The Death Chill 1/2

I’m so pleased to host amazing editor with Abingdon Press, Ramona Richards. Ramona has been a great supporter of this blog and she is sharing a first hand experience of hypothermia. I believe first hand accounts are invaluable when writing scenes where a character might experience these symptoms.

Welcome Ramona!

I didn’t realize I was in trouble. Fortunately for me, my dive instructor did.

I was about thirty feet underwater, still clinging to the anchor rope. For some reason, I couldn’t decide what I needed to do next. I felt perplexed and frustrated. And cold. The Gulf water temperature hovered at about sixty-five degrees, but we had dived the day before, so the chill of the water shouldn’t have surprised me. I’d certainly not had any trouble yesterday. But now . . . why did I feel so cold? I shuddered lightly.

Someone tapped on my tank, and I turned. When I did, a deeper chill shot through me and I shivered hard. Rob, my instructor, floated a few feet away, his face scrunched in concern. He held up one hand, his thumb and forefinger touching, making a circle. Are you OK?
I frowned, not understanding why Rob was concerned, and his eyes widened, eyebrows arching behind his mask. I shivered again, harder and longer. I could no longer feel any warmth in my wetsuit or muscles, and my fingers tingled, going numb. Confusion about what to do, how to respond, clouded my brain.
Rob signaled frantically. Up! UP! When I didn’t respond, he shoved me upward and reached for the valve on my vest, causing it to inflate. I was going up, whether I liked it or not.
We had only been in the water a few minutes, so there was no need for the 15-foot safety stop. Rob put me on the surface, and spit out his regulator, ordering me to grab the rope that trailed along the side of the boat. I tried to swim toward the back of the boat, but my legs didn’t want to pump.  My hands wouldn’t close on the rope, and the iciness of a walk-in freezer cut into every muscle. I felt totally helpless, and I’d begun to shake so violently that terror finally pushed through my confusion.
Behind me, Rob bellowed at the divemasters, “We have to get her out of the water!” He pushed me to the ladder at the back of the boat, and I suddenly felt several strong hands grab my tank and vest and haul me onto the deck. By now, I’d ceased functioning. I couldn’t stop shaking, and I felt inexplicably exhausted and sleepy. My legs refused to support me, and only a few words emerged, jumbled and slurred. I barely comprehended that I was being tugged along the deck toward the front of the boat. There the divemasters turned a warm shower on me, and began to remove my gear. They got me up on a bench and braced me while the shower poured lovely warmth inside my wetsuit.
I finally pushed out a halfway coherent, “Wha—?”
“You’re hypothermic. Sit still. When your suit gets warm, we’ll get you out of it and into some warm blankets.”
That took awhile. My hands and feet were bluish, and I couldn’t put words together, much less utter them through lips that felt numb, swollen, and useless. It was as if my entire face and my hands had been deadened with Novocain. After which I’d been locked in that walk-in freezer for a few hours.
I had never experienced this kind of penetrating, overwhelming sense of cold. And I’ve been cold. I once broke my ankle snow camping and had my socks freeze on my feet overnight. Been lost in an icy winter rain with only a jacket. But nothing prepares you for the helpless feelings that arrive with hypothermia.

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Ramona Richards, fiction editor for Abingdon Press, started making stuff up at three, writing it down at seven, and selling it at eighteen. She’s been annoying editors ever since, which is probably why she became one. She’s edited more than 350 publications, including novels, CD-ROMs, magazines, non-fiction, children’s books, Bibles, and study guides. Ramona has worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and many others.

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