to be out in the worst of the worst conditions. They go to work so that you can be rescued or saved from harm.
Be kind. Follow directions. Stay home if you can. Dress appropriately, no matter what activity takes you out into the cold.
For more information about the effects of severe cold on the body, see: http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/hypocold.shtml
Thanks to the readers around the world, we have reached another milestone. This is page # 200 for Kerrian’s Notebook. 🙂 Hear Hammett barking? And the shovels clanking?
When Kerrian’s Notebook came into being, Charlie and Sheila Kerrian never expected to be around for 200 pages, not counting the additional posts devoted to our famous (or is that infamous?) Visiting Detectives. That’s a ton of cases, a ton of fun, facts, and a few dead bodies.
In honor of that milestone, we have come up with a few more ways to die an unnatural death, bringing the total on our deadly lists to a lethal 200.
Unnatural death is a category used by coroners and Medical Examiners for classifying human deaths that can’t really be described as death by natural causes. It might cover events such as accidents, homicide, clueless behavior, being attacked by wildlife, or even war.
Keep in mind that law enforcement personnel only investigate these deaths if foul play is suspected. Criminal intent is not always apparent, and autopsies are only conducted when suspicious circumstances surround the corpse’s demise.
Many thanks to all of you that contributed to our earlier lists. It wouldn’t have been as much fun without your (sometimes nefarious) methods of offing some unlucky souls. 🙂
Take a look:
and now… 20 more ways to die an unnatural death.
All true, folks, but #194? Maybe that explains all the Hallmark TV episodes where the good guys are hiding in closets with LOTS of air holes.
The real question: Do you have friends that will help carry the shovels and pitchforks? 😉
If you are a writer and have used any of the ‘200 ways’ in your work, let us know in the comments and you can plug your book here. 🙂
*Photos by Patti Phillips, but nothing dastardly happened while she took them and no bodies were left behind. Promise.
*Kerrian’s Notebook, and all of its content, is intended for entertainment purposes only.
It’s been a very wet year. We have lived through a hurricane, flooding, high water levels, squishy lawns, damp/wet cellars, and fewer sunny days during the summer than I can ever remember from the past. That leads to outdoor creatures being flooded out of their nooks and crannies below the ground and in the woods. Mice and most snakes and insects don’t like wet feet any more than humans do, so they tend to go to places like houses and barns to dry out.
Not long ago, Sheila had a late evening craving for a cup of tea, went to the kitchen and turned on the overhead light.
And saw a mouse racing toward the stove along the top of the half-inch wide backsplash.
Then screamed that horrible, deep-throated scream that always makes me think that Freddy Krueger is headed our way with a meat cleaver.
After the screaming and barking stopped – I’m not admitting to more than one person screaming – we did the snap mousetrap bit, but he was smarter than we were. He knew what we were up to – or else he just didn’t like our goodies. Almond butter? Bird seed? Bits of fruit? Cheese? Nope, not a nibble. Placing poison inside the house was not an option because of Hammett, our wonderful Irish Setter.
We finally called the Killer Elite Squad – the exterminators. They came, they saw, and did things under the house. We wanted the furry creature gone or at least chased back to his old home in the woods. The plumber came and plugged up holes under the house. The electrician came and closed up gaps near a socket in the garage. Mission hopefully accomplished.
We haven’t seen the invader since and Sheila has finally returned to the kitchen after a week of carefully avoiding that scary room. Hammett has snuffled at the doorway. Big sigh of relief here. I can cook, but only to survive, and take-out dinner from a limited selection of restaurants every night is not as exciting as you might first imagine.
Part of the solution under the house involved poison and it made me think about the consequences of it getting into conniving, possibly murderous hands. Mice and humans are both mammals, after all, and what is lethal for one might also be deadly for the other in the right quantities. Rodent poison is readily available to anyone, sitting on grocery, hardware, and big box store shelves alike. Bonus? There is a perfectly good reason to buy it. Who would suspect anything devious behind the simple purchase of a couple of boxes of the stuff, especially this time of year?
Why does it work? The main ingredient, brodifacoum, causes blood to stop coagulating. Brodifacoum causes death in mice by thinning their blood so much that they hemorrhage. Death is not immediate, so they crawl away or return to eat more of the stuff, oblivious to its harmful effect.
In theory, mouse poison could kill a person if administered in enough quantity over a period of time, also causing them to hemorrhage. But, in all honesty, the flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, etc. would send you to the doctor long before death could occur, especially if the symptoms worsen. Who would want to deal with that any longer than necessary? Plus, the amount needed to do in a grownup is considerable. And there is an easy antidote – vitamin K – which acts as speedy coagulant.
Poisons are used in books and other media to get rid of victims all the time, but is feeding rat poison to the potential victim a method that is used outside the entertainment industry?
It turns out that about ten years ago in real-life, a disturbed teenager from the Midwest decided to make his family sick, a little at a time. He mixed the poison in with their food over several weeks until they finally realized that they were getting lots worse, with numerous bouts of painful symptoms. A doctor visit revealed the truth.
At this point I usually say that no bodies were found while researching and/or writing this post. Maybe not this time, but if you hear screaming in the future, I promise you: There will be. Of the furry kind.
*Photo credit? the internet. Sheila was too busy screaming to take a photo. 😉
The Kerrians are fictional characters, but the mouse debacle really happened.