Body Bags Put to a New Use Amid Wild Heat

They're being used as a cheap treatment for heat stroke
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 25, 2021 11:00 AM CDT
ERs Put Body Bags to New Use Amid Scorching Temps
   (Getty Images)

As the Pacific Northwest sweltered, ER doctors increasingly made use of body bags—to keep people alive. NBC News reports on the "grim but practical tool," body bags containing ice and cold water that are used to cool down patients experiencing heat stroke. The typical treatments for heat stroke, in which the core body temp hits or exceeds 104 degrees, range from the use of ice packs to cooling catheters placed into veins; water draws heat away from the body 25 times faster than air can. But as the number of patients requiring such treatment grows, stockpiles of available equipment shrink. As Stanford professor Dr. Grant Lipman puts it, "Every hospital has body bags. Every hospital has ice machines."

Lipman co-authored a 2020 study on body bags put to this use in the case of an 87-year-old woman who was found unconscious in a parking lot during a regional heat wave. Her temp was 104 degrees, but the use of the ice-filled body bag cooled her to 101.1 degrees within 10 minutes. She was then transferred to an adjacent dry gurney and recovered without requiring hospital admission. The study notes that waterproof body bags typically cost $25 versus more than $100 for conventional 150-gallon full-body cold-water tubs, "which are cumbersome and interfere with patient access and monitoring due to deeper immersion" (when body bags are used, they are zipped to a patient's armpits to provide the needed access). For further reading, this piece at Willamette Weekly looks at what it feels like to die from heat. (More heat stroke stories.)

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