Column 10

The weather may not seem to have this risk at this time, but it is coming….
Keeping Safe in the Summer Heat
I am sure you’ve heard the saying, ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’. Well, I am saying it and I mean it! A few years ago on Canada Day, after taking in a few festivities, it was time to get some yard work done so I rolled up my sleeves, put on the sunscreen and got down to work. It was a day that outside fires were allowed so it was a great time to get rid of a pile of sticks and brush that had gathered over the winter. I used up a whole tank of gas doing hand trimming around the yard, then noticed that not only the trimmer’s gas tank was empty, but I felt like I’d run out of gas too.
I certainly didn’t mean to, but I’m sure I’d allowed myself to get heat sickness; not quite heat stroke, but well on my way to it. I was so busy working in the yard that I forgot to follow all the right steps to staying healthy in the heat. Health Canada states ‘heat illnesses, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat fainting, are caused by over-exposure to heat or over-exertion in the heat.’ It sounds just like what I felt. I was queasy, very weak, beet-red in the face, light headed and felt like I was going to faint. I am a relatively healthy person but I couldn’t help but think of what serious health effects could take place if I did have some health issues such as heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure. How foolish I had been. Luckily, moving to a cooler place and drinking lots of water helped a bit, but I didn’t fully recover until the next day. I had a bad headache all evening, had some muscle cramping and continued to feel weak. Along with some pain pills I needed to use an ice pack to help me fall asleep. I really felt awful.
First thing the next morning I could tell my blood pressure had dropped. I needed to continue to drink extra water to replenish what I had lost. Reviewing the first aid steps, I see now that I should have put cold water over much of my skin and sat in front of a fan; that would have been a much smarter thing to do than the hot bath I had taken to ease the cramping muscles – that probably led to the horrible headache. Now for the part where I said to do as I say, not as I do , especially for people with health concerns like lung issues, heart conditions, blood pressure issues, diabetes and dementia; age can put us more at risk as well, whether we are very young or considered a senior. We have heard of deaths during heat waves, it is a serious matter.
The following steps can help to avoid the terrible feelings that I experienced. Starting with not staying in a hot car, or the direct sun without proper protection, drinking lots of water and caffeine-free drinks (avoid colas, tea and coffee) and alcohol. It might be hard to believe that a cold beer in the blazing sun is not better for you than a glass of water, but evidence has proven this is true. Some of the more obvious tactics which most people practice are to wear light coloured clothing make from light fabrics, a hat, sun glasses and sunscreen and stay in the shade. Some wise people even make sure they complete their yard work either early or late in the day when it tends to be cooler. Spend time in air conditioned areas; it’s a great time to get a few groceries or people watch in the malls. If you’re staying home, keep your curtains/blinds closed, lights low and keep air moving with a fan or air conditioning if you have it. We used to put a bowl of ice in front of a fan to make the air cooler for a person. Perhaps you could have a face cloth to dip into that cool water as the ice melts and wipe the skin to keep cool. What we eat and drink can help too, so try to stick to light meals and avoid using the oven.
Be informed; check the weather forecast on radio or television to know what temperatures are expected so you can be better prepared for it. Sometimes medications can put persons at a higher risk for heat intolerance, so ask your pharmacist about the pills you’re taking. Be a good neighbour and check in on those who are not able to get out and if you are the one who cannot get out, reach out and invite someone for a visit or talk on the phone with someone, to stay safely in touch.
The bottom line is – enjoy the warm weather, but be smart, be aware and be safe in the summer heat.

Posted in Blog.