THE DAY I NEARLY DIED IN THE OUT­BACK

THIS STORY COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE

Guru Magazine - - CONTENTS - MATT LINS­DELL

Our Fit­ness Guru, Matt Lins­dell, shares his ter­ri­fy­ing tale of wan­der­ing lost and with­out wa­ter in the Aus­tralian Out­back. De­spite be­ing su­per­fit, his scrape with death of­fers some hard-hit­ting lessons. It’s a story that shows how smart peo­ple can do very stupid things, and brings a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion for H20.

I used to live in South Aus­tralia where it gets pretty hot. One New Year I went camp­ing at Mount Re­mark­able National

Park. (Re­mem­ber that Aus­tralia is in the South­ern Hemi­sphere and so New Years is in the sum­mer­time.) It won’t sur­prise you to know that this area of the world is as dry as a piece of toasted sour­dough. This dry­ness adds to its charm but makes it in­hos­pitable for soggy bags of in­tel­li­gent wa­ter. Fun­nily enough, it is only a short drive from Port Ger­mein, a small coastal town with a vast tidal beach. You can walk straight out into the wa­ter for a good ten min­utes and still only be knee deep in the ocean. It was amaz­ing to see how so much wa­ter could be so close to so much desert. Any­way, di­gres­sions aside, there wasn’t much ex­cite­ment around camp that day, so my group and I de­cided to go for a hike. The tem­per­a­ture on the car dash­board read 43°C (109°F) and there was very lit­tle in the way of shade. We set out on a slow hike, which lasted two hours. The slow­ness of the hike made me edgy – I like to run when I hike. On the way back to camp I spot­ted a trail sign­post: “Hid­den Gorge Hike 18km loop”. Per­fect! The path went back to our camp­site and so I told my group that I would run this loop and meet them back at the tents. My last words be­fore split­ting off from the group were “If I run slow it’ll take me two hours. If I’m not back in three then send

help.” I set off feel­ing great. It didn’t fin­ish that way…

I had no wa­ter but the gorge was so pretty I didn’t give it much thought. Af­ter run­ning for about 7 km in soli­tude, I started to feel dopey. At the 8 or 9 km point I came to a col­lapsed part of the gorge that was im­pas­si­ble. I con­vinced my­self that the rock slide must have been re­cent and hadn’t yet been spot­ted by the park rangers. It left me with no choice but to back­track. How­ever, af­ter a run­ning a few kilo­me­ters more I re­alised that my brain wasn’t work­ing very well. I had prob­a­bly been de­hy­drated even when I started the gorge loop (I don’t tend to drink very much). I cer­tainly wasn’t think­ing clearly when I couldn’t find the

trail (per­haps you weren’t think­ing clearly when

you started on the trail! – Ed). Now, 12km into a sun­baked run, on the sec­ond dri­est con­ti­nent in the world, and af­ter a 2 hour hike, the only liq­uid I had im­bibed was dur­ing break­fast. For the sec­ond time in my life I thought I might die. I started talk­ing to my­self, try­ing to as­sess how bad my predica­ment was. My words were slurred. Was that a part of heat­stroke? Des­per­ate now for some wa­ter, I saw some pud­dles – but they were full of gum tree leaves that gave them a brown colour (and I re­mem­ber be­ing told that the tan­nins in the leaves leach into the wa­ter, mak­ing it poi­sonous). I fig­ured that I could make it back to a large green hold­ing tank of wa­ter that was at the trail­head. My woozy mind thought it was about 5 km away. From that point it would only be a fur­ther 2 km back to camp. So I stag­gered on. Even­tu­ally I was re­duced to a trot, and then to a walk. I wasn’t wor­ried about my mus­cles but I was wor­ried about my mind giv­ing out. Think­ing was start­ing to take a real ef­fort. When I reached the big green wa­ter hold­ing tank I turned on the wa­ter. Cup­ping my hands I drank as much of the warm wa­ter I could. I

