Lessons learned when the cold strikes

Be extra cautious this time of year when the unexpected could happen with fatal results

When nature dishes out a life lesson, it sticks.

The recent cold snap renewed my memory of freezing both ankles when I was 19 years of age. That experience makes me extra cautious during freezing temperatures.

I retreat to my warm kitchen, pour a fresh cup of coffee, and read reports of other peoples’ misfortunes.

For instance, December 5 an 80-year-old woman near Didsbury, Alberta slipped as she exited her vehicle. Her car ran over her legs pinning her to the frozen ground where she lay helpless for about an hour until family found her.

She was steps from her own front door. By then she was severely hypothermic. She died in a Calgary hospital after being transported by air ambulance.

The temperature at the time was in the -20°C range, similar to Terrace, with a severe wind from which she had no protection.

A particular hazard is the absence of activity or wheeled traffic during severe cold snaps.

You must think of yourself as being on your own, dependent upon yourself for your safety.

On a typical bad weather day, my street can appear deserted. No neighbours move about in their yards. No cars drive past on the street, going or coming.

If I were to encounter some non-serious situation inches from my porch where I nonetheless needed assistance to extricate myself, I could well end up freezing in full view of neighbours if no one happened to look out their window and wonder what I was up to.

Despite my well-founded caution, I, too, nearly became a weather headline December 7.

I had a long standing medical appointment to go to or I wouldn’t have attempted a trip in 8°F temperature. But the roads were clear of ice and snow. I had swept snow off the truck the afternoon before.

Dressed in extra layers, I walked to my truck only to find the door frozen shut. This was my first encounter with a frozen lock.

But I had read and been told how to deal with a frozen door lock.

I dropped my shopping bag in the truck box close to the cab and fetched a packet of matches from the kitchen.

Tearing off three matches at a time, I attempted to heat the key.

Did I mention it was windy? Really windy.

Even holding the lit matches low and close to the cab, all I managed was a brief feeble flame. Repeatedly.

Taking it as a sign, I cancelled both my trip to town and medical appointment.

Next forenoon I took up where I’d left off. I was able to enter the cab through the passenger door, and closed it behind me to block out the wind.

The engine started promptly and as it ran I flung my shoulder against the driver’s side door.

That did nothing. I concluded I might have to wait for rising temperatures to thaw the door. I killed the engine.

Now the passenger door was frozen effectively trapping me in the cab. No neighbour was in sight.

Even if they had been, it’s unlikely they could have heard me unless I leaned on the horn without letup. No cars went by.

Might I be stuck here all night? How long would a tank of gas keep me warm? I wasn’t dressed to be outdoors for a long spell.

I was able to roll down the passenger window and reach out far enough to fit the key in the lock.

Robust wiggling of the key sprung the lock and I was free.

Next time I’ll leave one door ajar until both doors open freely.

Claudette Sandecki gathers up tips for cold-weather survival from her home in Thornhill, B.C.