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Extraordinary Preservation Of Life Under Snow

( Originally Published 1851 )



The following event, which occurred during the remarkably hard winter of 1708-9, is recorded on the most unquestionable authority. A poor woman in Somersetshire, England, having been to a neigh-boring village to sell her yarn, in her return home fell so very ill that she was forced to take refuge in a small house by the way-side, and it being towards evening, she desired the people that they would let her sit by the fire during the night. This was denied. She left the house, and feeling very ill, laid herself down under a hedge. It snowed very hard; and in a little time she was almost covered by it. At last one of her neighbors came by, who asked her how she could be so mad as to lie there to be starved. She said her sickness was so violent she could not possibly go further. He then took her up, and bade her try as well as she could, adding, it was not so very far for her to go. She followed him a little way, but unable to persevere, she left him, and laid herself down under the hedge again. She was soon covered with the snow, which was falling very thick. Thus she con-tinned for nearly a week, her neighbors, mean-while, making great inquiries aller her: but no one could give any account except that one man; and he kept silent for tear of a suspicion falling upon him that 1w had made away with her.

During this surprise, a poor woman dreamed, (or rather pretended to have dreamed, the man having, probably, suggested to her this expedient to save his conscience and his neck,) that she lay under a hedge in such a place. Her neighbours immediately vent to the place with sticks, which they forced through the snow; at last one of them thought he heard a groan: upon which he thrust his stick down with more force, which made the woman cry out, "Oh, for God's sake don't kill me." She was taken out, to the astonishment of them all; and was found to have taken great part of her upper garment for sustenance. She told them she had lain very warm, and had slept most part of the time. One of her legs lay just under a bush, so that it was not quite covered with snow, by which it became almost mortified, but (says the contemporary narrator) it is like to do very well. She was very cheerful, and soon walk-ed. She lay under the hedge at least seven days.

In February, 1799, a similar imprisonment in the snow, but attended, ultimately, with more fatal consequences, was the lot of Elizabeth Woodcock, aged 42, between Impington and Cambridge. She was riding from market, when her horse, frightened by a meteor, started; and, running backward, approached the brink of a ditch. She dismounted, and the horse ran from her. She overtook him, and continued leading him, till worn down with fatigue, and under the load of a heavy basket full of her marketings, she addressed the horse: " Tinker, I am too tired to go any further, you must go home without me."

She sat herself down, and was soon covered with snow. Here, in a sort of cavern she was buried alive for eight days. On the morning after her first enclosure, she contrived to break off a stick from the hedge, and tying her handkerchief to it, she thrust it through an opening in the snow. She was certainly sensible all the time, and overheard the conversation of some gypsies, but although she cried as loud as she could, they did not (as they declared) hear her. On the second Sunday, Joseph Muncey, a farmer, on his way home from Cambridge, was drawn to the place by the appearance of the hankerchief, and discovering who it was, went for help. A shepherd who came, said, "Are you there, Elizabeth Woodcock?" She replied, in a feeble, faint voice, Dear John Stittle, I know your voice, for God's sake help me out." Stittle made his way through the snow; she eagerly grasped his hand and said, " I have been here a long time." " Yes," answered he, " since Saturday." " Ay, Saturday week," she replied, "I have heard the bells go two Sundays for church."

She was then taken home, and a most fatal treatment was she subjected to. They gave her strong liquors, and applied poultices of stale beer and oatmeal boiled together. The direct contrary to which, under Providence, would have restored her. She lost her toes; and lingered on till the following July, when she died.

The following remarks deserve the serious attention of every one :—they appear to be founded on the soundest principles. " The application of heat to the human body, after intense cold, is attended with the most dreadful consequences; it always produces extreme pain, and, most frequently, either partial or general mortification of the parts to which the heat is applied. Instead, therefore, of allowing persons who have thus suffered from frost or snow o come near a fire, let the limbs be rubbed well with snow, or, if snow cannot be procured, let them be put into cold water, and afterwards rubbed with flannel for a considerable time. Let the person be kept most cautiously from taking too much or too nutritious food. Spirits also, or wine, should, under no pretence whatever, be given, without being .weakened very much with water. Great attention must be paid to the state of the bowels. The use of opium and camphor is much to be re-commended, though at first the opium should be given in very small portions.

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