It was a mild February day about 40 years ago when I experienced my first dose of frost-bite. I had a plan to go ice fishing that day, but never had a chance to get set up. I was dragging my sled with gear and bait out to an area where I had much success the previous year. It was not too far from shore and, though the surface of the ice was a bit slushy, I thought it would still be safe. Then, I heard the creaking, slow rumble and in an instant — WHOOSH, to my surprise, I went through the ice! With all my heavy winter clothing and big boots, I was plunged into the icy water. I needed to kick off the boots as they filled with water and began to drag me under. My heart nearly stopped and I could barely breathe. I was panicked but knew I had to get out of the water or I would die there that day!
I had learned how to swim at a very young age, but swimming is not an option in this type of scenario. The previous summer, I had achieved my certification for Life-Guard and water rescue, but this was different. There was no one to rescue me! I remember an intense sense of fear that I would drown that day. There was a loud voice in my head that said, NO! I WILL NOT DIE TODAY!
I clawed at the edge of the ice and it broke away! My mind was racing. I have to get out of this water, I thought. My clothing was soaked and it got heavier as I struggled. I was desperate. I had to get out! Then I found a solid piece of the frozen lake and worked my way up. First, my arms and upper body. Then, slowly I dragged one leg up. My body was going numb and my legs, even without the boots, felt like they weighed a ton. Carefully, I rolled out of that icy hole and my second leg followed. Still in a state of near shock, I was now faced with the necessity of getting someplace warm. First, I went to see if my friend Dave was home. He had a big wood stove at his place and I knew I could dry off and warm up there. Dave’s house was only about 1/4 mile from the lake. In my soaking wet clothes with only socks on my feet, I ran to Dave’s place. No one was there. Now, I had no choice but to run home, but that was about 3 miles and mostly uphill. No time to waste. I ran as fast as I could with all the wet and now freezing cold clothing weighing on me.
At home I stripped down immediately and got into a hot shower. There was a stinging feeling all over my body, but my feet remained numb. The sensation of waves of cold leaving my torso and legs was intense. I stood in that hot shower for what must have been near an hour. My toes were purple and red. Later I lost the toenails on the big toes. The worst part of frost bite is the thawing out. It is excruciatingly painful. I still shiver when I think about it.
So, dear friends, I hope you never fall through the ice, but here is a very good link with instructions on what to do if it happens to you. Follow this link for more about cold water survival. It is also best to have a friend with you when engaging in any type of water activity.
A couple of weeks ago, I was taking pictures in the early morning just after sunrise. I ventured out on the lake across from my house. The angle of the sun made it difficult to capture a good shot so I went further toward the center of the lake. We’ve had a very cold winter and I had little doubt that the ice was safe, until I heard that slow rumbling sound again. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and a chill ran down my spine! Immediately I made for the shore and just as I was about to step off the ice onto the snow covered beach, my foot went through the ice and soaked my sock. Memories of that frightening day, so long ago, flooded my mind. I trudged up the hill, went inside and hopped into the hot shower. As I warmed up, I reflected on that day in February, when I was young and thought I was invincible. I had to laugh. Some people are lucky with money. Not me. I am just lucky to be alive.