Golf Course Dangers: Frostbite

imageMost golf course dangers are well documented: alligators in Florida (and the occasional big cat), fire ants in the south, gila monsters in the southwest, snapping turtles, snakes, various poisonous plants, lightening and the occasional stray ball.

But I’ve got a new one for you: Frostbite.

This last Friday, we played our first league round in low fifty degree temperatures and a howling wind. I was well prepared, though, with winter weight golfing gloves, mittens for between shots, thermal sweatshirt, goretex golf jacket, flannel lined pants, wool socks and wool cap. As a veteran bad weather camper and Eagle Scout, I had no reason to anticipate trouble.

But, when the round was over and I pulled off my I was shocked to see the middle finger of my right hand had turned ghostly white: initial stages of frostbite.

There are four phases of frostbite, similar to the various degrees of burns. First degree is called Frost Nip, and affects just the surface skin. With this, there’s some pain, and the skin turns white, red or yellow and becomes numb. Second degree involves a hardening of the skin and may result in blistering over the next few days. Third and Fourth degree frostbite involves deep freezing of skin, muscle, tendons and blood vessels. The skin becomes red—and eventually black—looking for all the world like a heat burn. The tissue dies, and the victim loses feeling in the affected areas. Amputation may be necessary if the area become gangrenous.

I diagnosed my problem as Frostnip—not that bad. It was white, but I still had feeling, and there was no hardening of the skin. In that case, the main thing was warm the finger, while avoiding the possibility of refreezing. There also was the outside possibility that I had hypothermia—an unsafe lowering of the body’s temperature. I hopped into the Subaru, and turned the heat up as far as it would go. Then I turned the blowers on full and held the affected hand in the warm air flow. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to drive in the direction of the nearest urgent care facility.

Fortunately, after about fifteen minutes of heater vent treatment, the finger regained its color. An even better sign: no real pain as it recovered. I skipped urgent care and instead went home to consult Mrs. GolfBlogger, the Air Force Nurse/Ski Patroller. She agreed that I was recovered and didn’t need further treatment.

In more severe cases, the best thing to do is to go immediately to medical care. Keep the affected area out of the cold, and also away from very hot temperatures because the sensation is decreased and you could burn yourself. Avoid rubbing the affected area, and if possible, immobilize it to keep any ice crystals that have formed from causing further harm. Loosen any clothing or jewelry in the area that may affect blood flow. Avoid caffeine and nicotine, as they restrict blood flow. Keep the victim warm, because hypothermia is a real possibility. Ultimately, the area needs to be warmed/thawed, but that should only be done if you can guarantee that the area won’t become refrozen. Refreezing after thawing nearly always leads to gangrene. As it thaws, it’s likely to be very painful.

When I was in Scouts, treatment for frostbite called for gradual thawing and rubbing the area in snow. All the recent literature calls for thawing quickly under medical supervision at 102 to 108 degrees. Of course, when I was in Scouts, the treatment for snakebite was applying a tourniquet, cutting an x on the fan marks and sucking out the venom. That’s out of style now, too.

To remember: recognize the symptoms and get to medical treatment.

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