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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 October 20; 335(7624): 823.
PMCID: PMC2034732

Body heat

Bikki Gautam, medical officer, Institute of Medicine, Kathmandu, Nepal

Last year, I accompanied a group to Everest Base Camp as the team doctor. My job was to tackle both common medical ailments and any problems related to altitude sickness. We all arrived safely, and we were making our way back from Pheriche (4100 metres) when big black clouds formed out of nowhere and it began to snow heavily. With the prospect of hot chocolate and a warm fire at the end of the day and our down jackets keeping us warm, we fought on against the chilling winds and the blinding snow. Finally, we reached the place where we were staying for the night and lost no time in huddling around a blazing fire.

But then one of our group, a 26 year woman, started shivering severely. Her hands and feet were extremely cold and numb. We brought her near the flames, piled blankets on her, and vigorously rubbed her hands and feet. These slowly turned pink, but she felt no better. We added more blankets, threw more wood on the fire, and gave her a hot water bag to hold close against her body. However, despite all our endeavours, nothing was working.

As our companion continued to shiver uncontrollably, panic started to set in. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of shared human body warmth. We made the woman stand up, and four of us in our down jackets huddled tightly around her, making a tight circle. We stood there for about 15 minutes, talking and making jokes, until she felt better. At the end of it, we were sweating hard.

Warm clothes, hot soup, and a good night's sleep were enough to revitalise our companion for the rest of the journey. On the way back, I couldn't stop wondering how the most basic and the smallest things do wonders when all the big ideas and medicines fail.

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