It was my first overnight canoe trip with a school group; I was 13 years old. Overcast skies turned to rain and then flurries. I fought to put on a rubberized rain jacket. I couldn’t find my hat. A headwind kicked the surface of the water in a white chop. It was all I could do to dip the paddle in the water; our boat struggled.
When we finally made it to shore what seemed like hours later, my partner hopped out. I couldn’t move. Someone helped me stand up and then there was a flurry of activity as the teacher ordered the boats unloaded. I stumbled over to a tree and sat down. One of the teachers immediately came over and asked if I was okay. I mumbled something. Everything seemed a little distant and foggy. A few minutes later someone was taking off sodden raingear, helping me put arms in a warm jacket and making me drink a warm cup of tea. The fog started to lift.
I had experienced the initial stages of hypothermia.
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What is hypothermia?
By definition, hypothermia is the point at which a person’s core body temperature drops below 95 F (35 C) and muscle and brain function becomes impaired.
How can you recognize it?
Shivering is the first sign that someone is getting cold. As the body temperature continues to drop, the shivering may increase and the person may become uncoordinated. They may also start mumbling words instead of speaking clearly. Brain function gradually diminishes. Shivering stops with severe hypothermia.
How do you treat it?
- Remove wet clothing and change into warm dry layers.
- Get out of the elements – under a tarp, emergency shelter, or tent.
- Sip warm – not hot – sweet liquids.
Tips for avoiding hypothermia:
- Wear appropriate clothing for the weather.
- Eat and drink regularly.
- If possible, seek shelter until the weather improves.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia and react before it becomes severe. Mild hypothermia is easily remedied.