I almost died from dehydration, but didn’t. Want to know how?
If a tiger’s about to gnaw off your leg, your home is collapsing, someone’s bleeding, or your aircraft is dropping out of the sky, you just might want to focus on that first.
However, once you have time to think about your survival needs, you can’t get around the fact that you can only last a few hours to a few days without water.
Lack of water impacts people daily and, whether you stay at home or travel, water will figure heavily in any survival situation you might encounter.
Today, in the Sahel region of Africa, millions are trying to survive a horrendous drought brought on by climate problems and regional/ international politics. A lack of available water is demonstrating its disastrous effects on millions of people.
In fact, worldwide, about a billion people lack access to safe water, and it’s estimated that by 2025, more than half of the world’s population could be facing water-based vulnerability.
Around 60% of the average adult body is H2O; babies and children are even higher percentages. So it’s no surprise that significant attention needs to be given to water in any survival situation.
Every day, you lose water even through simple actions like breathing. Physical exertion, high altitude, warm weather, a high fiber diet, and other factors like the severe diarrhea of dysentery and other illnesses can draw substantial water out of you, too.
What can happen when you dehydrate? Among other things, your brain doesn’t function properly (not good for making survival decisions), your body has trouble regulating its temperature, and you could go into hypovolemic shock, have heat stroke, or worse.
For example, Michel Vieuchange was a French adventurer who executed a daring trip into the Western Sahara to reach a mysterious abandoned city called Smara. His brother Jean published Michel’s journal in 1932. The adventure story that unfolded resulted in the bestselling book “Smara: The Forbidden City”.
Why didn’t Michel publish the materials himself? Although he succeeded in entering those lands in disguise and finally reached the forbidden, centuries-old city, he ended up dying from dysentery.
My Experience With Dysentary
In one location in Pakistan, I was hit by a rough bout of dysentery. It hit hard and fast.
In no time, I was dehydrating. Constant diarrhea, vomiting, and the resulting rapid loss of strength meant that I couldn’t even make it down a small flight of stairs for help, and I had no telephone.
It got mighty unpleasant, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I had to find a water source to survive. Where I lived, the water from the faucet looked like, smelled like, and probably was mixed heavily with raw sewage.
I had a few bottles of water, but they were gone soon and, between the incessant heat and my illness, I was losing water rapidly.
There were no other options; I had to drink the tap water.
Luckily, I’ve always packed an excellent water filter: Katadyn. So, when I could, I boiled some water, let it cool and the various bits congeal on the top, then strained them through my filter. Other times, I only had the strength to use the filter.
I still remember the moment I resigned myself to drinking what my head knew must be safe water, but my nose said was something straight from a toilet. It smelled and tasted awful, but it was drinkable.
Painful, long days and nights passed, and my body shrank while, as they used to say, “my water turned black.” As I was told later, my intestines were erupting and bleeding. I was in a bad situation.
However, I focused on getting and drinking water and making an oral rehydration solution. Eventually, the tide turned, and I was able to get some supplies and return to my tasks after about a week.
The three lessons in this little episode are these:
1. I needed access to water, and I had it. I was fortunate to have purchased and kept with me a first-rate water filtration system.
2. I did what I had to do. Did I relish the idea of drinking that stinking water? No. But, I did it, and I survived.
3. I needed better support in that situation and didn’t have it. Because I’ve worked in many different locations around the world, sometimes I’ve had great support. However, sometimes there was little time to establish support systems. Whether you take jobs in far-flung places or stay in the same town your whole life, support systems can mean the difference between success and failure.
Frankly, people trying to survive where they live tend to have the advantage.
Whether you find yourself trying to stay alive at home, traveling, in an urban setting, or out in the wilds, you might need to stop water loss and rehydrate yourself or a loved one. Here are a few tips to do so:
–> Stay in cooler areas as much as possible.
–> Rest as much as possible and work when the temperatures are cooler.
–> Stay covered with light clothing.
–> Eat as little as possible.
–> Try not to talk.
–> Breathe through your nose.
Quick Solutions to Hydrate Yourself
The following formulas can help you get the most hydration out of your fluids.
Oral Rehydration Solution – The body loses more than water that need to be replenished. That’s why ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) formulas and packets were developed.
In Pakistan, I didn’t have any ORS packets, but made the simplest formula and drank it as well as water: take one liter of clean water (4.25 cups) and add 30 ml (6 level tsp) of sugar and 2.5 ml (1/2 level tsp) of salt. Add a juice like orange juice if you can.
If you have to, you can do as I did when I ran out of juice and keep drinking the solution without it. However, over the long term, you’ll lose potassium.
The U.S. Public Health Service Recipe – In one glass, put 8 ounces of fruit juice; 1/2 teaspoon of honey, corn syrup, or sugar; and a pinch of salt. In another glass, put 8 ounces of purified water and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Drink a couple of swallows alternately from each glass until finished.
If oral rehydration solution isn’t possible, drink clear fruit juices, caffeine-free carbonated beverages, or weak tea with sugar.
Antidiarrheal options include consuming teas made from boiling campfire ash, acorns, oak bark, apple peels, or plantain. You can also eat a little bit of clay. I haven’t done it myself, but have read that small amounts can help.
There are medications like Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate that bring relief if you have it. Some say they’ll keep the bug inside you longer and absorb any rehydration solution. It’s your call; again, I’m not a doctor.
Avoid milk products, caffeine, and alcohol.
In this article, we discussed the basics of water in a survival situation, and what to do if you’re losing water. In Part Two, we’ll look at ways you can capture and keep water to help you with urban or outdoor survival.
Subnote: If you are interested in helping the people of Africa during this time of drought, you can help by donating to OXFAM America.
© Mark Dorr, All Rights Reserved
References & Image Credits:
(1)(2) Wikipedia – Drinking Water
(3) Wikipedia – Western Sahara
(4) Wikipedia – Survival Skills
(5) OXFAM America
(6) Wikipedia Body of Water
(8) Craig Hospital
(9) How Stuff Works
(10) Wikipedia Jean Vieuchange
(11) Wikipedia – Hypokalemia
(12) Guide To Health