The Death Chill 2/2

Today, we’re continuing with Ramona Richard’s two part piece on her personal experience with hypothermia. Her details are critical for getting the symptoms right.
Welcome back, Romona!

I’ve been soggy drunk, and I’ve had serious sugar lows. Those two experiences are the only ones I know that can compare to the sensation of having your body and brain stop talking to each other, then try to shut down completely. I wanted to sleep, but the divemasters wouldn’t let me. When I could finally walk without stumbling, they took me and my dive bag into the hold and told me to strip, dry off, and get into dry clothes. They turned their backs but wouldn’t leave me. Afterwards, they wrapped me in blankets head-to-toe and made me drink a lot of room temperature water.

The cold didn’t leave immediately. It lived on, deep in my muscles, for several hours, re-emerging ever so often in a chill and shudder. An unexpected cramp. I found that even walking carried a tinge of fear, as if the cold would return at any minute.
People who’ve never been through this have said to me, “Oh, you were just really cold.” No. I wasn’t just really cold. I felt deadened, frozen from the inside, helpless, non-functional, and terrified.
And one thing no one warned me about was the after effects. I don’t even know if this is medically proven, but it was my experience, and it might make for a good story element. I remain hypersensitive to cold, as if the hypothermia had messed up my internal thermostat. At times when I should have been “just cold,” I’ll become chilled and shaky, unable to regenerate my own warmth. Sometimes, at night, I’ll wake up shivering, and no pile of quilts is enough to stop the shaking.
One of the most memorable reoccurrence was in Gatlinburg, which is in the mountains of east Tennessee. I’d worn shorts during the warmth of the day. Then a friend and I had dinner, during which I’d drunk ice water. When we came out, the air temp had dropped from the 70s into the 40s, and within a few minutes, that familiar chill sank into my muscles. I started shivering and I couldn’t get warm. I grew angry and weak, and the walk back to our hotel became a series of short stops at shops, hotel lobbies, and bars while I warmed up enough for the next few yards.
Since that time, I watch the weather like a hawk, and I ALWAYS have blankets and water in my car, even in the summer. It changed other things for me as well. I dislike being hot, and had always preferred cold weather to warm (which is why I was snow camping). Now, I’m wary of it.
So why did I become hypothermic on one dive and not on the previous one? I believe it happened mainly because I was stupid. I drank too much alcohol the night before, slept little, and downed too many Sudafed, those little red pills my buddies on the boat called “diver’s candy.” All of it acted to dehydrate me – a prime set-up for hypothermia. Between that and the way water sucks heat out of your body, I became a self-induced victim.
Now, when I wake up shivering or feel that internal chill when I’m out, I know the solution is warm or room temperature water.
As a writer, I’ll someday work this into a plot. Mild hypothermia is perfect for slowing down your characters, without making them sick or injured. It’s great for making one character protective of the other, and a marvelous reason a hero and heroine must seek shelter together, yet be ready to go the next day. 
I’ve listed some links below that go into more detail about the different causes and levels of hypothermia. My case was mild—no frost bite, organ damage, or unconsciousness—because Rob’s brain kept working when my started to falter. To this day, I try not to think about what would have happened had I been deeper, or he’d been farther away…although that does put my romantic suspense brain into high gear…
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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.

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.