Stranded on the Coldest Day of the Year | A Cold Day for a Swim
He found his cousin Roger Chandler stumbling through the woods a few hundred feet from the cabin. Roger was hunched over, falling more than walking and mumbling to himself. He looked much worse than Phil. He didn’t seem to know where he was or why he was cold.
Norm helped him to the truck, then ran around to his own side before he realized that Roger wasn’t getting in. His stiffened fingers couldn’t open the door. Norm went back around and opened the door and helped Roger onto the seat. On the way back to his house, Norm could barely keep his truck on the road. He kept glancing over at the shaking figure slumped next to him. Roger looked bad.
* * *
It took the ambulance nine minutes to find Phil’s truck at the Libbys’ house. When Cindy and her husband arrived, the scene was chaotic — a dozen or so people, including neighbors, all talking at once. They had turned the heat all the way up, so that sweat poured from everyone except Roger and Phil. The two men were hyperventilating, shaking violently from overexertion and fear. Afghans, comforters, and towels were heaped over them, but they still looked pale and dazed. Roger lay on the couch, Phil sat in a recliner. They complained of pain, spoke and moved sluggishly. Cindy took their vitals. Pulse erratic. Blood pressure low. Pupils dilated. Muscles rigid. They were confused, not remembering what was said to them. Roger was worse than Phil. He responded only slowly to pain and light. He wheezed from the salt water he’d inhaled.
Cindy had him moved to the ambulance first to get him started breathing warm oxygen. He cried out in pain when they lifted him. If Roger went into cardiac arrest, Cindy knew they would have to leave without her brother. When they lifted Phil from the recliner, his body wouldn’t unbend. His muscles had stiffened so much that Cindy was afraid they’d break one of his bones trying to move him to the ambulance.
On the way to the hospital Phil became more and more incoherent. He began to cry, “Roger. I had to leave him. He’s at Lindsay’s cottage.”
Cindy spoke carefully to him. “Roger’s fine. He’s right here. He’s OK.”
“I’m here.” Roger said, “You saved me.”
Phil listened and understood. His body relaxed; his blood pressure dropped. He stopped speaking or moving.
Cindy was afraid he had given up. He didn’t need to save Roger anymore. She hovered over him all the way to the hospital in Machias, 27 miles away. She pinched him, coaxed him to stay awake. “You hang on,” she told him. “Roger’s going to need you.”
At Machias Community Hospital Roger and Phil were wheeled directly into the trauma room. Phil’s core temperature was 95 degrees; Roger’s had fallen to 94 degrees. They were given warm IVs and covered in thermal blankets. Then the staff, who had never treated a hypothermia case before, had to wait.
The first sign that they were out of danger came within an hour, when Phil began to shiver. A good sign. His body was finally warm enough to feel cold and had responded. An hour after that, Roger too had started to shake. At that point the doctor couldn’t resist a scolding. “What were you guys doing out there?” he asked.