Tag Archives: Chicago

Straight, No Chaser: Beat the Heat (and Not Just in Miami)

When a loved one dies, families often ask “Is there something I could have done?” Usually I give you information. Today I want to give you information and power to act if needed. There are several varieties of heat related illness, and you would do well to be aware of them, because you can make a difference if someone’s suffering in the heat.
For starters, I really want you to become mindful of Heat Stress, which is the earliest complex of problems arising from excessive heat exposure. Heat stress is that strain and discomfort you get (usually during outdoor exertional activity) that reminds you that you’d be better off inside. You may notice such symptoms as cramping, a prickly-type rash, swelling and a sensation that you want to lose consciousness. If you must remain outdoors due to work, or choose to (playing sports or enjoying the sun), hydration means everything. It really is true that in some instances if you’re not actively urinating, you’re not drinking enough fluid.
Ok, so you’ve ignored both me and your body, and you’re still outdoors, not rehydrating enough. Heat exhaustion may occur next, and it’s defined by ongoing body salt and fluid losses. Now you’re feeling faint, thirsty, anxious, weak, dizzy, you want to vomit and may have a headache, and your body temperature starts to climb. I see a lot of these patients, usually because once you get wobbly, your employers or co-workers are getting concerned, which is good, because at this point, you are actually in danger.
Or maybe you didn’t come to see me when you had the chance, and you’ve collapsed outdoors, to be found and brought in. This is Heat Stroke, and is defined by changes in your mental status, increases in your temperature and disruption of your bodily functions, including a loss of ability to sweat and a loss of your kidney and liver’s abilities to detoxify your body the way they normally do.
Well, in case you’re feeling good about yourself because you’re too smart to exert yourself outdoors, all I’ve been describing is ‘Exertional’ Heat Stroke. The more deadly form of heat related illness is ‘Classic’ Heat Stroke. This is the type that captures the headlines every year in places like Chicago, New Orleans, Miami and Houston. Classic Heat Stroke is seen in those with underlying disease, bad habits or the elderly. I’m talking about the obese, alcoholics, meth and/or cocaine users, folks with thyroid or heart disease or on certain medications like diuretics or beta-blockers. These folks can get the same symptoms simply by not being able to escape the heat. They may actually just be sitting around in a less than optimally air-conditioned home.
So that’s what you’re up against. And yes, many people die from this. By the way, you’re not protected from the heat related illness just because you’re in shape. Let’s end with some 2 tips (one for prevention and the other for assessment and treatment) to help you Beat the Heat.
1) Take caution during the following conditions

  1. 95 degrees is high risk, regardless of the humidity
  2. 85 degrees and 60% or above humidity
  3. 75 degrees and 90% or above humidity

Here, you want to remove yourself from that environment. You need to keep plenty of fluids around. You need to visit an environment where there’s adequate air conditioning. Dress very lightly.
2) If symptoms of heat related illness short of mental status changes occur, think “Check, Call, Care, Cool”

  1. Check – look for those signs and symptoms I mentioned earlier
  2. Call – call 911 immediately. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  3. Care – Lie in a cool place, elevate the legs, place cool, wet towels on the body (especially in the armpits and groin), and drink cool fluids. If mental status changes occur, or if the heart or lungs appear to give out, cool by any means necessary while waiting for the ambulance. This could include ice bath, ice packs, fans or cold water, but don’t drown someone trying to put them in a tub of water if you can’t handle them. Don’t forget to remove those layers of clothing.

Please be mindful that it is hotter in July, and unfortunately lives are lost every year to the heat. If you can’t avoid the exposure, at least have a plan for managing the heat and acting on any mishaps. The life you save may be your own.

Straight, No Chaser: Back From the Dead (aka The One Piece of Medical Equipment I Wish You Had in Your House)

Have you ever heard of an AED (automated external defibrillator)? Well, you’re about to. We’ve promoted CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) a ton over the years, but recent recommendations place added emphasis on trying to literally shock patients back into consciousness. Thus, let’s start at the literal end of life, when you actually have a chance to save a life.
There are a couple of abnormal heart rhythms that suggest death is imminent. They’re called ventricular fibrillation (V-Fib) and pulseless ventricular tachycardia (V-tach). In these conditions, the heart is more or less quivering (V-Fib) or pumping too fast (V-tach) instead of giving off an optimal forceful beat. Effective beats pump blood (containing oxygen and nutrients) around the body you need to not only function, but to survive. Now, those two bad rhythms I just mentioned are unsustainable indefinitely, because without effective blood flow, vital organs such as the brain, lungs and ultimately the heart itself will give out within minutes, and that’s why you go ‘flat-line’ (aka asystole, aka dead, or soon to be). Even if you do survive, every minute these organs are starved of blood leads to damage that could be irreparable.
AEDs are designed to shock/stimulate the heart out of these deadly rhythms and back into an effective pumping state when possible (AEDs do not work for asystole, the flat-line rhythm.). The beauty of these machines is they are simple (and have been proven to be useable by untrained 6th graders), small/portable and if you pay attention, they’re all over the place. And even better: all AEDs used in the US talk to you and tell you what to do! My goal for you is simple: even if you can’t have one, know about them so you will think to use them if the opportunity presents.
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers regarding usage:
1) How do you connect it? AEDs have pads that need to be placed on the chest while staying attached to the machine. Instructions embedded on the machine will show you exactly where.
2) How does it know what to do? AEDs will detect the heart’s underlying rhythm and inform you if a shock is needed. Some machines will deliver it automatically; others will require you to press a button.
3) Are there limitations based on age? AEDs may safely be used on children and used by children. Appropriately sized pads must be used for kids.
4) Can I be sued for using this if the person dies? Users are protected by Good Samaritan Laws in case something (else) bad happens.
5) Should I own one? How expensive is it? I’d recommend one if you can easily afford it. I’d also recommend incurring the expense if you have a high-risk profile for heart disease and potentially fatal heart rhythms. This should be discussed with your physician. I paid $300 for mine, but you can pay up to $1100 for no good reason.
6) How long is it good for? You must be sure to stay up to date on the expiration dates on the components, most importantly the battery.
7) What should I do if the victim gets ‘back to normal’ after using an AED? Still call 911 and get to the Emergency Department for further investigation.
Of course the biggest question is “Do they work?” I’ll reference a study that reviewed effectiveness over two years of usage in Chicago’s Heart Start program, in which 22 individuals developed potentially fatal abnormal rhythms. 18 of these people met criteria to be treated by an AED. Of these 18, 11 survived. Of these eleven, bystanders with no prior training treated six.
I have an AED in my house and transport it in my family’s car because after all, I’m the one most likely to need it and benefit from it anyway (and I could shock myself, assuming I was still conscious). If it’s within your means, consider doing the same. It’s all about giving you the best opportunity to survive.