The Importance of Water

In planning this next novel I’ve been talking about over the past week, I’ve had several scenes rolling around in my head. One of them is where a man tumbles into a shaft and is trapped for a period of time before he’s rescued. How long? I wasn’t sure but I thought I’d do some research to find out what a person could stand and how the body would react with limited water and food. Here are some interesting tidbits that I found helpful for this scene, but also horrifying as true facts. I’ll start out with the nicer facts on water and the body and then I’ll go into the not so nice facts. Be warned, some of the following is not suitable for the faint hearted.

The following quote was taken from Answers.com:

About seventy two percent of the fat free mass of the human body is made of water. To function properly the body requires between one and seven litres/quarts of water per day to avoid dehydration, the precise amount depending on the level of activity, temperature, humidity, and other factors. It is not clear how much water intake is needed by healthy people. Water is lost from the body in urine and faeces, through sweating, and by exhalation of water vapor in the breath.

And the next two quoted sections were taken from this page:

A reliable clue to indicate dehydration is a rapid drop in weight. This loss may equal several pounds in a few days (or at times hours). A rapid drop of over 10% (fifteen pounds in a person weighing 150 pounds) is considered severe. Symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from those of the original illness, but in general, the following signs are suggestive of dehydration; increasing thirst, dry mouth, weakness or lightheadedness (particularly if worsening on standing), darkening of the urine, or a decrease in urination. Severe dehydration can lead to changes in the body’s chemistry, kidney failure, and can even become life-threatening.

However, this is the grusome bit. I was shocked to discover that a person could die after only 5 days. This does, of course, depend on the person’s health and the situation.

  • The mouth would dry out and become caked or coated with thick material.
  • The lips would become parched and cracked.
  • The tongue would swell, and might crack.
  • The eyes would recede back into their orbits and the cheeks would become hollow.
  • The lining of the nose might crack and cause the nose to bleed.
  • The skin would hang loose on the body and become dry and scaly.
  • The urine would become highly concentrated, leading to burning of the bladder.
  • The lining of the stomach would dry out and the sufferer would experience dry heaves and vomiting.
  • The body temperature would become very high.
  • The brain cells would dry out, causing convulsions.
  • The respiratory tract would dry out, and the thick secretions that would result could plug the lungs and cause death.
  • At some point within five days to three weeks, the major organs, including the lungs, heart, and brain, would give out and the patient would die.

Naturally, there will always be an exception, but imagine how stupid I would have looked if I had this man trapped down that shaft for 6 weeks with no food or water and when he was rescued all that was wrong with him was that he’d lost a little weight? I would have lost all credibility immediately. Researching facts for your manuscript is essential.

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