Suspended Animation: The Last-Ditch Deep-Freeze
Posted by erikthereddest
Hello all! I found this article on one of my daily romps around the internet and it reminded me of an element commonly seen in many science fiction stories- suspended animation. This typical plot device can take the form of chemical treatments that ‘freeze’ the person in a perpetual sleep, a device that actually freezes someone with the intent of thawing them years or eons later, or sometimes just some sort of inexplicable tube-thing that makes the inhabitant stop moving for a really long time.
Sometimes it’s done to keep a person alive until a future where their disease or ailment is treatable, and sometimes its used as a quick-and-dirty method of ‘time travel’ into the distant future. Regardless of its usage in fiction, this science is quickly becoming reality.
Mad Science or Miracle of Science?
The idea of freezing one’s body to preserve it has been around for a while, the hope being that in some distant future the technology will have developed to the point of being able to treat any condition (including death). Some wealthy individuals have even done just that, or at least have been rumored to have (Such as Walt Disney, as some of you might have heard), which has popularized the idea as a purely scientific fantasy. However, reality has once again come around to imitate fiction, and there have been some real advances toward making suspended animation viable.
Dr. Peter Rhee is a surgeon who’s done everything from treat American soldiers in Afghanistan to helping to save US Representative Gabrielle Gifford who was shot in a town hall meeting. After all his experience in the field, he has turned his research to finding a way to stretch those precious few minutes after a victim is mortally injured in order to allow doctors enough time to perform life-saving procedures. In most cases where a victim is bleeding heavily, it becomes impossible to perform delicate micro-surguries while fighting simply to keep the patient alive. Using Rhee’s proposed treatment, those few minutes could turn into hours or even days, giving doctors all the time they need.
Rhee’s research discovered that while reducing the body temperature of an animal only a few degrees below its natural state (About 97 degrees F for humans) would send it into organ and nervous system failure (killing it by hyperthermia), reducing the body temperature to well below that (Almost 50 degrees F in humans!) causes the subject’s body to slow to a crawl. The heart rate drastically slows or even stops, the organs cease metabolizing, brain function dims to a minute hum, and most importantly, blood stops flowing. All of these effects have been completely reversed in subjects, restoring the normal body temperature in pigs without any detectable damage.
The FDA has approved the testing on humans, and now it’s essentially just down to funding now. Rhee hopes to secure his suspended animation treatment as an effective ‘last resort’ procedure that could help save many lives.
Suspended Animation in Fiction:
So, it’s a cool idea that’s actually happening- does that affect how we write about it? Well, by Dr. Rhee’s research and others’, we know some things don’t work like science fiction thought it would:
- No frozen cavemen: I’m sure you’ve seen some story or another where a man or creature is found having been frozen in arctic ice for some thousands of years, only to make a full recovery. The thing is, when the cells in an animal’s body freeze, the water inside them expands into ice crystals, bursting the thin membrane that surrounds each one. No scientist or doctor, no matter how advanced, could repair that kind of microscopically massive damage. It would be the equivalent of taking several billion water balloons, popping them, and then reassembling the balloons with the water back inside.
- No sleeping for thousands of years: At least with the sort of system that Dr. Rhee has devised (there are other ideas), it would not be possible to keep a person alive at such a low body temperature for an extended amount of time. If another technology was used to place the body in a suspended state without resorting to cold temperatures, long term applications might work as long as the body isn’t allowed to deteriorate beyond what the body could survive.
About erikthereddestI'm a Masters student in English, and I love technology and Science Fiction. I am refining and enhancing my (admittedly novice) writing talents under the sage advice of my friends here at Lantern Hollow Press, and with the great many books I am reading from the best authors I can find.
Posted on September 21, 2011, in Cliches, Erik Marsh, Inspiration, Language, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, World Creation, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged battlefield medicine, cryogenics, Dr. Peter Rhee, science, science fantasy, science fiction, suspended animation, Walt Disney. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.