December 12, 2013 12:36 am

Extreme temperatures send dozens to hospital

WINNIPEG - It’s been five straight days in the deep freeze, and it’s starting to show.

Winnipeg hospitals have treated dozens of people for frostbite or hypothermia in December so far and those who provide shelter to the homeless are under more pressure than ever.

Michael Tomkiewicz knows first hand what extreme wind chills can do — she’s homeless and she’s suffered from frostbite.

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“If you don’t get out of the wind, you can freeze in a very short time,” Tomkiewicz said. “I’ve frozen my face. It got so cold it got white, it got hard,” he added, poking his cheek.

Southern Manitoba on Wednesday saw extreme wind chills of up to -45, which means frostbite can occur in 10 minutes.

“When I do thaw out, it’s like needles and pins, or a dog chewing on your fingers,” Tomkiewicz said.

Winnipeg emergency rooms have treated 23 people suffering from frostbite or hypothermia so far this month. Winnipeg Regional Health Authority officials expect that number to grow as the deep freeze continues.

At Siloam Mission, all 110 beds have been filled every night for a week.

“We do have a health centre here with doctors and nurses,” said executive director Floyd Perras. “If it was really acute, we would make sure they got over to the hospital emergency.”

Covering exposed skin is key to preventing frostbite.

Extreme weather expert Gordon Giesbrecht, also known as “Professor Popsicle,” said wearing a toque and mitts will reduce the chance of ending up in the ER.

“How many of us stand out in the middle of a field in the wind and let it blow against our uncovered skin for 10 minutes?” said Giesbrecht. “As soon as I put a glove or a mitt on, well, now my risk is like an hour.”

Tomkiewicz is grateful for his gloves, which were donated by a generous Winnipegger — but if he’s outside too long, he could still get frostbite.

“I’m afraid because you can’t just knock on someone’s door and say, ‘Hey listen, can I come in and warm up?’ “

© Shaw Media, 2013

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