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Life After Paralysis is a blog that represents a variety of paralysis community members. It is a place for open conversation about the issues and the interests of people living with paralysis, their family, friends, caregivers, and the professionals that serve them. Comments are welcome!
 
The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The Perils Of Summer

When I was growing up, I used to think of Winter as the most dangerous season. It required the most work in preparation for its arrival, as it was necessary to stock up on firewood and to put the snow tires back on the family car for another season. Electric bills shot up, as the furnace worked hard to keep our house warm throughout the Winter. Periods of extreme cold brought the risk of frostbite, and walking back and forth to school as we trudged through the snow was definitely not a fun experience. 

Other risk factors were involved when venturing outside the house, even in a vehicle. Getting stranded in a snowdrift on a back road during a blizzard could be a life-threatening event. We all knew the risks of snow blindness, but blowing snow could also reduce visibility to the point where one might easily get lost. The lure of an ice-covered lake or pond was another point of danger, as thin ice could attract scores of children onto it before the long winter season caused it to freeze solid.
 
As I have grown older, especially since I became disabled, it seems that Summer is actually the season that causes the most problems. The dangers of this season are not as predictable as those found in winter, as they are subtle or can arrive in a violent manner with little or no opportunity to prepare for their arrival.

Heat is one of those subtle dangers. Periods of 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 temperature in the American Southwest and in desert areas throughout the world can approach 120°F at times, which is extremely dangerous for those of us who are paralyzed in any manner. In my situation, my cervical spinal cord injury came with an inability to sweat so I could not regulate body temperature. That is a common feature of many other types of paralyzing disabilities, and can even impact people who are elderly even though they don't have any common types of "visible" disabilities.
 
Air conditioners and refrigerators become our friends in the Summer, but when the electrical grid fails because of storm damage or overuse it puts all of us at risk. If wet towels cannot provide enough cooling to keep us safe, the only option might be to head for a local cooling or emergency shelter in order to avoid more serious health complications or even death.
 
When we think of the worst types of storms, hurricanes and tornadoes are likely to be near the top of that list. The risk of those extreme types of storms increases as the weather warms. Hurricanes, with their high and damaging winds, heavy rains, lightning and flooding threaten anyone in their path and it is difficult to prepare for their arrival even though weather forecasters try to provide as much advance notice as possible. Tornadoes are even more unpredictable.
 
For those of us unable to prepare our own homes for the arrival of a storm, or to evacuate ourselves from the path of an approaching hurricane or flood, our risk factor is extremely high and it is important to be prepared even farther in advance than our neighbors might be. We must also develop a network of family and friends, earlier rather than later, who will volunteer to help us prepare for or escape disasters of all types.

Summer is also the season when fire ravages much of the country, especially in the mountainous parts of the world or where winds fuel blazes that can roar through grass and brush at speeds equal to highway traffic. People in the path of those types of firestorms often wait until the last minute to abandon their homes and escape with a few important belongings, but those of us with transportation difficulties caused by disabilities need to prepare for and to evacuate much earlier than our neighbors.
 
In my home state of Washington, we are facing the worst fire season in history. One series of fires has destroyed over 200 homes, and is still not contained. That is similar to the type of fires that strike Southern California communities when the Santa Ana winds blow each Spring. While loss of life caused by those fires has been minimal, there have been several close calls as people waited until the last minute to escape. Some isolated homes surrounded by fire breaks and constructed of fireproof materials such as metal roofs and stucco siding have escaped damage, but even those safety features are no guarantee if a firestorm strikes.
 
When it comes to picking the most dangerous season I nominate Summer, for the above reasons. For anyone with a paralyzing type of disability, 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. Keep those emergency evacuation kits within easy reach, and let's all hope they're never needed.
 

© 2014 Michael Collins | Like Mike on Facebook
Posted by Community Admin on Jul 21, 2014 3:18 PM US/Eastern