Frozen to Death

It was brother Gaylon who first recommended the movie “The Shining” to me. Maybe he knew that I would find this horror film a particular favorite, and have frequently watched the deteriorating mental status of Jack Nicholson, to his eventual demise by freezing to death. While the location is supposedly a Colorado resort that is shut down every winter, the outside of this resort is filmed as none other than Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. If you haven’t seen the film, watch it. Brother Gaylon rarely is wrong in his film recommendations.

By the way, this is NOT a movie review. I am actually leading up to a recent trip that Betsy I just got back from. The full details of the trip are included in Kritik/Travel, which you might want to read if you are really bored and desperate for entertainment.
The trip was to Big Sky, Montana, to a Wilderness Medical Society Conference. That’s right! The Wilderness Medical Society. We learned all kinds of things, including both travel medicine (the treatment of bites and stings, poison plants, exotic diseases in rare places), as well as the full gamut of what one might see in a wilderness or outdoor setting, like on climbing, rafting, hiking, or skiing adventure. There were lectures on the types of injuries one would expect from skiing, from kayaking, etc., etc., and also how you go about rescuing such an individual. In the climbing arena, we learned all about hypothermia, frostbite, and the various altitude sicknesses, their pathophysiology, how to recognize and diagnose them, as well as how to treat them. We learned how to evacuate someone from deep in the woods, or high on a cliff, when they might have multiple fractures, a pneumothorax, spine injuries or organ injuries, or even brain damage (in many circumstances, they might have been brain-damaged before they ever started the adventure). We also spent a moderate amount of time learning how to prevent various injuries, and how to survive in such adverse settings. So, I built my first ever igloo and dug my first snow cave.

This igloo will hold two grown people. I realized that my previous attempts to build igloos were a total failure since I failed to angle the first blocks rapidly enough. If you do that, it is actually quite easy to build an igloo.

Off to build the snow cave

Digging out the cave

In the cave, all hot and steamy

The cave from the entrance-large enough for three people!
It was actually quite warm in the cave, and I am told that such a snow cave could be warmer than a tent. Igloos are a little easier to live in, as you could sit up in an igloo, something you could not do in a snow cave, unless the snow were really, really deep. If Jack only knew how to build a snow cave, he wouldn’t have ended up looking like the top photo. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.
Actually, when people freeze to death, they start taking off all their clothes, and often, you will find somebody in profound hypothermia or frozen to death in various states of undress. We now understand why that happens. Your body senses whether you are cold or not by the temperature of your skin. If your skin is cold, you feel cold. If your skin is warm but your core temperature is quite cold, e.g. 32 degrees centigrade (profound hypothermia), you will feel warm because your skin is warm. This is true and has been proven by the Military on human Guinea Pigs in San Francisco Bay in the 1970s. Sounds like an experiment Dr.  Mengele would have devised in his heyday. So, as you get colder and colder, your skin gets cold, and vasoconstricts because of autonomic activity to preserve core temperature. Once the core temperature drops too low, you lose your autonomics, your skin vasodilates and warms up, your brain thinks your warm, and you start taking off clothes. Pretty bizarre, but true. I don’t think brother Dennis in Belize will ever need to worry about this problem. But, I’d rather freeze to death, than die of Dengue, malaria, snake bite, or botfly infestations.
Can you imagine getting CME (continuing medical education) credits for building snow caves? Yes!!!!! The law requires us to fulfill so many CME hours every year. Up until now, I’ve gone to Society of Surgical Oncology meetings, American College of Surgeons meetings, various breast cancer meetings, and other specific cancer meetings. If I go to another cancer meeting soon, I am going to puke. So, I discovered the Wilderness Medical Society. They are for real, dudes and dudettes! This summer, I will be doing more WMS meetings, including getting my advanced wilderness life support (AWLS) certification. Pretty cool. I encourage all my doctor friends to join me in Moab, Utah in late May for this great event. E-mail me for details if you are interested. In addition, since it is a business trip, you write off the entire adventure on your taxes! Super-cool, dudes and dudettes, friends, fiends, and acquaintances. They have trips to Patagonia, Antarctica (REALLY freeze to death), Nepal, Tuscany, and all over the place. Why I didn’t discover this sooner is a total mystery to me. Don’t worry…I’ll be back to cancer meetings, but, this year, I need a sanity break.