Know When to Stop Walking in the Heat

Avoiding an ambulance ride for heat sickness

Stop Sign
Stop Sign. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Among the many wonderful memories of the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walks are the horrible ones of a long row of ambulances lined up ready to take away walkers who succumbed to heat sickness, dehydration, or hyponatremia. This is the single biggest medical problem at these endurance walks, and is often preventable.

Why They Went to the Hospital With Heat Sickness

Some people may have had almost no signs that they were sick before they became very sick or passed out.

But most walkers should learn to recognize the early symptoms of heat sickness, dehydration and hyponatremia, from the training materials and signs at the walk.

Pride and Peer Pressure Can Make You Sick

It is foolish pride or peer pressure that keeps walkers walking even knowing that they are getting sick. The crew said they begged for walkers who looked bad to stop and take a ride, but they wouldn't. Getting sick, they overwhelm local emergency rooms, making local officials deny permits for the event in coming years. Getting sick endangers the millions of dollars raised at each walk to fight breast cancer.

My greatest joy was a walker who turned to me on Day 2 in the evening while we danced to the disco band and said, "You're Wendy! thanks so much for the email warnings about taking care of yourself and taking the shuttle in when you start feeling bad.

I did that and now I can keep walking instead of going to the hospital."

Heat Sickness Doesn't Mean You Didn't Do Everything Right

I trained well for the DC Avon 3-Day Walk. I was physically ready to walk 20 miles a day for three days. On Day Zero and Day One I drank constantly with water and sports drink.

I wore CoolMax clothing and a hat and sunscreen. But by 8 miles I was having heat sickness. Why? Because it was hot! As we age, we slowly lose our ability to regulate our body heat.

Even the best-trained walker can get into heat sickness. In your training and in your events, train yourself to say "enough!" and stop before you get to see the inside of the ambulance and the fine decor of the local ER.

Friends Don't Let Friends Get Walk Till They're Sick

In your training walks and at walking events, make a pact with your walking friends to tell each other when enough is enough. We are often shy about admitting that we are getting sick, we feel obligated to keep going while our walking partner is still going strong. Make it your duty to watch your partner, and he/she watch you, for signs of heat sickness.

Nag each other to keep drinking water and sports drink. Insist on filling up your bottles at every stop. Check each other for signs of dehydration and heat sickness -ask about any nausea, light-headedness, or dizziness.

Ask every 15 minutes on a hot day. On training walks, take a cell phone and have somebody available to pick you up if you need to stop. On an Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk or other event, listen to the event crew when they tell you that you look bad and need to stop. You are probably not thinking clearly at that point - listen and stop.

Prepare The Folks Back Home

When you are walking a charity walk, you feel an obligation to go all of the miles so you can report back favorably to your sponsors. This makes some people keep going when they should stop.

You owe it to your sponsors to finish every healthy step you can take, but none of them want you to injure yourself. They will feel horrible if you end up in the hospital. Take only healthy steps.

I faced this at the DC Avon 3-Day Walk. At mile 16 on Day One, all walkers had the option of staying on the bus to camp or getting off and walking another 4.5 miles. The remaining route was on hot pavement with little shade.

What would look worse in my story I was going to write?
"I was determined to finish every step, but after a mile I felt woozy and awoke in an ambulance vomiting on the emergency personnel. I spent the night in the ER and was unable to walk on Day 2 or 3."

Or what I did write:
"I was beginning to trip and misstep on the final hills. I could tell my face was dark purple. I tried giving the "thumbs up" signs to crew at Pit Stop 4 who asked if I was OK. On the air-conditioned bus a Crew member explained that we had the choice to remain on the bus to Camp. I swallowed my ego as I was the only person on the bus to take that option."
I then gave a good account of visiting the Medical Tent to get checked out, and recovering fully to enjoy every step of Day 2 and Day 3.

Heat Sickness, Dehydration, Hyponatremia Aren't Free

Most medical insurance does not cover the cost of the ambulance ride, which will run from $500 - $1000. The cost of visiting the medical area of a walking event is free. The cost of a bus ride or cab ride home during a training walk is far cheaper than $500.

Stop before you need the ambulance.

More: 10 Quotes that Could Put You in the Hospital

Continue Reading