couldn’t splash enough on my body so I took off my wick­ing ma­te­rial tank top and sat­u­rated it, then tried to wring it out over my head. It held on to the wa­ter fe­ro­ciously, so I soaked it again. This time my ghetto shower worked. Don­ning my soaked top I set off to run the last 2 km back to camp. Well, I tried to run… 300 me­ters be­fore the end, I felt like I wasn’t go­ing to make it. Surely I could push on for that short dis­tance, I thought. But I couldn’t. There was a ba­sic toi­let block nearby with a tap at about mid-thigh height. Turn­ing it on, scald­ing hot wa­ter splashed all over my legs. I drank what I could stom­ach and stum­bled the last 300 me­ters. 2 hours and 59 min­utes af­ter I said “send help if I’m not back in 3 hours” I was fi­nally back with my party. I had en­dured roughly 5 hours of ex­po­sure in this hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment while ex­ert­ing my­self. It could have eas­ily ended very badly. And it was en­tirely my fault.

1, 2, 3… Rea­sons not to trust your­self

It’s a long story, but it is meant to il­lus­trate some key things about de­hy­dra­tion. Firstly, we shouldn’t use the term ‘de­hy­dra­tion’ at all. De­hy­dra­tion would be bet­ter called ‘low vol­ume’. The wa­tery part of our blood be­comes less wa­tery as we sweat. There­fore our to­tal blood vol­ume drops. Low blood vol­ume can lead to low blood pres­sure, which in turn can re­sult in col­lapse. If we could de­hy­drate our tis­sues, we would look like raisins – but clearly this isn’t what hap­pens. Very few peo­ple use the term ‘low vol­ume’, ex­cept for a few pedan­tic doc­tors. Which is a shame, re­ally. Se­condly: ex­er­tion. When we are ac­tive out­doors at the hottest times of day we add heat to the warmth the weather is al­ready bathing us in. Vig­or­ous phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity can heat you up from the in­side and the warm weather gets you hot from the out­side. It’s a per­fect recipe for los­ing a lot of blood vol­ume very fast. Pro­fuse sweat­ing oc­curs to com­pen­sate, which can put you on a fast trip to hy­per­ther­mia. Thirdly, don’t trust your­self. You might not feel thirsty, but you should drink reg­u­larly when it is hot. Even if you might feel fine right now, how will you be feel­ing in 15 min­utes? As soon as your men­tal fac­ul­ties start to slide then you’re in trou­ble. Not a huge deal in the city where some­one is bound to see you strug­gling and of­fer you some wa­ter (well, hope­fully), but in a re­mote lo­ca­tion there might not be any­one around to bail you out. I’ve ad­dressed some of th­ese is­sues in my cryp­ti­cally named on­line post ‘ Why do I get

hot when I ex­er­cise?’ so I won’t bore you by re­hash­ing them. Rather I’d like to ex­plain heat stroke and heat ex­haus­tion, the con­di­tions that can kill you...

Heat stroke: it’s not like be­ing in love

‘Heat ex­haus­tion’ is a term you have prob­a­bly heard be­fore, but few peo­ple know what it ac­tu­ally means. There are two as­pects to heat ex­haus­tion, of which the loss of wa­ter is the first and most ob­vi­ous. Wa­ter de­ple­tion will make you feel thirsty and weak. It can give you a headache and, in ex­treme cir­cum­stances, can cause you to black out. If that had hap­pened to me on the hid­den gorge trail then it prob­a­bly would have re­sulted in me ly­ing mo­tion­less for a few more hours – giv­ing me the last sun­tan I would ever get. If you don’t know it, you’re not likely to be able to guess the other as­pect to heat ex­haus­tion. Any­one? I think I heard some­one say it from the back of the class… Yes SALT! If our salt lev­els be­come de­pleted then we are head­ing for a world of trou­ble. Does nau­sea and vom­it­ing sound ap­peal­ing? Throw in mus­cle cramps and dizzi­ness and your af­ter­noon is ru­ined. OK, so none of this sounds su­per-deadly but if left unchecked it will ad­vance to heat stroke. If you thought heat ex­haus­tion sounded bad, drink this in… I don’t want you to take this lightly: heat stroke is a med­i­cal emer­gency. Should you en­counter some­one suf­fer­ing from heat stroke and you do noth­ing then they will die. You need to call your

