There are constant arrivals at Princess Grace Hospital nowadays suffering as could be expected from the Summer heat wave. Each day doctors see and treat symptoms that include dizziness, fever, palpitations and dry skin. It is of course even more dangerous for those who don’t get to the hospital to see the doctors. The most neglected victims of the heat wave are the elderly who live alone at home. Dehydration happens very fast and causes confusion so it’s important that they stay in touch with neighbours who can watch over them.
Senior citizens often do not have a good perception of thirst. While their system should prompt them to drink a litre and a half of water a day unfortunately their perception is distorted. They don’t feel thirsty soon enough.
Another group that are prone to more danger and suffering from heat are psychiatric patients.
Neuroleptics or psychotropic drugs alter the sensation of thirst so the patients dehydrate dangerously without being aware of it.
There are, of course, classic cases also of young people exposed to unusually hot conditions. Imagine a roofer with a blow torch and working with melted tar on a hot roof under the scorching sun. Not surprisingly he ends up in the Emergency department totally dehydrated and feverish, no longer urinating or even sweating. In this case, he does not have enough fluid in his body to reduce his temperature. The body is completely overheated causing disturbances of alertness and behaviour. Luckily in one such recent case the heat stroke was treated in time; the roofer was out of chronic danger within forty-eight hours, soon ready for a return to work – but wiser for the experience.
We are seeing record temperature peaks. The last really serious heat wave was that of 2003 which had dramatic consequences including many deaths. Having been through that, nowadays we are much better prepared. There are systemic campaigns of prevention that work very well. People are much more alert to the danger so the hospital sees patients much earlier than in 2003 when the damage was already done. Today, people vulnerable to the heat are better monitored, doctors have learned to adapt certain treatments and people have fans or air conditioners. Most of all society is much more aware of doctors’ advice and most people are taking wise precautions.
It cannot be repeated enough, the best prevention is drinking at least a litre and a half of water a day. Definitely not alcohol because alcohol dehydrates even more. But also cover yourself with a damp cloth, do not expose yourself to the sun, try to create natural currents of air in the home and close your shutters. With all that taken care of why not have a restful little nap?
During periods of the heat wave, Monaco’s Directorate of Health does establish a system of information to increase awareness and circulate doctors’ advice in advance. Prevention measures include Princess Grace hospital being on heightened alert and ready to identify and care for sufferers of heat stroke.