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Be cool about the heat
(No. 34) Hint: you will have to do some work. By Stephen P. Williams
(please graze the heart above with your fingertip)
But first, this: The virus has led many of us to experience what it’s like to be more alone. For most people, it seems, there are a lot of negatives. However, others choose to be alone, virus or not. This remarkable ten minute video showcases the connection between an older recluse and a sheep he saves, in Wales. The recluse seems to learn that, after 30 years, he actually likes companionship. It’s a beautiful short film.
It’s so hot I could fry an egg on a cactus (scrambled eggs, that is)
Today I went out into the desert to look at the beautiful saguaro cactuses. These odd and stately plants grow very slowly — one might not produce an “arm” until one hundred years have passed. And unlike us, the heat doesn’t seem to affect them badly. I, however, felt the heat in my brain, my joints, my stomach and my lungs. At one point I thought I might faint, and I returned to my truck and drank water with the air conditioning blasting. The heat is enervating in the extreme.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, just under 700 people die each year in the US from heat. That’s because high temperatures can both cause illness and make preexisting illnesses such as heart disease (or COVID-19) worse. There are two main types of heat illness: Heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of the former include muscle cramps, tiredness, headache, nausea, dizziness and fainting. If heat exhaustion is untreated, heat stroke can set it, with symptoms including a body temperature higher than 103 Fahrenheit, red, hot dry skin with no sweat, rapid fast pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and damage to internal organs.
As you might expect, the older you are, the more subject you are to heat illnesses, because your body just can’t take care of you like it used to. However, there are two common-sense steps you can take to avoid problems: stay inside in the air conditioning, out of the heat; drink plenty of fluids, including water. At the Saguaro Park, I realized I was plenty hydrated after seeing this sign the National Park Service had posted in a Johnny on the Job:
Talk about government intrusion! It was kind of weird to imagine the park service being concerned about my urine, but this is the Southwest, and many things are strange. I was pale yellow, the second rectangle from the bottom, in case you are wondering. Traveling through the desert for my project, Postcards From Pandemic (Facebook and Instagram), I have been careful to carry a cooler full of Topo Chico mineral water, and several one gallon jugs of regular water. Even while trudging through a dry arroyo I’m usually more hydrated than a jellyfish.
I also exercise every day, which I’ve recently discovered is a great way to make your body more impervious to the heat. In their review, Thermoregulation in the Aging Population and Practical Strategies to Overcome a Warmer Tomorrow, researchers at the National University of Singapore make the case that daily exercise can help reduce heat illness. They say that as we age, our body’s ability to regulate internal temperature diminishes. Daily exercise helps the body keep up, by working out the systems that make you sweat. So while you shouldn’t exercise outside on a hot day, you can prepare during the 9 months of the year when it isn’t so hot, and you can exercise in an air conditioned room when it is.
In Tucson, I I’ve been taking my walks at dawn, when the temperatures are still relatively low. An added plus — there aren’t as many people around at that hour, which makes me feel safer from the virus.
In other news:
Black Lives Matter
Here are some valuable resources for anyone interested in furthering the health and longevity of people of color as they age.
The Diverse Elders Coalition works to advance policies that help diverse groups of aging people, including Native Americans, LGBTQ people, and more.
Justice in Aging advocates for alleviating poverty among older people with limited resources, especially in communities that lack protection.
The National Caucus & Center on Black Aging, Inc. lobbies politicians, nonprofits and others to include senior citizens of color in their decision making.
Coronavirus Advisory from the Navajo Nation
Sign in front of a gas station along Arizona Route 12, in the Navajo Nation. Photo by Stephen P. Williams
Imagine standing outside in 117 degree heat just so you could make this video.
Today I leave Tucson for the border, where its even hotter. I feel an urgent need to document the destruction of a rare oasis, by the trucks that are bringing material in to construct the border wall. Plus, the trucks are bringing the virus into a remote area that might otherwise escape its malevolence. From there I’ll continue reporting about how Americans are reacting to the pandemic as I head along the border to California. Please join my journey on Facebook and Instagram). See you here with the next Age: The Next Everything, in two weeks!