Monday, January 18, 2010

lake wobegon effect strikes again!

For those who have been following along the blog I have mentioned lake wobegon effect before. I'm actually not a shrink, or a doctor (or play one on television for that matter). I was reading "The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment " (which is by far one of the funniest books I have ever read) and he mentions this human brain error.

Tonight I had a great conversation with another kayaker who was talking about his group planning what to bring to treat hypothermia while kayaking. Sounded pretty neat! Great thinking! Then as the conversation went on the plan they had to me was very faulty.

I have spent time in the North of Canada working with the Inuit. Am I an expert? HELL NO! I have been trained in exposure/hypothermia treatment. However if someone is going to give safety briefs prior to people paddling they should speak of what they know. And if they don't know anything don't speak! (HUGE pet peeve of mine)

Hypothermia is a great topic of discussion, and should be planned as part of your paddling here in the North. Know the signs, Know the treatment, Know the different levels of hypothermia.

Little story sideline from the rant!:

One man I remember from up north was Sam, and he told me the story of how he had fell through a open spot in the ice trying to get across. Being only 5km or so from his house he managed to survive the cardiac arrest of the cold shock (being more fit than older fatter Canadians who may just die) and booked it towards home. His whole point of his story to me was about 2km from his house he saw what looked like his family on the ice waving at him to come down. There was his family standing on the ice with a huge fire going. Sam had enough wit's about him to know he was hallucinating and made it home to tell me the tale 20 years later.

Anyway I'll post a little something here. I don't claim to be an expert but I suggest anyone giving briefs on this take a course. These are from my personal notes.Things may have changed as this was taken in 2002 IIRC (What happened to that decade!)

Levels of hypo:

Impending Hypothermia: You start getting cold. Activity eliminates the shivering.Skin may become pale/waxy.Starting to feel winded/ tired.

Treatment: Seek shelter out of the wind and wet.(tarp on the side of a boulder etc). Start a fire or stove to provide warmth. Give a warm drink not tea coffee alcohol etc. What was recommended to me was put warm gatoraide in a thermos before leaving.Give them extra warm clothing (read dry bag with extra dry clothes and heavier clothing like snugpack jacket etc)

They should be fine in no time. No need for rescue. A good idea in this case is if someone has a larger 6 person tent break it up among the kayaking group and erect it for lunch on really cold paddle days.Or use tarps and fire.

Mild Hypothermia:
uncontrolled shivering, still alert but may have loss of coordination.pain or discomfort from cold may be present.

Treatment:Same as above however limited exercise can help (running on the spot) however give high calorie foods and keep in mind the exercise will cause more calories to be burned.Keep head and neck covered (dry balaclava).

Moderate Hypothermia:
Following uncontrolled shivering they now stop shivering at moderate.mental confusion,slurred speech/slow,shallow breathing.Complains that they are tired and can act unusual.

same as previous treatment except use hot water bottles on the neck, groin,chest, armpits and head.this may take some time at this point to get the person to come around. If they do give em warm liquids again. They need to go to the hospital and get checked out. Here's your judgment call telling you to call for rescue on VHF if your away from civilization.Or get him to a road and into an ambulance.

Severe Hypothermia: Blue/grey skin.Dilated pupils. May act drunk or look dead and rigid.Wants to sleep.

Treatment:Get into a sleeping bag with the person in the shelter. Apply your body heat to the victims chest. Your trying to keep him warm not rewarm him at this point.
Try to keep them awake.Talk and demand a response. Simple tings like "how are you feeling" wheres your wife/husband/life partner/37 cats today? etc.
If they lose coincidence be careful moving them as their heart is very sensitive.Check for pulse. Even if there is a weak one do not move to CPR until the pulse and breathing is totally absent.

So after looking at those note's this is what I would recommend for a paddle group.

-A tent to set up on cold days as I think everyone has been at "Impending" before. Warm up enjoy a long lunch and stories head out again. Anyone who has stopped on a beach to eat on a cold day after paddling hard I think knows the urge to get back into the boats and paddle to warm up. That's Impending! I have a 6-8 man tent that is about 20 lbs. between the group divided that is nothing. Provides a nice place to sit around and have lunch anyway.

-Everyone carry a thermos of hot gatoraide mixed strong to add calories.

-A couple bring stoves to warm the tent. And redundant lighters matches flint.

-Pot set for heating up water to put in...

-plastic water bottles (enough to cover the points mentioned for warming.)

-2 sleeping bags that can be put together to sandwich a guy if needed.

-Everyone in the paddle group bring complete set of layered clothing plus a jacket in a dry bag.

-extra High calorie snacks like chocolate covered nuts.

-Tarp to put over large tent.

Take a course!!! What I list here is a simple opinion from maybe out of date information. However this is what I was taught according to a powerpoint (gross!!!)print out I have here.

Knowledge could save a life. Pretending you know; can kill one.

And I hope this helps someone, or makes others realize the lack of knowledge/plan and hopefully they head towards learning about this through first aid or proper channels.

(If anyone has any good links in refernce to paddling and hypo drop me a line and I'll post it here.)

Edit to add/end on a light note: I have the perfect solution for hypothermia and that is to move to Cyprus. The water was soooo warm there in March!Was snorkeling in a wet suit ALL day!

This was pretty warm too.

And here's me absolutely hammered...I though we were going to just one winery...drank a lot at the first one.This one is winery number 3 =0) (pretending to know what leg's and smell means)

Hope you enjoyed the post!


  1. Awesome post, great info on the great Newfoundland Paddlers enemy, HYPO!

  2. Thanks Brian!
    I remember going into mild hypo swimming as a august lol.

    Glad you enjoyed.