A Fateful Leap

[Video content via The Columbus Dispatch]

During the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2015 a young man was pulled from Mirror Lake in cardiac arrest during the annual jump at The Ohio State University. Almost immediately, university administration began calling for an end to the tradition. In recent years the university has been paying closer attention to the potential detrimental health effects of jumping into a pond in late November.

After the tragic and untimely death of one of the participants, Austin Singletary, a third-year student majoring in human nutrition, the university, along with the student government, have taken steps to end the tradition.

On Wednesday, The Ohio State student government voted on Resolution 48-R-21: A Resolution to Advocate for Student Safety by Ending the Mirror Lake Jump. The resolution passed 35-6 with 6 abstaining, according to a report in the student-run newspaper, The Lantern. With the passing of this measure the student government elided with university administration, which came out in favor of ending the tradition after Singletary’s death.

The university has tried to quell the Mirror Lake jump since 2012 by imposing greater control over the event. That year was the first year the university required participants and spectators to wear wristbands for the event. The university also erected a gate around the lake in an effort to prevent any premature jumping. The gate, however, was pushed down and overrun by students taking place in a Monday jump, without wristbands, in 2013. Only those students with wristbands were permitted near the lake. Each year following 2012, students were required to have wristbands for the event.

The wristbands, however, have failed to slow participation. According a previous report in The Columbus Dispatch, roughly 10,000 students continued to participate in the jump every year since 2012. In a separate report in The Lantern, 2014 saw 14,000 participants in the Mirror Lake jump.

At the event a number first responders are on hand in the event of a medical emergency. In all, OSU police, Columbus Police, Columbus Fire and Medics and a dive team from Columbus Police are present. Additionally Medical Center security takes on more staff just for this event. In the emergency department at OSU, in addition to greater number of security, Columbus and OSU police are present for additional help.

While the death of Singletary spurred near-immediate action to end the traditional jump, both by student government and the university administration, more proactive steps likely should have been taken.

Every student that participates in the jump that requires medical attention is sent the Abercrombie and Fitch Emergency Department at the Wexner Medical Center at The Ohio State University.

Emergency Department at University Hospital

Typically, participants that require medical attention are for relatively benign things—issues raging anywhere from bumps and bruises to small lacerations. With the amount of participants presenting, though, the emergency department becomes significantly inundated with patients, resulting in an overcrowding issue.

According to Michelle Ross, a nurse at the medical center, great efforts are made for this one night. Extra staff is taken on with nurses and healthcare providers.

Ohio State University Emergency Depart Trauma Bay

Ohio State University Emergency Department Trauma Bay

The emergency department also prepares for an influx of patients from the event by keeping two of the trauma bays empty so that multiple patients can be seen in the two rooms to expedite service for less severe patients–a phenomenon known as “double stacking.”

There are those patients that do present to the emergency department with significant medical issues—ranging anywhere from acute alcohol intoxication to serious hypothermia.

Patients that present with hypothermia are of the greatest risk. Participants in water just above the freezing point for around two minutes will begin to experience reduced dexterity and confusion. If a participant remains in the same water for around 15 minutes, loss of consciousness likely will occur, according to Ross. Furthermore, alcohol consumption can adjust the scenarios significantly. In an effort to prevent this, dive teams from Columbus Police try to limit participants in the water for no more than eight minutes at a time.

To treat these more extreme cases the university employs what is called rapid warming. Rapid warming consists of intravenous fluids given to the patient that are warmed. In the most extreme scenario, there are even machines that a patient can be treated with that actually filters one’s blood and warms it.