We Love Summer, But It Can Be Deadly

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on June 27, 2016 # Health

Much of the Northern Hemisphere faced unpleasant, and cold, weather this past winter. While enduring many frigid weeks, or even months, spent shoveling snow, vacation wishes of those who live in those climates often focus on extended time relaxing on a tropical beach.

Being warm and comfy while wearing minimal clothing sounds ideal at any time, but especially in the middle of winter. Unfortunately Summer brings its own problems which can be even more dangerous than the cold, especially for those who are paralyzed.

In the many parts of the United States, especially the Southeast and Midwest, heavy rains and tornadoes have been the late Spring/early Summer weather-related culprits, causing massive damage and flooding at 100-year levels. Such weather patterns are expanding across the country, and it is now hurricane season. Hunkering down at home or in a shelter may prevent injuries, but such actions will not prevent problems caused by a quieter, but still insidious, threat: summer heat.

A heat wave in the past few days has sent temperatures soaring, and in the process set records, throughout the desert Southwest. Temperatures in Arizona, Nevada and parts of Eastern California have reached over 120° and many suburbs surrounding the "coastal" city of Los Angeles have endured several days of temps exceeding 100°. The heat wave will steadily move north and east, where higher levels of humidity make it even more dangerous.

Several people have already died from the heat this Summer. The victims range from hikers in Arizona to people who face similar heat while outdoors in the urban core of cities. The asphalt or concrete streets found there concentrate and reflect heat like a convection oven, which can make urban areas as dangerous as desert environments for unwary pedestrians who venture out while the sun is shining.

With all of the warnings that have been issued by multiple sources about the dangers of heat, it seems surprising that people still succumb to heat exhaustion or heat stroke due to inadequate shelter or a lack of sufficient fluids. High temperatures are dangerous for people of any age or any body type, but that is especially true for the elderly or those who are paralyzed, as the body's systems that help regulate temperature are often compromised. In my case, I cannot perspire below the level of my cervical spinal cord injury. For most people, sweat evaporates and in the process provides a cooling effect but, without that ability, my body simply overheats. On two separate occasions I have been trapped in my van without air conditioning due to mechanical breakdowns when the summer heat exceeded 100°. I was able to remain cool for a while by applying a plastic bag filled with ice to the back of my neck, along with spraying with cool water, but my body's core temperature continued to rise. When finally able to reach my destinations it took several hours spent covered with cold wet towels before my temperature returned to normal.

During a lifetime of exposure to the outdoors, I have learned a few things when it comes to remaining cool, and safe, in the summer heat:

--My summer dress code is light-colored cotton clothing, preferably loose-fitting, with a straw hat to protect my vulnerable bald head from sunburn. Sunglasses are a must.

--Even though I may only plan to be outdoors for a few minutes at a time, I apply liberal amounts of sunscreen to those areas not covered by clothing.

--Liquids are my friends, especially water. Besides the Camelback water pouch I carry with me every day, I make sure that there is a spare bottle of drinking water in my backpack as well as one in my vehicle.

--If I plan to sit outside at a beach, park or watching a sporting event for an extended period of time, I also carry a spray bottle of water with me. Small empty spray bottles can be purchased very cheaply at a dollar store, a drugstore or virtually any type of retail establishment that sells cleaning supplies. I am unable to spray myself due to limited hand function, so I usually share it with someone else if they spray me.

--Drinking excessive fluids when it is hot may require more frequent urination or catheterization in order to avoid urinary tract problems.

--Checking out the frozen food section at the grocery store or visiting retail stores or the library can provide relief from the heat at no cost.

--Air conditioning is great but, if it is unavailable, remaining on a lower floor or in the basement of a home and keeping shades closed during daylight hours can help temperatures inside remain cool.

--Be sure to complete necessary service on air conditioners or heat pumps, including air conditioners in vehicles, prior to the start of the hot summer season.

--For those who cannot afford air conditioning in their homes, some enterprising individuals have devised methods for constructing ice chest-based air conditioners capable of cooling a room at a cost of less than $20.00. The fan can even be battery or solar powered and it makes an ideal gift for a friend who is without home air conditioning.

These and other suggestions for being prepared and keeping safe, at any time of the year, are available at ready.gov. Remaining cool despite the summer heat should be the first priority, and might even be the easiest step to accomplish when it comes to our preparedness. Despite--or perhaps because of--these warnings, I hope your Summer is enjoyable.

© 2016 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.