Sunday, August 19, 2012

How Cold Have You Been?

I spoke about the depths of winter in my August 15 quotation blog.  Summer is still here, but I'm thinking about winter and reading Paul Auster's inspiring memoir Winter Journal.

In Canada, conversations eventually roll around to coldest cold stories.  My friend David K spent this past winter in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.  On the winter solstice, 2011, it was minus 31 C, minus 44 with the windchill.  Dave reported days as low as minus 50.  The cold Arctic landscape is beautifully photographed and described in Dave's blog:

David went to the Arctic prepared for the cold.  People aren't always able to prepare.   Russia and Ukraine suffered a brutal cold spell in 2012 which killed 175 people.

77-year old Elisabeta Dumitrache, left, watches as firefighters dig her house out of the snow in the village of Carligul Mic, Romania, on Feb. 11, 2012, as heavy snow and freezing temperatures continued to blanket much of Europe.

I rarely mention my coldest cold story.  I don't like to compete ("You call that cold?  Let me tell you about cold.)  But I will tell it here.  A medical emergency brought me to a Vancouver Hospital in fall 1974.  I had lost a lot of blood and had to be given blood immediately so a procedure could be performed in the morning.  I'm the universal donor, not the universal recipient, but they had some O negative blood stored in the freezer.  They briefly defrosted the first bag and began transfusing it while the other bag thawed.

As it flowed into me, I felt colder and colder and colder.  They kept throwing more blankets on me, but I was cold from the inside out.  I was cold, but my life was saved!

That was 38 years ago.  I imagine emergency medicine has changed.

What's your coldest cold story? 


  1. While living in Flin Flon, Manitoba I got a touch of Cabin Fever and decided that I had to go out to a meeting of the local bowling league. I missed the (highly infrequent and irregular) bus and stupidly decided to trudge downtown anyway. It was -40 degrees (on both scales) before you factored in the wind-chill. I crystallised my left ear on the trip and, even though quick frostbite treatment saved it from much damage it is still sensitive due to the cellular damage it received that night.

    At -40 various things are in different states than we normally think of them as: kerosene is a solid and your spit "crack"s and is a solid before it can hit the ground. Some bush pilots that I was boarding with got stuck in Uranium City at -60 C because the fuels that they were using to heat their airplane fuel to keep it liquid froze.

  2. Perfect - that's just the sort of story I was hoping to hear. But whatever put you in Flin Flon in mid-winter?

    1. I was in Flin Flon (named after Science Fiction character Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin) because of the Waterloo Engineering faculty's co-op program. The mining company had a General Electric mainframe from the 50s (64K in core memory and 128K out on the magnetic drum bulk storage) that was nearing the end of its life. The plan was to transfer its functions to a refrigerator-sized Data General computer about 1/5th its size. They figured kids knew about computers so they put in a request for a student. My card came up (literally as the placement system was still mark-sense card driven) so off I went.

  3. That is a pretty freaking good cold story. My butt was so cold at a Baltimore Colts game (showing my age as they are now in Indianapolis) that a small cyst had ruptured but I never felt it until we were back in the car. ouch.

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