Salt Lake stockbroker Ralph G. Pahnke is still feeling the sting of the last cold spell, as the winter of 1990-91 continues to rage.

Utah's weather lately has been more unpredictable even than kids, Congress and Brigham Young University football - it's downright fickle.Two weeks ago, arctic blasts shattered 60-year-old cold-temperature rec-ords, meddling with water, sewer and power lines - not to mention human limbs.

The deep freeze thawed, but this week's storms tease that yet another cold spell could be on its way. But, this time, Pahnke will be better prepared.

Four of Pahnke's fingers were frostbitten one chilly December day - but not while he was skiing, hiking or snowmobiling. It happened when he was digging his car out of a snowbank.

Minus gloves and with a borrowed shovel, Pahnke retrieved his small front-wheel-drive car that had high-centered on a snowbank on his way to work one morning. With gusty winds pushing subzero temperatures even lower, Pahnke's fingers were frostbitten within 20 minutes.

"They tingled at first and then went numb," he said. "I knew I was in trouble." Fellow stockbrokers agreed, and Pahnke was taken to a local hospital emergency room. Humor gave some relief to the suffering.

Pahnke is an amputee. His left arm and hand are artificial.

"When the nurse came in, she saw my artificial hand and said, `We have a serious case of frostbite here,' " he related. "I told her not to worry about that hand. It was the other one that needed attention."

Treatment involved immersing the fingers in lukewarm water, followed by application of an antibiotic on the blisters to prevent infection. If only the skin and underlying tissues are damaged, recovery is usually complete.

However, if blood vessels are affected, the damage is permanent. Gangrene can follow, which could necessitate amputation of the affected part.

Frostbite can affect any part of the body that's exposed to frigid temperatures - generally anything below minus 5.

"It can occur at warmer temperatures - depending on the moisture in the air, the wind-chill factor, the activity and sweating of the person," said Dr. Harry Gibbons, executive director, Salt Lake City/County Health Department. "All those factors contribute."

The first symptom is a pins-and-needles sensation, followed by complete numbness. The skin appears white, cold and hard - and then becomes red and swollen, Gibbons said. After the tissue thaws, blisters form and some areas of skin turn black. That means the tissue is dead.

Only the tip of Pahnke's ring finger turned black. But he didn't lose the finger - and he learned a good lesson.

Be prepared. Always carry warm clothing and snow removal equipment in the car.

"The doctor said my fingers could have been hurt in 10 minutes - with weather that cold," he said.


(Additional information)

Advice for frostbite victims

Medical experts give the following advice in case of frostbite:

Do not:

- Rub the affected parts

- Attempt to burst blisters

- Warm the affected area with direct heat

- Allow the victim to walk on a frostbitten foot


- Shelter the victim from the cold

- Remove clothing from the affected part

- Remove anything that constricts, such as rings or a watch

- Rewarm affected area by covering it with warm hands/cloth

- Warm frostbitten hands under armpits

- Immerse affected part in warm water

- Cover area with a sterile dressing