I just got a news release about heat stress that brought back some poignant memories.
Nearly 20 years ago I celebrated several Fourth of July mornings by gathering with 25,000 of my closest personal friends in downtown Atlanta to run the legendary Peachtree Road Race.
Twenty years ago I was in a lot better physical shape than I am today but not nearly as smart. Running 6.2 miles in humid Georgia July conditions was not one of my most shining mental achievements. Buses and subways go downtown, making the act of running an exercise in futility and moronic behavior.
I survived the challenge, obviously, but just barely.
The first time I ran the Peachtree, I tried to keep up with a friend who was at least 25 percent rabbit. We skipped the mist hoses to prevent our shoes from getting wet and causing blisters. We missed a couple of water stops as well.
As I recall, (and some memories of this event remain a bit cloudy) my friend and I parted company about the four-mile mark. He was still energized and my battery was running on low by that time.
The last thing I remember, before my knees plowed up the pavement at the six-mile mark, was veering off the road at five miles. That should have been a clue!
From mile five until volunteers picked my sorry behind off the pavement, in sight of the finish line, is a blur. I was dehydrated, running a fever of 104, delusional, and absolutely intent on finishing the race to collect a tee shirt.
I spent most of the afternoon in Grady Hospital, taking in fluids through my veins, trying to remember my social security and phone numbers and assuring my wife that I would be well in time to take a vacation to Paris in two days. Not recovering in time for the trip, at that point, was a more serious threat to my health than the heat.
That's the most frightened I've ever been about my own mortality and, even though I ran the race one more time just to prove I could do it standing up, I learned enough about heat stress to respect it. I still get light headed if I overdo yard work or play softball too long in hot weather.
Farm families need to learn the symptoms and preventive measures. It's best to stay inside during the hottest part of the day, but it's a funny thing about farm work — a lot needs doing when the thermometer registers three digits.
Carol Rice, associate professor and Texas Agricultural Extension Service health specialist, says farmers should recognize three possible heat-related conditions:
Heat cramps: Painful spasms and cramping of large muscles in the legs and arms.
Heat exhaustion: Feeling of tiredness, weakness and dizziness, accompanied by headache, nausea and possibly vomiting. Perspiration is heavy; skin feels moist.
Heat stroke: Serious medical condition that includes feeling tired, weak and dizzy, but also includes disorientation and/or deliriousness, and possibly unconsciousness.
That's the one I had. It is a medical emergency and can be fatal.
Rice advises drinking plenty of water or other non-caffeine, non-alcoholic beverage to prevent dehydration. “Be sure you are adequately hydrated before you go into the heat,” she said, “and take plenty of water with you.”
She recommends drinking two eight-ounce glasses of water about two hours before going outside, and follow with another four to eight ounces 15 to 20 minutes before going outside to give the body time to accumulate fluids.
Water is the best drink for before, during and after physical activity. “Drink at least a gallon of liquid a day — about 16 glasses — when the outside temperature is above 90 degrees and you are not in air-conditioned surroundings.” Some other advice:
Wear light-colored, cotton clothing.
Schedule outside activities during the early morning or late evening hours, if possible.
“Don't take salt tablets,” Rice added. Too much sodium is not good for the body, and most foods provide enough.
And a good one for whoever is in charge of meals at your house: In hot weather, don't cook.
The scariest thing about heat injuries is how quickly it can sneak up on you. Folks who are busy working or doing something as foolish as running in the heat may not be aware that they are in trouble until it's too late. Learn the symptoms and use a little common sense.