“Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety.” —Leviticus 25:18.
For most of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, wintertime means months of cold weather. Folks living in the Southeastern or Southern United States may not feel much of a chill, but this time of year can be particularly hazardous to the Northerners around the world. Unless carefully planned for, cold weather can expose us to injury and illness. Vehicle accidents account for 70 percent of the reported snow and ice injuries. Another 25 percent of cold-weather injuries occur when people are caught outside in a storm. Most snow/ice injuries happen to males over the age of 40. Injuries related to cold occur to people over the age of 60 in 50 percent of the cases. More than 75 percent of cold injuries occur to males, and about 20 percent happen in the home.
Exposure to cold can lead to hypothermia or frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to below 95° F (35° C). Hypothermia can be deadly, but for those who survive, the resulting kidney, liver, and pancreas problems can be lifelong. Some of the danger signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness, dizziness, and exhaustion.
Frostbite is damage to the tissues of the body caused by cold. The cells of this damaged tissue are dead or dying, so it is important for a person experiencing frostbite to seek medical help immediately. Signs of frostbite include loss of feeling and a grey, white, or pale appearance to the extremities, especially the fingers, toes, ears, and nose. The skin must be rewarmed as soon as possible.
Frostbite and hypothermia can occur even when the temperatures are not extremely low. Wind chill is a phenomenon that can cause these injuries quickly. Wind chill is not the actual temperature but how the combination of wind and cold feel. A wind chill factor of -20° F (-28.8° C), for instance, will cause frostbite within only 30 minutes.
If medical help is not available, warm the person slowly, beginning first with the torso and head. Warming the extremities first can drive cold blood to the heart and cause it to fail. Help the person into dry clothing and wrap them with blankets, including the head and neck. You may have to use your own body heat to help warm them. The person may be given warm, but not hot, fluids. Do not give them food, alcohol, caffeine, or drugs.
Clearly, it is best to be prepared for the expected and, when possible, the unexpected. When going outside in cold weather, dress in layers. If you become warm, you can always take off layers, but have the extra clothing available if it is needed. Since half of our body heat is lost from the head, wear a hat. The hat should also cover the ears for added protection. Mittens will keep hands and fingers warmer than will gloves, but you may want to have gloves available, if you have to use your fingers. It is very important to keep your feet warm and dry, so wear waterproof, insulated boots with a good tread to keep you from slipping.
If you get wet, remove the wet clothing and warm the core body temperature as soon as possible. Avoid overexertion in the cold. Perspiration can lead to chilling and hypothermia. Also, the strain to the body from the cold and the hard work can cause a heart attack.
At home and at work, the major concerns during a storm are loss of electrical power, telephone service, and supply shortage. Be prepared by keeping the following items available for just such an occasion: flashlight and extra batteries, battery-powered radio, extra food and water, extra medicine, baby supplies, first-aid supplies, heating fuel, emergency heat source (ventilate rooms and use properly to prevent fires), fire extinguisher, and smoke alarm. In addition, you will want to have food, water, and shelter for any animals for which you are responsible.
Traveling by vehicle can be hazardous in cold weather, even if it is not icy outside. Plan your trip well, and avoid traveling during storms or when bad weather is predicted. Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition and winterized. To avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines, keep your gas tank full. The following is a list of what a Winter Storm Kit should contain, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Red Cross:
- Mobile phone, charger, batteries
- Blankets/sleeping bags
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- High-calorie, non-perishable food
- Extra clothing to keep dry and warm
- Large, empty can to use as emergency toilet
- Tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes
- Small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water
- Sack of sand or cat litter for traction
- Windshield scraper and brush
- Tool kit
- Tow rope
- Battery booster cables
- Water container
- Compass and road maps
It is important to plan ahead. It does not take a lot of effort to do the minimal for safety. Even the animals and insects plan ahead! “The ants [are] a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.” Proverbs 30:25. Take a little extra time to prepare yourself and your family or others to have a safe winter.
Sheryle Beaudry, a certified teletriage nurse, writes from Estacada, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and twin daughters. She may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is a health-related question you would like answered in LandMarks, please e-mail your question to: email@example.com, or mail it to: LandMarks, Steps to Life, P. O. Box 782828, Wichita, KS 67278.