Heat Waves and Heat Illness in Connecticut
I just got back on trail from my trip to New York City and was still in a state of sensory exhaustion. It was turning toward July and a “heat dome” was scheduled to settle in to most of the eastern US. I hadn’t heard of the climatic phenomenon of heat dome before. The image on the map looked like a world on fire. I could tell I was in for a week of misery.
When I saw Chem-Lab it wasn’t particularly hot, temperature wise. High levels of humidity got the better of him, and he was in the throws of an oncoming heat injury.
I had just crossed the road to Bull’s Bridge, a beautiful, timber-frame covered bridge over the Housatonic River. I entered the forest and within a quarter mile I saw Chem-Lab toss his poles to one side and fall onto his hands and knees. Immediately, I could tell things were not going well for him. Chem-Lab had pale skin as if he were in a state of shock. His shirt and pants were sweat drenched and his breathing was shallow and rapid.
He said he’d run out of water on the climb and turned back. Near a creek at the bottom of the hill, he fainted. Immediately I got a pen and old paper bag from my pack and took some notes. I was afraid he might go cardiac or lose consciousness. It had been awhile since I took a wilderness first aid course. I ran through the ABCs and SAMPLE acronyms, trying to note any relevant information.
From what I could gather he hadn’t eaten much that day, despite it being later in the afternoon. Also, he hadn’t been adequately hydrating. The blood pressure medication would have contributed to his susceptibility to dehydration. This was the very first day of his section hike, and he may not have been properly acclimated to the high humidity environment.
Without my saying so, he knew this was the end of the trail for him.
While Chem-Lab’s heart rate and breathing slowed to normal, I dug through my guidebook to find the closet bailout point.
A short road walk across the bridge could put us at a gas station where he could get a ride out. Then the thunder hit and it began pouring. Chem-Lab decided he was ready to walk. It was slow going along the road. Drenched and out of breath, he made it to the bench outside the store. I went inside to find the best way to get him to his car. I suggested that he rest the remainder of the day but he insisted he was OK. He then tactfully solicited a ride from an unsuspecting patron.
A Few Personal Reflections
I hadn’t mentally reviewed the protocols for a medical situation and my cheat sheet of symptoms and remedies was buried deep in my pack. Frankly, this event with Chem-Lab caught me off guard. I was so concerned that Chem-Lab was having a heart attack that I was unable to recognize his actual condition. He was clearly dehydrated and the climate exasperated his condition. My number one priority was evacuation, although I could have focused more on administering fluids. But hydrating in a thunderstorm would be demoralizing in its own right.
Takeaways and Suggestions
This may seem a rather banal report. OK, so a dude got dehydrated. So what?
That evening, at the shelter, I related this experience to the others. Everyone had come across Chem-Lab and thought something was up. A few tried to assist where they could and others failed to recognize his condition. Since I had my training almost two years ago, I will need to recertify soon. First aid, like many other backcountry skills, is perishable. It’s not something I use every day, and this contributed to my bumbling in this scenario. Training and recertification of this type is important to me. I can better evaluate myself and environmental conditions and know how to self-care if needed.
It’s now pushing deep into summer and it stands as a stark contrast compared to the freezing nights in Georgia. There have been a host of environmental considerations related to exposure and illness. In addition to learning about hypo-wraps and limb splinting, I benefited greatly from learning about weather-related injuries through formal training. Just as it’s time for me to brush up on my skills, I’d encourage anyone else headed out into the backcountry to do the same. Sometimes you just never know when you’ll be the one in position to help.
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