Frostbite is Serious

You wouldn't believe how stunned and embarrassed I was, as a ski patroller and EMT, to have been diagnosed, earlier today, with 2nd-degree frostbite on 5 toes -- 1 on my left foot and 4 on my right. This, after several weeks of increasing discomfort and painful walking! In fact, just last Sunday, while on patrol, I sent a guest to the hospital with 3rd-degree frostbite. We are trained to be aware of and look for early frostbite signs. Despite my custom foot beds, which I've had for several years, my feet and toes do still, on occasion, get cold. Over the past six weeks we've had some incredibly cold days; and, in the last two weeks, several days well below zero. Wind chill adds to the risk of frostbite. While in our base or on-mountain stations I and my fellow patrollers almost never take our boots off, let alone our socks, too, to examine our feet and toes, looking for the telltale blanched white that is the beginning of frostbite.

Here are my lessons learned:
  1. When it is below freezing and your feet/toes are very cold; and, then, you're aware that they're not, it means they are numb -- not warm.
  2. Every hour or two, take a break, go inside -- base lodges, for example -- remove your boots and socks and examine your toes. If they're white, frostbite has started -- you're done for the day. Don't rub the affected areas, but do everything else you can to keep them warm and dry -- extra sock layers, blanket/towel wraps. You can soak in warm, but NOT hot, water.
  3. If the affected areas have become inflamed and shiny, you're into 2nd degree frostbite, which typically also means that there is some permanent damage. Get yourself to your doctor or local Emergency Department. Having missed the first stage and signs while I was still wearing my boots, I didn't 'recognize' what was going on. I continued to ski for several weeks.

Read this CDC Winter Weather|Frostbite page.

The outcome: after my diagnosis this morning, I was sent across the street to Copley Hospital to meet with Peter Kramer, a sports physical therapist. When I asked Peter how soon I could resume skiing, he answered, "April." I'm bummed big time. I'll be seeing Peter regularly over the next few weeks. I'm home now, wearing two layers of cotton socks, with my feet resting on a heating pad set to low. But I'm not going to lose any of my toes.

And, starting next Wednesday, I'm back on patrol -- not on the hill, but rather, working the rest of the season in a warm First Aid/Patrol station as the base EMT.

Lesson learned.