Something happened to me that has never happened before. And, I am embarrassed and concerned.
Let’s face it, the weather is hot. The air is saturated as the humidity levels show. You have to be careful. When you have been around for nearly half of a century as I have, you have to be even more careful.
I thought I was.
In the course of my work, I would be outside taking photographs for a few hours. I drank plenty of liquids. I dressed in light clothing, both in color and material. I had a hat on. I positioned myself in the shade to stay out of the direct sunlight.
It didn’t matter.
After being outside, doing my work which basically was not a physically exerting type of work (I had to lift the camera, snap a picture, and have my assistant bring the next person up), for maybe an hour and a half, I began to feel a little lightheaded and my shoulders and arms started to ache. This happened nearly instantly.
I asked my assistant to standby for just a second, at which time someone asked if I was OK. I told them I felt lightheaded to which they asked if I needed a medic. I thought it was kind of quick to be asked that, usually it might be where they would have asked if I needed a water or to take a quick break, but no, this went straight to the medic question.
I said no.
Then, less than five seconds, maybe less than the time to inhale and exhale, I changed my mind and said yes.
Fifteen seconds later and I was slumped over as everything kept getting brighter. Seconds later everything was white. I could not see any detail, just bright white, and my eyes were closed. My mind went to almost a dreamlike state, the kind when you are going to bed and you haven’t really fallen asleep yet, but REM is beginning.
“Wake up Bill,” I told myself. I opened my eyes and I was clutching to a railing with my right arm, I was slumped over, and my head was inches from the ground. I didn’t pass out, but I was as close to passing out without actually hitting the ground as you could be.
I had no control in standing, so I sat down. In fact, I sat down hard. And I laid back. I had no sweat coming from my forehead, neck, body or arms. Afterwards I was told that I went from normal skin tone, to bright red to makeup white within one minute.
I had suffered from heat stroke.
There was no warning. There was no sequence of heat exhaustion to heat stroke. It happened and it happened lightning fast. The medic took my vitals, and had an ice bag under my back and between my arms and trunk of my body to cool my core. I was disoriented but not delusional. I knew what was happening at that point but I could not gain strength to sit for a prolonged period or stand at all.
During the winter, we worry about hypothermia, in which the body cannot create heat as fast as it loses it. During the summer, we have to worry about hyperthermia, where the body loses the ability to discharge heat and cool the body down.
While hyperthermia, heat stroke, or sunstroke as it can all be referred to, and even the sometimes precursor of heat exhaustion, can hit anyone of any age, I have found out that the magic number is 50. It seems that half century was true for me also.
While I thought I did everything right, perhaps the main thing I did right was having other people near me. As a somewhat adventurous soul, this episode has brought to light something I have never worried about before. I enjoy my times alone with nature; hiking, paddling, camping. But for something to hit with no warning in seconds such as this, perhaps it is best we all rethink how we handle the outdoors.