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Would You Recognize It If You Were In Shock? (My Coldest Night In The Wilderness)

September 25, 2017

As far as I know I’ve been in shock twice in my life.

The first time I didn’t recognize it. I was slumped back in a chair in a hospital hallway. My wife had a gallbladder attack at about 11:00pm and we’d been at the hospital for hours. The doctors sent me off to “waiting” chair in the hallway. I promptly fell asleep. The problem was I had one my legs crossed. My right leg was crossed over my left leg. I know because even now, years later, my right ankle still hurts occasionally.

As you know, if you sit for too long with your legs crossed, your leg will “go to sleep.” Several hours was definitely too long.

Mr Bliss?


We’ve completed our test. We’ll be discharging your wife in a few minutes. You can go in and see her now.

Okay, I quickly realized that my entire right leg from the knee down was asleep. It was dead! Not yet to the “tingly” stage. I even thought,

I’m going to have to be very careful. . .


While attempting to step forward, I had drug the top of my loafers on the hard linoleum floor and then stepped down with my full weight as my foot was still bent backwards. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt. Numb, remember? I backed my way to my wife’s room and sat on a stool. The room suddenly got very cold. I was shivering. My lovely wife was naturally concerned.

Are you okay?

Yeah, I just need to get the last of the shivers out.

Okay, if you think “I’m going to shake for a few minutes and then I’ll be fine” is a valid response to “Are you okay?” chances are pretty good you are in shock. Eventually, I climbed into the next bed over and put a blanket over me. I refused to even tell the doctors that I’d possibly injured myself. We’d been in hospital for hours and I didn’t want to spent even one minute longer.

My foot was broken and I wore a brace for the next six months. Still hurts occasionally.

The second time I went into shock, I realized what was happening. I had a wart on the big toe of my left foot. The treatment for warts, in case you didn’t know is liquid nitrogen. You go to the doctor, he cuts off most of the wart and then kills the rest by pressing a q-tip soaked in liquid nitrogen against the affected area. The actual wart itself has no feeling. But, where the wart tissue meets the good skin, is where doctor has to kill a little good skin to make sure he was killing the wart.

I have a very high pain threshold.

Okay, this is going to hurt. Let me know when it gets too bad to stand.


I never said stop. Sure, it hurt, but I figured it was only going to hurt for a few minutes. Better a little pain now than having to come back multiple times. Eventually the doctor quit freezing my toe. I’m not sure if he really was done, or if he was just worried about hurting me too badly.

I put my sock and shoe back on and calming walked out to my car. And that’s when the shock set in complete with the shakes. I was expecting it. I laid the seat back and turned the heater up full blast. After a few minutes my body calmed down and I was able to go back to work.

So, twice; once when I didn’t know what was happening, once when I did.

Last Friday night I found myself having the following conversation with myself while shaking uncontrollably.

I can’t stop shivering. . .I’ll just give it a minute and it will pass. . .It’s not passing. . .I should lay down. . .I’m already in my sleeping bag. . .maybe it’s just because I’m cold. . .but then why am I still shivering? . . .maybe I’m in shock?. . .Maybe the cold put me into shock. . .How would I know? . . .And if I’m in shock, does that mean I’m not thinking straight? . . .Again, how would I know? If I wonder if I’m in shock does that alone mean I’m thinking clearly? Or does it mean I’m NOT thinking clearly?

All the while I was shivering and shaking uncontrollably.

Every September we take the scouts on a backbacking trip to the High Uintas in Northern Utah. It’s one of two backpacking trips we do every year. We start at Washington Lake, elevation 10,000 feet and then hike for 3.5 miles into Long Lake. We’ve been doing this trip for years. It’s always in September.

Three years ago it rained on us and it was a very soggy, but otherwise not unpleasant hike. Two years ago it was exceptionally hot. It was only in the mid-80s but at that elevation, the thin air makes the sun even more intense. Last year? Last year was perfect. Truly the most picturesque hike I have ever been on. The weather was perfect. It was in the mid-70s with puffy white clouds and lots of blue sky. The scenary is absolutely stunning. It reminded me of why I love living in this state.

This year was different. This year we had early snow in the Uintas. We don’t normally hike in the snow. In the winter months we car camp. But, the calendar said September and in September we hike the High Uintas, so we made sure the boys were prepared for a winter camp, loaded up into two 4x4s and headed North.

The weather forecast was for 6-12″ of snow overnight.

The forecast was wrong. Instead of a nice warm cloud cover and snow, we had absolutely clear skies. The stars were brilliant, so close we could reach out and touch them . . .with our cold frozen fingers. It got down to 8 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday night. At least we assume it did. It was 12 degrees at 7:00am when we finally decided it was time to pack up.

Even in the snow it’s important to keep hydrated in the desert. When you are an old man and you drink a lot of water before bed. . .well, your body doesn’t care how cold it is, you’re going to have to get up in the middle of the night. I had to get up twice. The second time, as I scrambled back into my sleeping bag, I couldn’t get warm. I was shivering so badly that I wasn’t sure if I was going into shock. I had Hot Hands hand warmers which ment that I was freezing cold except for three spots around my body.

I’ve spent a lot of nights sleeping out in the wilderness. This was by far the coldest I’ve ever been. In the morning everything was frozen. My water bottle, the inside of my tent, even my boots were like trying to strap on two blocks of cement. Ironically, when I packed my tent, the spot where my bag had been was obvious.

Our next campout is scheduled for Southern Utah in November. I’m happy to say goodbye to the High Uintas for another year.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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