lo­cal emer­gency med­i­cal sys­tem (911 in Canada and the US) and ad­min­is­ter the ap­pro­pri­ate first aid (which I’ll men­tion later) un­til help ar­rives. Time is of the essence: heat stroke can cause brain dam­age (as well as dam­age to other in­ter­nal or­gans). Be­ing young and fit won’t save you ei­ther: heat stroke af­fects young ath­letes and the very fit. Most fright­en­ingly, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to progress through heat ex­haus­tion be­fore fac­ing heat stroke. It can strike sud­denly and with­out prior symp­toms. The symp­toms of heat stroke are sim­i­lar to heat ex­haus­tion, but with seizures, con­fu­sion, and dis­ori­en­ta­tion also thrown in. (Those were my big­gest fears on the Hid­den Gorge trail be­cause once men­tal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion starts, it is hard even to help your­self.) Th­ese symp­toms can then lead to loss of con­scious­ness and even coma. More com­monly you’d prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­ence a throb­bing headache, dizzi­ness, and light­head­ed­ness be­fore it got to that point. (This is not to be con­fused with the same symp­toms elicited by be­ing at an LMFAO con­cert.) A heat stroke sign you’ve prob­a­bly all heard about is a lack of sweat­ing. The skin will ap­pear red, hot, and dry. Oddly, your heart will beat rapidly even when you are ut­terly still. (Not to be con­fused with be­ing in love.) And, de­spite try­ing to breathe nor­mally, you might ex­pe­ri­ence your breath­ing be­ing shal­low and quick.

How to: stay alive when you’re hot as hell

So what’s the an­swer to deal­ing with th­ese mal­adies? If heat stroke is sus­pected, don’t mess around: call an am­bu­lance. In fact, call an am­bu­lance if you have any doubts at all. First aid is fairly straight­for­ward. Cool that per­son, or your­self, down. If you have ac­cess to wa­ter then drink some. It’s vi­tal to re­plen­ish flu­ids but avoid cof­fee or al­co­hol. (They could just de­hy­drate you fur­ther.) Also, get out of di­rect sun­light and seek shade. Bet­ter yet, submerge your­self in wa­ter. If you’re near civ­i­liza­tion then a bath­tub will do the trick, as will an air-con­di­tioned room. If you’re in the wilder­ness then ly­ing in a stream could help. Once wet you could then stand in the wind. That’ll cool you down nice and fast. Sports drinks are nor­mally fine to drink but don’t try to make an un­con­scious per­son eat or drink. If they stop breath­ing, then re­mem­ber what your learned in first aid. If you’ve never learned first aid, then it might be a good idea to en­roll on a course. So, the moral of the story is to not go out­side this sum­mer and keep your air con­di­tioner cranked up. Only jok­ing! Go out­side and en­joy the world but re­mem­ber that even smart peo­ple do stupid things. Drink fluid. Dink lots of fluid. And by the way, when I got back to camp that day I drank a more wa­ter than was in the tidal beach (well, it felt like it). I walked out into the Great South­ern Ocean and lay down in the salty wa­ters. It took next to no time for me to feel nor­mal again – it was amaz­ing how quickly I re­cov­ered. And it was equally amaz­ing how quickly I went from feel­ing like an id­iot back into be­ing a self-im­por­tant jerk – ready to walk into an­other life-threat­en­ing ad­ven­ture. But that’s a story for an­other time. Sleep tight chil­dren.

Links:

Heat stroke and first aid at We­bMD

BE­LOW: Ali­ga­tor Gorge in Mount Re­mark­able

National Park.

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