“Jane Doe” had a temperature of 81.1 degrees when she was wheeled into the emergency room.
Her pulse registered 0, respiration 12, blood pressure 0 over 0 at 3:52 p.m. Aug. 15.
“She also had ice packed in her underwear near her rectum for unclear reasons,” the doctor dictated in the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital Emergency Department report, adding, “Possibly as a way to make her more responsive.”
Jane Doe had overdosed. Packing people in ice will not wake them from an overdose. Jane was revived because she was administered the opioid antidote Narcan.
“Will proceed with continued active external rewarming methods,” the doctor's report noted.
Jane could have died because of the persistent, dangerous myth that ice will save someone who is overdosing.
Instead, she has been in recovery from addiction ever since, living for now at Hope City, a faith-based, residential rehab in Barbourville, Ky.
What happened to her is not unique.
Dr. Dustin Calhoun has seen patients who overdose with ice packed around them in the emergency department at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center from time to time.
One of the most common things that doctors find is ice in or near the rectum.
"Ice cubes packed in the undergarments. Ice cubes all over the place,” said Calhoun, assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine’s emergency medicine department. He's not sure where the myth came from. Maybe a TV show or a movie, maybe just from seeing people splash water on someone who's drunk?
“There’s definitely no evidence that cooling someone suffering from a narcotics overdose has any medical benefit. It definitely does not wake them up,” Calhoun said. “These people already have respiratory depression.
“There’s no evidence that it preserves organ function.”
It’s not a new idea, it’s just seen more frequently during an overdose epidemic.
Alicia Bishop, a Cincinnati woman in recovery, said she was submerged in ice when she overdosed in July 2011.
“They put me in a bathtub with a bunch of ice and left me in there for six hours,” said Bishop.
She was rescued after a friend called out to a police officer on the street who then called paramedics.
“I was put under heat blankets, ’cause my body temperature was, like, 86,” Bishop said about her time at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. “And when I woke up in there, they told me, ’You know how close you were to death? Your friends almost killed you.’ "
Bishop’s temperature upon arrival at the hospital falls into the category of moderate hypothermia, which starts below 89.6. A normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees.
Jane Doe, though, was in severe hypothermia when she reached the emergency department of Lake Cumberland in Somerset, Ky. The threshold for that is 82.4 degrees.
Hypothermia happens when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat.
When it's too much heat, essential functions stop doing their job, Calhoun said. "That's when we see altered mental status and bizarre behavior and decision-making."
Heart and respiratory rates become slower. "Heart muscle becomes more irritable. More likely to go into potentially deadly dysrhythmias," he said.
The hospital where Jane Doe was left was able to identify her 18 hours after her arrival. Her name is Adrienne Eggers, and she's a 29-year-old mother of a 10-year-old.
Adrienne’s mother, Elaine Eggers, remembers her shock at getting the hospital call.
“My mind went someplace far away,” she said. “The words that she had been dumped at the ER doors nearly naked, packed in ice with a core body temperature of 81.1, and that she was a Jane Doe for about 18 hours didn’t register.”
Elaine Eggers went into "save-my-baby" mode: She quickly filed a Kentucky Casey's Law court request, seeking a judge's order to have her then-unwilling daughter placed into addiction treatment. A few months later, when Adrienne was safe at Hope City, “I re-read the Jane Doe ED report that stated she had no BP and no pulse,” Eggers said. “I went to my knees.”
She finally understood what had happened to her daughter.
Adrienne has no idea how she got to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. No recollection of being placed under a specialized blanket with tubes that forced warm air around her to bring up her body temperature. No memory of a being in what her ER report calls a "warm room."
“I remember shooting,” Eggers said of her drug use that day. “Next thing I remember is when I woke up in the ICU.”
She has no memory of having ice packed in her underwear, though she is sure it was intended to save her life.
“I know people are doing it thinking that they’re helping,” she said.
Adrienne Eggers said she has gained sobriety and an enthusiasm for life that she hasn't had since she was a little girl. “It has been amazing,” she said. She credits her health to a new awareness that God and her faith-based recovery setting provided for her.
It was as if she needed to hit her lowest point to find what she needed, she said. That August day she found it.
The ice she was packed in by someone, in an effort to save her, was instead hastening her death. It was as if she was being dragged under further. It did not wake her up. Surviving the ice did. And she wants everyone to know the truth.
"It doesn't do any good. They need to know you're actually causing more harm.”