Have any of you ever seen the TV series “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.”? If you have, you will notice that most of these take place in deserts or the mountains. These are places of extreme temperature changes and often places of little to no water. I usually can’t finish an episode because I just want to punch the people for being idiots.
Each episode begins by telling the story that lead up to the event that got the person or persons in a life or death situation. It goes something like this “Hey Johnny! Do you want to go on a hike with me to some part of the desert where we have never been before with little to no water and improper gear?” “Yeah sure Mary Sue. While we are at it, we wont tell anyone where we are going because we want to be secretive.” And then they go wandering off and barely come back alive.
Or while the person or persons are out hiking they decide to leave their backpack behind that has their supplies in it. Then the next thing they know, they are wandering through the wilderness, alone, dehydrated, and under prepared for the situation at hand.
The amazing thing is that I still see people doing this all the time. Zion National Park is a great place to see people wandering off onto really big hikes with no water at all. Then combine that with extremely hot temperatures and you have a recipe for disaster. I have seen couples with nothing but a little water bottle for the two of them to hike Angels Landing.
I also have seen teenagers that had one bottle to share between the three of them. They were also wearing jeans and dark shirts, so all that heat would just be trapped by their bodies causing them to sweat more. When they got back to the bottom they were all beginning to show signs of heat exhaustion. All I see in these situations is a recipe for disaster. The top of Angels Landing is the last place you want to be getting heat exhaustion and stumble over a 1000 foot cliffs.
Hyperthermia is when you over heat and become dehydrated. There is a spectrum of severity to this beginning with heat cramps all the way to heat stroke, which is devastating on a body and may take up to a year to recover from.
Heat cramps is when your body sweats out all the important minerals like calcium, potassium, salts and other electrolytes which are essential for muscles to move properly. Symptoms like legs cramping and stiffening of limbs and thirst will be present with this. The effects of heat cramps are not life threatening and can be solved by eating some salty foods and drinking some sports drinks which replenish the essential minerals to your body so your muscles can function properly. Also you need to stretch these muscles that have been going through cramps to loosen them up.
Heat exhaustion is the next “step” in the chain of bad to worse to dead in our scale of heat related problems. This is the point where the individual will begin to be extremely dehydrated. They will have headaches, and experience dizziness, fainting, and nausea. Their heart rate will increase along with their breathing.
The most important thing you can do is to get them out of the heat and cool them down. Begin giving them fluids with electrolytes and let them rest. If the conditions persist they may be heading into the final state of heat related conditions.
Heat stroke is as about as bad as it gets besides death. The core body temperature has hit 104 degrees and the body just begins to give up. The system in your brain that cools your body down just stops working and thus you begin to no longer sweat. Your skin will be hot and dry to the touch and will be red in appearance. At this point you will become irrational or even lose consciousness. Vital organs such as your brain, liver, and kidneys begin to have irreversible damage if nothing is done immediately and death will soon follow.
If this occurs, act immediately and begin cooling this person down. Remove them from the heat and remove any article of clothing that is trapping in heat. Begin to cool them from the core (torso) out. If there is a stream near by get them into the water. Water is upwards of 32 times greater at removing heat from a body then air is. Give them fluids with electrolytes and something salty to eat if conscious. Massage extremities to keep blood flowing properly. While this is going on, get help and get this person evacuated.
Prevention is the most important message I could share today. IF the proper steps are taken and early signs spotted you can avoid most life threatening situations all together. We are the most intelligent species on the earth today, act like it and you will be OK.
Information comes from the Remote Medical International hand book.