Friday, June 5, 2009

The cold hard facts of freezing to death

The cold hard facts of freezing to death is an article by Peter Stark that ran in Outside Magazine over 10 years ago. I remember reading this a couple of months before--I can't remember where--but now it showed up on Kottke so I thought it'd be worthy of a post.

Basically, it's a fictionalized narrative of a person who almost dies of hypothermia, sprinkled in with some facts. Exerpt:

"At 85 degrees, those freezing to death, in a strange, anguished paroxysm, often rip off their clothes. This phenomenon, known as paradoxical undressing, is common enough that urban hypothermia victims are sometimes initially diagnosed as victims of sexual assault. Though researchers are uncertain of the cause, the most logical explanation is that shortly before loss of consciousness, the constricted blood vessels near the body's surface suddenly dilate and produce a sensation of extreme heat against the skin.

All you know is that you're burning. You claw off your shell and pile sweater and fling them away.

But then, in a final moment of clarity, you realize there's no stove, no cabin, no friends. You're lying alone in the bitter cold, naked from the waist up. You grasp your terrible misunderstanding, a whole series of misunderstandings, like a dream ratcheting into wrongness. You've shed your clothes, your car, your oil-heated house in town. Without this ingenious technology you're simply a delicate, tropical organism whose range is restricted to a narrow sunlit band that girds the earth at the equator."

(From Kottke)

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