03/20/2015 10:40 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Australian woman recalls terrifying night drunk, lost on Prince Albert streets

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - A young Australian woman is creating an international sensation with her Internet posts about how a drunken night spent in the freezing cold of Prince Albert, Sask., left her suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia.

Emma Quirk, a 25-year-old originally from an area near Sydney, has been living in Canada for four years largely to pursue her love of snowboarding.

In December, she was living in Prince Albert, her boyfriend's hometown, when she went out drinking with her co-workers.

She admits she got "too drunk" and ended up wandering around the city in -30 C temperatures for several hours with no gloves.

Eventually she tried banging on the windows of the Mont St. Joseph seniors' home and was found by staff after she curled up on a bench near the front doors around 5 a.m.

Until recently, she thought her noise is what got the staff’s attention but it turns out they spotted her on security cameras that had been installed just a few days earlier.

“Just by circumstance, they were charting at the time and noticed a ... person approach the entrance,” said Lesley Larrea, director of care at Mont St. Joseph. “When they responded, of course, they found someone in need of some emergency medical attention.”

Quirk, who now lives in Banff, Alta., said she hadn't known that.

“Oh wow. That’s how they found me," she said in a phone interview. "That’s lucky. Oh, my God, that’s lucky."

Quirk said her ordeal started when she told her friends she was going to step outside for a cigarette and disappeared. She doesn’t remember much of what happened over the next three hours besides being distressed, crying, and cold.

“I tried to use my armpits to keep warm, which is what you’re supposed to do," said Quirk. "It wasn’t working. So I remember putting my fingers into my mouth trying to get my mouth to warm up my fingers."

Quirk’s posts on Imgur maintained a sense of humour about what happened, and featured selfies of her staring in mock horror at her fingers, swollen to the size of sausages.

"In a flurry of nurses and bandage and medication, I was given time with the local specialist called …wait for it … Dr. Freezin," she wrote of her doctor, who is actually Dr. Randy Friesen.

But in spite of the jokes, Quirk said it was a serious situation and she hopes she gets across the message to young people how "drinking recklessly can be a really, really bad thing sometimes.”

She said she looks back on the `what ifs' of that night all the time.

“Death was right there,” Quirk said, especially considering that she’d thought she was at a school, not a seniors’ home that night. If that was the case, the building would have been empty for days and no one would have come to her aid, she pointed out.

As for the pain, “it’s excruciating. Absolutely. It’s almost completely indescribable.”

That December night also left an impression on all of Mont St. Joseph’s staff, Larrea said.

“You have a young lady who’s in a dire medical situation, from another country," she said. "We’ve got many young staff, many young women who are here and it’s hard not to put yourself in those shoes. The staff will be very happy that her outcome has been as good as it has been.”