Don’t Panic – It’s Not As Bad As You Think
Times are tough, but you will survive!
Doctor Gordon Giesbrecht, director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, wants to dispel the myth that hypothermia kills quickly. “If you think you have just minutes to live, you tend to panic and then you do things that are more likely to bring about a negative result.” 95 percent of those who perish in cold water aren’t actually hypothermic, he says. Their body temperatures turn out to be almost normal. Cold doesn’t kill them. It’s the terror that leads to drowning and heart attacks.
What to do? Dr. Giesbrecht recommends a straightforward 1-10-1 system: One minute to get breathing under control, 10 minutes after that for meaningful movement, and one hour after that before you lose consciousness. “Survive the first minute,” Giesbrecht says, “and you’re on your way to saving your life.” The most immediate danger comes from what’s called the “cold shock” in the first minute. This includes a gasp reflex followed by uncontrolled breathing known as hyperventilation. As one gasps for air you inhale in freezing water, making it very difficult to coordinate your swimming. Your first goal is to fight your panic and get control of your breathing. Do that within the first minute. Stay calm. Next, you’ve got ten minutes to move. Swim to safety or the safest spot you can find and crawl out of the water. After ten minutes, your muscles and nerve fibers get so cold that they don’t function anymore. If you’re running out of time and can’t climb out of the water, attempt to position your wet arms so that they will freeze on to the ice so that when you lose consciousness you won’t sink into the water. After that you’ve got about one hour before you lose consciousness.