April 29, 2008

Dealing with Stable, Nuclear Fusion (aka, THE SUN)

This past weekend, I donned the armor for an event that was outside, right in the sun. It's a nice change from all the cold weather that Vermont gets, and with a nice breeze, it was the perfect day for walking around in armor, talking to kids and parents.
About halfway through the event, however, the wind died down a bit, and the temperature went up - I'm guessing we hit the 70s or 80s. Very nice if you're in shorts and t-shirts, but not so much wearing a black flight suit, diver's head cover and 30 some-odd pieces of plastic that do wonders to trap in body heat. Fortunately, a vendor donated some ice drinks, which we took on a break, and I brought along a water bottle.

As summer's coming, it seems like a good time to look at this. Summer's coming, and from my events list, we're getting a ton of events in the next couple of months, if April and May are any indication. Summer's a great time for events, but it's also something to keep in mind - higher temperatures lead to higher body temperatures, especially with a lot of physical activity, which can lead to serious health consequences, sometimes even fatal. That, to say the least, isn't good.

When I was in the Boy Scouts, and later as a summer camp instructor and lifeguard, I learned a lot about this sort of thing, and how to treat it. Mainly, the biggest things to be concerned with are Dehydration, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke. These are things that are easily preventable, with the proper preparations.

1. the act or process of dehydrating.
2. an abnormal loss of water from the body, esp. from illness or physical exertion.

Basically, you're losing more water than you take in. Symptoms include headaches, lower BP, dizziness or fainting. Standing up suddenly can bring on some of these things.

heat exhaustion (Hyperthermia)
1. a condition characterized by faintness, rapid pulse, nausea, profuse sweating, cool skin, and collapse, caused by prolonged exposure to heat accompanied by loss of adequate fluid and salt from the body.

This is the serious stage, as you do not have enough water, and your body works overtime to try and bring your core temperature down from dangerous levels, by sweating (which is how you regulate your internal temp).

heat stroke (Hyperthermia)
1. a severe condition caused by impairment of the body's temperature-regulating abilities, resulting from prolonged exposure to excessive heat and characterized by cessation of sweating, severe headache, high fever, hot dry skin, and in serious cases collapse and coma.

This is the worst stage, generally after the first two - the body cannot lower your temperature and your temperature will rise quickly. This is the stage in which hospitalization will be required. Body temperatures above 104 f (40 c) are dangerous, and 106 f (41 c) cause brain damage and death.

This is easily prevented. The #1 thing is to drink water. Lots of water. I know that can get uncomfortable with armor after a little while, but the bad side is much worse than a little discomfort for a little while. If you think that you're getting dehydrated, drink. Alcohol and Soda, especially stuff with caffeine, should be avoided (alcohol anyway if you're trooping) because it can increase dehydration. Water is your best bet. Don't just drink when you're thirsty - drink constantly. The best indicator is urine color - the darker it is, the more water you need to drink.

In the instance that you suspect that someone is suffering from Hyperthermia (they might exhibit some or all of the symptoms above or be really confused, disoriented) they need to be brought to a shaded, cool location right away. In worse cases, cool towels should be applied and they need to get out of their armor ASAP - the less that traps heat in the better.

In everything but extreme cases, as I understand it, giving the victim water is generally a good thing. In really bad cases, the only people who should be giving people anything are EMTs or medical personnel (generally an IV or something like that). If someone gets heat exhaustion or heat stroke, proper medical people need to be called right away.

Generally, what I wear on troops (even cool weather ones) is a camel back. These were pretty popular a couple years ago, and are still widely used. It's a small backpack with a water pouch and a tube for drinking. The smaller models fit under the armor with little difficulty (I wear mine on my chest - I wear TK FX armor) and loop the tube around the back of my neck, where I can stow the tube under the side of my armor, or in the rim of my helmet. It's not totally noticeable, but it is extremely handy to have on your person. I also tend to bring a couple of Nalgine bottles full of water for when I'm able to take my helmet off.

Another thing to do is to take breaks as often as you are able, where you can TAKE YOUR HELMET OFF. Hats and head coverings trap something like 80-90 percent of the heat in your body, so if you have a break area away from people, it's probably a good idea to use it.

Does anyone do anything else when they're out in the sun?

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