The need for emergency preparedness has become an important part of our way of life, and is especially important for people living with paralysis or other chronic health conditions. Reminders to put together household emergency preparedness kits show up in mailings from local utility companies and through all types of media sponsored by emergency response agencies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) all the way down to the local fire department. Those reminders are especially common during the period leading up to a major approaching storm or immediately after crises caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, or wildfires. Information about how to assemble emergency preparedness kits and be prepared if evacuation becomes necessary is readily available on the Internet for anyone seeking such information.
There are other emergencies that don't garner the media coverage but that are just as dangerous. Periods of extreme cold, and extreme heat, kill or injure dozens of people each year and will continue to do so despite warnings being given to the community at large when such temperatures are present. People who are elderly or disabled suffer disproportionately during those times and need to do whatever possible to assure that they are not placed in danger of heat stroke or worse during a heat wave.
The weather forecast for Phoenix, Arizona this week shows that the temperature will reach 119°, and those temperatures will be measured in the shade. Being trapped in a car or van with an inoperable air conditioner or engine during such a heat wave, or even when temperatures are 30° cooler, can simulate an oven. Houses with inoperable air conditioners pose a serious risk. Drinking plenty of fluids and having an ice chest full of wet towels available for emergency cooling in those conditions can provide a short term solution to the problem, but for some people it is important to get out of that situation as quickly as possible. I am one of those people, as my cervical spinal cord injury came with an inability to sweat so I could regulate my body temperature.
While I have never endured outside temperatures exceeding 110°during the 25 years since I was injured, I was trapped in my "broken down" van for almost two hours when the temperature was too damn hot. A wire became disconnected at the bottom of the distributor, stranding us on a rural road just outside Spokane. I had been given an overnight pass to leave town to announce the Sandpoint Triathlon
, and was returning to the rehab hospital since I hadn't been granted a parole from my six months of rehabilitation yet. My oldest daughter was driving when the engine quit, and our single water bottle was soon emptied. The AAA roadside assistance was delayed due to all of the other stranded vehicles in the area.
Temperatures in the van quickly soared past the outside temperature of 100°, and opening power windows or operating the air conditioning were not options without a running engine. One of the impacts of being paralyzed is an inability to sweat, so my body temperature was rising almost as fast as the heat index inside the van. It didn't take long, and I was in dire straits.
Fortunately the tow truck operator was able to arrive within about an hour, and he also repaired the broken wire so that we didn't have to figure how to unload me safely with the high banks sloping down on both sides of the borrow pit. That would have been an adventure in itself and would probably have required assistance from the local fire department.
By the time I reached the rehab ward my internal temperature was still well above 100° and it took several hours sandwiched between cooling pads to bring it back down to normal. That provided a valuable lesson, but was not the end of my brushes with heat stroke.
On a trip to Lake Tahoe to visit family friends late one Spring, I learned that my van air conditioning that had not been used all winter was out of Freon. The temperature outside was not too bad when we were at the high altitude where the lake is located, but as I headed back down toward Sacramento, a two-hour drive, the temperature inside the van began to climb. Even with my passenger, my sister, spraying my head and the back of my neck with lukewarm water, I was unbearably hot. My evening at home consisted of lying in front of a fan while covered with towels that had been soaked with ice water. I was lucky, as no permanent damage occurred, but I have become very wary of the dangers of overheating.
For anyone facing hot weather this summer, no matter where you live, it is important to be prepared by following the advice
which is available from FEMA
and from local emergency response agencies. If you or someone you know are vulnerable to overheating, be sure there is someone nearby to check in should there happen to be a power outage during a heat wave. Good luck to all of you, especially those in the Southwest, and by all means stay cool.
© 2013 Michael Collins