Stay cool to avoid injury as triple-digit temps threaten Gulf Coast

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
allisonm@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/24/22

Crystal Schieber was busy.Her food truck, her lifelong dream, the Chew Chew Truck, a rolling kitchen specializing in stuffed, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, was stationed outside the Wharf …

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Stay cool to avoid injury as triple-digit temps threaten Gulf Coast

Posted

Crystal Schieber was busy.

Her food truck, her lifelong dream, the Chew Chew Truck, a rolling kitchen specializing in stuffed, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, was stationed outside the Wharf Amphitheater last summer for its first big night out since the coronavirus shut down the world.

Schieber helmed the truck's 36-inch griddle and 400 degrees of heat. She knew the air conditioning system did little good as the ventilation fan sucked any cool air away from her workstation.

But she was worried about the customers. She was worried about her crew. She reminded them to drink water. She sent them off for breaks while she handled everything she could on her own.

Then, her speech started to slur. She felt nauseous. She wanted to throw up. She was eventually wheeled out of the truck on a stretcher with a diagnosis of heat exhaustion approaching a heat stroke.

"Personally, I don't take care of myself. I don't hydrate. I think of myself last while telling everyone else to drink water. I probably should stop doing that," Schieber said.

As temperatures soar this week and approach the 100-degree mark, doctors everywhere agree with her. The heat is dangerous, and everyone needs to be careful.

Brad Jernigan, operations supervisor for the ambulance service Medstar EMS, based in Summerdale, said while the number of calls has not increased the types of injury reports have changed. Many are calling with concerns for people who are outside and appear to be in danger from the heat.

So far, Jernigan said, most of the calls are simple dehydration. But, he said, there is concern for the thousands of visitors to the Gulf Coast who hit the beach on triple-digit days and are unaccustomed to the furnace that is a Southern summer.

"Everything in the South is dangerous — the bugs, the heat, the beach. It's a great place to live, and I love it here, but the tourists don't realize how much danger they can be in if they don't know how to handle it," Jernigan said.

Randall Knutson, a doctor and emergency medicine specialist at Thomas Hospital's ER, said the hospital hasn't seen an influx of patients yet but that the Alabama heat sends people for help every summer.

The most vulnerable, he said, are the very young and the very old.

"The young can't get out of the heat, and the old have medical problems that others don't and take medications that alter their heart rate and blood pressure," Knutson said.

Hydration is key. When the heat index climbs above 95, Knutson said drinking water, not caffeine, can mean the difference between an uncomfortable heat and a trip to the ER.

"Hydrate. Listen to your body rather than fighting through and saying, 'I can finish,'" he said.

Heat-related illnesses — dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke — are the same ailment that builds in severity as time passes and the temperatures rises.

Heat stroke, often marked by extreme fatigue, vomiting and neurological impacts, is a true medical emergency.

After last year's heat scare, Schieber has been reluctant to operate her food truck in this summer's extreme temperatures and has kept her business parked for the last two weeks.

Still, the heat struck. While working in her yard during the mid-afternoon last week, Schieber found herself again headed to the ER after suffering mild heat injury symptoms. Again, Schieber said she was working overtime while her pregnant daughter neared her due date and her own husband awaited knee surgery.

"It's common sense. This heat is something else. You have to limit your time in the sun," she said. "I just end up putting everybody before me and I need to stop doing that. I should probably take my own advice."

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