The Hot Weather And Your Health …. By Eghosa Imasuen
Like most eligible Nigerians, I went to vote last Saturday. It was incredibly hot and we were in an open field. The only shade came from completely denuded trees and the small canopy under which sat the INEC officials and their paraphernalia. I sweated and sweated; it got to the point where I felt I was boiling in the steam from my reheated sweat. There was no wind to cool me down.
One of the things on my mind was Heat Illness. Heat Illness is a spectrum of disorders that occur due to exposure to heat, or lack of adequate cooling. It presents in symptoms as mild as a headache, to those as severe as loss of consciousness, convulsions (the Heat Stroke) and even death.
Somewhere next to me, an old woman swooned. She almost fell, and was caught by people next to her on the queue.
One of the common symptoms of heat illness is syncope. Syncope is best described as a short faint. It occurs because the body is trying to cool itself; the blood vessels are forced to dilate (i.e., widen) and thus the Blood Pressure drops precipitously and the person faints because of a reduction of flow to the brain.
As Nigerians are wont to do, they immediately surrounded her, some offering help, others gawking. I walked over to where the crowd had gathered, identified myself as a doctor and as soon as I discovered that two other doctors were already there, we forced the crowd back, asked for space then moved her to the shade, behind the INEC officials, well behind the ballot box.
I touched her. She was hot. Steaming. It was a counter-intuitive experience. The only hot people I had touched so far in my practice had been those with a fever. To see someone boiling hot and not shivering felt odd. She was not unconscious. She was delirious, was talking out of sync with her surroundings. She said she felt weak, felt hot, couldn’t breathe, needed air. The rambling slowed down to a murmur. We placed her in a supine position, ie, on her back, pulled open her blouse, took off her shoes, and one of us borrowed a file folder from the Youth Corpers and fanned her with it.
The mainstay of treatment of any form of heat illness is physical manipulation of the body temperature down back to normal. You want to expose the patient; you want to apply cold compresses. In those days, alcohol rubs were applied as these evaporated more quickly, but this is now frowned upon as it can cause increase in blood vessel dilation. A cool shade and ordinary cool water will do the trick. Also the water lost by sweating has to be replaced. This is normally done by a simple drink of water. But remember that sweat doesn’t contain water only. The patient has also lost electrolytes. This is one of the many uses of Oral Rehydration Solutions besides the treatment of diarrhoea. This is why oil workers in the rigs and offshore are sometimes dispensed salt tablets to suck on.
One of the doctors had run across the field to where hawkers had spread out their wares for sale. She came back lugging the contents of a cooler, the water from the melted ice. Another helper came back with satchets of pure water. We made the woman drink, and we soaked rags in the cool water and wiped her with them. We exposed her, all the while watching voters getting accredited; all the while scolding the INEC officials for keeping us out in the hot sun. Someone asked why no one came with an umbrella. A wag joked that that was the symbol of one of the political parties, and that it was an electoral offence to take party insignia with you to polling units. The woman who had fainted rested; the doctors, three of us, stayed with her, happy with ourselves to be out of the sun, and in the shade, behind the INEC officials, behind the ballot box.
Finally, we all got to vote and watched her as she walked home.