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Travis Corcoran on Dealing with Heat Exhaustion
A last-minute addition to this week's Summer Survival Council
Hey folks, after we sent out this week’s Summer Survival Council article on dealing with heat, Travis Corcoran emailed me about his recent experience with heat exhaustion. I’ve added it to the web version of the article, but I didn’t want our email-only readers to miss it.
Also, the Summer Survival Council series will be coming to a close soon, so if you have specific questions for the council, let us know in our Discord group.
Travis J I Corcoran is a software engineer and an author. He lives on a 56-acre farm in New Hampshire with his wife, dogs, livestock, and a variety of lathes and milling machines. He raises and butchers his own pigs, sheep, and poultry, and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables in his gardens, orchards, and vineyards. His two-volume homesteading magnum opus is available on Amazon: Escape the City Volume 1 and Escape the City Volume 2. …as are his two award-winning science fiction novels: The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.
Heat — and heat injuries — are much on my mind right now, because two weeks ago I suffered heat exhaustion for the first time in my life.
I'd always assumed that “heat exhaustion” was akin to dehydration — you got too hot and too dry, so go inside, drink some cold water, rest for 30 minutes, and then get back to your chores.
…but it turned out to be a serious condition. Heat exhaustion (I HAVE NOW LEARNED) is characterized by pouring sweat, dizziness, mental confusion, and nausea.
When it hit me, at first I thought (as per the above) that I could just cool down indoors for a bit and then get back to it …but it turned out to be quite an ordeal, involving sleeping for about 48 hours interrupted every two hours by waking up to vomit, or at least dry heave after the first half dozen bouts. It was like a bad flu… combined with extreme dizziness (so getting from the bed to the sink required a lurching drunken sailor's walk).
During the acute phase (about three days) I couldn't eat anything, and could only hold down beverages if I sipped them slowly. I was torn between being very thirsty and wanting to guzzle water or Pedialyte, and learning that if I did, it would all come back up in 10 minutes.
After the acute phase passed, there was a week and a half period of occasional bouts of brain fog and low executive function (only now wrapping up). All of this was pretty scary, especially because I didn't feel that I had been pushing myself much harder than usual.
Having learned a few things the hard way about heat exhaustion, I tried to learn a few more things about the topic the easy way: by Googling and talking with friends online.
Google told me that heat exhaustion is often triggered by cumulative insults. In my case, I'd been pushing myself very hard for two weeks, and every night I was coming in, telling my wife “Wow, I really destroyed myself today — I think I'll just lay down on the couch (or the floor) at 8 PM because I'm too tired to sit up.” This was, in retrospect, obviously my body telling me that I was pushing further and further into my reserves. I was an idiot for not listening.
One thing I learned from vet friends who had served in the Middle East is that once you suffer one heat injury, it's easier to suffer additional ones.
Another thing I learned from Google, vets, landscaping, and athlete friends is that a good way to defend against heat injuries is to keep your electrolytes up. I cataloged recommendations and ended up using a mix of a few things:
1 quart cold water
1/2 teaspoon Morton Light salt (it has both sodium and potassium)
A “post workout” athletic powder with BCAAs (branch chain amino acids)
An electrolyte powder
Right now, a few weeks later, I'm about 99% recovered (I still get small bouts of brain fog from time to time), and apparently, my recovery time is fairly typical… and some folks have effects for months and months!
So, my advice:
Listen to your body. When you find yourself saying things like “that labor destroyed me” day after day — STOP!
Don't just hydrate with water — make sure you're getting electrolytes too.
If you suffer real symptoms, get into a cool spot IMMEDIATELY, and drop your body temperature with cold showers.
Once you've suffered one heat injury, slow down, heal, and don't push yourself into a second one.