I am not one of those folks who cares if anyone reads my blog: I write largely for fun. Today however I have something important to say, and I’d appreciate if you would share this post with friends in the UK, on Facebook or Twitter.
I used to have a girlfriend we can call Liz. That’s not her name, and though she is completely blameless in this story, it’s well over a decade since we split. I don’t want her to be embarrassed, but I want to share a snippet of her story.
It was a Christmas Party at a local club for students from the uni. Liz was wearing tights and a mini-dress, and DM boots. (The reason I bother to explain this will become clear later). We had arrived by taxi – it was snowing outside. I ended up being asked to DJ – in my youth I was a very very crap club DJ, but I have played most venues in Cheltenham. Anyway I was now behind the decks, and Liz got a bit tipsy on vodka and cola with a friend, who we can call Helen (again not her name). Now she had three doubles: I have known Liz to drink a lot more without ill effect, but about midnight her and Helen decided to go home. They called a taxi, and left. About half an hour later I realised I had the house keys, and having finished my set I hailed a taxi and went home, assuming Liz would be at Helen’s.
She wasn’t. She was laying on the doorstep, in the clothes she had worn at the club, a knee length heavy overcoat and her cardigan. Liz was always VERY sensible – even if we went in a taxi, she dressed to walk home. Helen had dropped her off, she had realised she was locked out but knew I’d be home fairly soon, so she had waited in the porch out of the snow. Eventually she had sat down and wrapped up warm and feeling OK just talked to the cats through the letterbox. She phoned me, and I explained I was on my way — and fifteen minutes later I was home.
Liz seemed very drunk. Confused, staggering. I asked her if she felt cold?; she assured me she felt quite warm, so I got her inside. Then she collapsed. I thought it was booze, but I grabbed her a warm drink, put some dry clothes on her, and wrapped a duvet round her. Now she was not making any sense, and this was somehow unlike any drunk I had ever seen. I called an ambulance, dialling 999. I am really glad I did, though at the time I feared I was being an idiot. Despite her protestations she was warm, she was icy cold.
The rest of the story is simple. By the time the ambulance crew arrived she was in a coma — perhaps 20 minutes after being taken inside. She was rushed to hospital, and I was told it was really touch and go, but that now hospitalised she may well recover. I slept there on a couple of chairs, and in the morning she came out of it, and was soon conscious and on the road to recovery. Unfortunately I missed a vital exam for a qualification that morning, and the course tutor refused to let me retake it. Them’s the breaks, but I still remember that too.
Liz was lucky. I was lucky. I was minutes away from having a dead girlfriend laying on the floor through hypothermia.
Now, let us recall – she was wearing a body, tights, a mini-dress, a cardigan and a full heavy coat as I recall. She still got hypothermia. Why?
Firstly, alcohol makes you feel warmer, but in fact makes the blood move to surface (flushing) and means you lose heat faster. (Vasodilation I think). Hypothermia victims in the UK have often been drinking. Secondly, she stayed still – but even people standing talking or walking can in a fairly short time get hypothermia if they have been drinking. And it kills. Liz was lucky – many others aren’t. Nearly 2000 people a year die from hypothermia in the UK, and while 75% are pensioners, young women who are out clubbing make up an alarming number.
Now a couple of times since that happened I have found women unconscious in sub-zero temperatures in the street, having drunk too much, or just succumbed to the snow. Normally I’d stay at a discreet distance and tried to find some women to go and talk to them. Nowadays I just call the police or an ambulance, and go try and put a coat or something over them. I’d rather frighten them than see them die of cold. I worry about this every year, and wonder if there is a way of warning people of the danger.
Yet — I don’t want to tell women how to dress. That is up to them. I have no issue with scantily clad women’s dress choices, I have an issue with them dying of hypothermia. So I figure the only thing I can do is share my story, and ask them to consider very carefully how they can keep warm and yet still have a good time while out. You can take a coat or leggings and change at the club perhaps? You can get a taxi home? You can make sure there are several of you around and you don’t queue in the cold? I don’t have any answers, I’m not an expert. If you think you have hypothermia and are reading this stop and call an ambulance or doctor. Do something now.
The reason I’m writing this is I just saw, at 3pm on the High Street, a woman of about 18 wearing a minidress and as far as I could see without staring at her no tights, yet a hat and scarf in the snow. Some people at the bus stop pointed her out, and she seemed quite happy. Fair enough – but tonight Cheltenham will have women out clubbing (and men too topless I expect) and I want to just say this — there is a real danger, and yes you can run round completely naked while sober in snow, and maybe be OK, but cold and alcohol are potentially deadly. Please be careful, and have fun!