The Perfect Storm – A story about heat illness.

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With the heat of summer upon us we thought it would be fitting to ask one of our team members to share a personal experience they had with heat illness that dramatically impacted their life.

INTRODUCTION

My name is Angela, and I am the Manager of Accounting for RMS Safety.  I am writing this to share a personal experience I had with heat illness that impacted my quality of life and almost ended it!  I hope this raises awareness and saves others from going through a similar experience.

THE TREETOP ADVENTURE

On July 4, 2017 my family and I decided to visit a very challenging 5-level zipline and rope adventure course in Knoxville, TN.  To tell you how challenging this course was… anyone who can finish all 5 levels earns a t-shirt.  Even though we were not in great physical condition at the time and the heat index was 90-92 degrees that day, we pushed ourselves and made it past the first three levels.  After the third level my husband and daughter gave up.  My body was telling me to do the same, but I was determined to earn that t-shirt, so I decided to continue-on by myself.  As I was completing level 4, I noticed a significant reduction in energy and strength, and the park ran out of water.  Instead of stopping, I pressed-on and eventually completed the course.  By the time I reached the end I felt terrible and could barely walk on my own, but I also felt a huge sense of accomplishment.

THE CELEBRATION

After resting and laying lifeless at the end of the course for a while, I mustered enough strength to descend, claim my t-shirt, and return to my family (who was so proud of me).  They suggested celebrating my accomplishment by going out to dinner.  Even though I did not feel up to it, I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I pasted a smile on my face and agreed to go.  Not realizing that my body was fighting a battle with dehydration and losing, I had two of my favorite drinks at dinner (margaritas).

THE CAR

Being utterly and thoroughly exhausted, I passed out in the car on our way back to the hotel.  Between the restaurant and hotel my husband and daughter saw a gun shop they wanted to checkout, so they stopped and asked if I would be okay waiting in the car.  I gave them a thumbs up (it was all I could do to just lift my thumb at that point), so they ran inside for what they thought was going to be a quick trip.  They returned one hour later!  For that hour I sat inside the car with all windows up and no air conditioning on (which basically converted our car into a 104-119 degree oven).

THE STROKE

Once we returned to the hotel, my husband tried to help me out of the car.  I remember feeling very confused and agitated.  I could not figure out where I was, or even who I was!  My daughter then helped me back to the hotel room where I immediately passed out on the bed.  Shortly after, my family noticed that I was in distress and non-responsive, so they called 911 and I was rushed to a nearby hospital.  After several hours of treatment and observation, I was released and we returned home the next day.  Over the next several months I noticed difficulty with doing normal things like thinking, talking, walking, driving, writing, and typing.  The right side of my body was very weak.  I had suffered from a heat stroke.

THE AFTERMATH

Although I no longer have weakness or experience the symptoms I once had from this event, I have had several other health issues since then that doctors could not find a direct cause for.  These issues have led to expensive tests, treatments, and multiple surgeries.  As of today, I still deal with chronic non-stop pain that is so severe that I can barely sleep!  Even though I am not certain that my heat stroke caused this downward spiral of health problems, it all happened after my stroke and I cannot think of anything else that could be the culprit.  Before my stroke I was healthy.  I ate a healthy diet, didn’t smoke or drink (in excess), I wasn’t overweight, and lived an otherwise healthy lifestyle.  Looking back on it… I would gladly return my t-shirt if I could get my health back!

LESSONS LEARNED

Here are some of the lessons I learned from this experience:

  • There is no prize or reward worth sacrificing your health for.
  • Respect the danger of heat stress. It is real and can happen to anyone.
  • Hydrate! Hydrate!  Hydrate! 
  • Alcohol is not your friend before or after being overheated.
  • Know the symptoms of heat illness (including exhaustion) and listen to your body.
  • Move to a cool environment (not an overheated car) when symptoms occur.
  • Get to the hospital immediately if signs of heat stroke appear.

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