It’s summer time at the Old Place and interesting things are beginning to happen. The state bird of Louisiana, the mosquito has begun to make its presence felt (Slap my arm, say OUCH!). The poison ivy starts to climb and sunburns make us all look like Washington Redskins! Ha! Oh sure autocross season is in full swing and the bikini girls are out in force but hey, you do not want to see me in a Speedo! Most of my Southern bretherin’ do revel in the heat, spending long hours after work and on the weekends outside. Whatever your particular outside endeavor is please allow me to caution you, heat can be a killer. Ordinarily I would spend this time talking about the importance of taking frequent breaks in the shade, keeping hydrated and how not to confuse fluid replacers with energy drinks. This morning though I am going to do something I normally would never think about doing. . . I am going to play the race card! It’s all right folks, it’s nothing like that. Anyone who has taken basic first aid has learned about the various stages of heat emergencies and how important it is to be able to recognize the signs. Whether it is the cold clammy pale skin and heavy sweating of heat exhaustion or the hot dry red skin associated with heat stroke most of us know what to look for and what to do. But what about folks of African, Hispanic or Mediterranean descent, would they turn red too? Hmm, good question. The answer is actually, no. An African American with very dark skin will usually turn a deep purple color, while Hispanics tend to achieve something of a mahogany tone. Is this really a safety issue? I’ll let you decide. This past week I did an impromptu pole of our African American, Hispanic and Native American workers and found only two who already knew this. Why does no one teach this? Likely this comes from the old belief that since darker skinned folks come from tropical regions, they are naturally more tolerant of heat. Okay, let’s look at that logically. We all know that darker colors tend to absorb heat while lighter colors reflect heat. This is called, “Solar Radiative Heat Gain, and it differs significantly among individuals and between populations. Studies indicate that lighter skin reflects about 30-40 percent of total solar radiation, while dark skin reflects only 18 percent or less. That would seem to suggest that darker skinned folk would have MORE trouble with heat rather than less. In fact, there have been over 108 distinct studies related to heat tolerance. Of the myriad of factors studied the greatest influence on individual response to heat tolerance is acclimatization or “just getting used to it.” The remarkable aspect of the acclimatization response is the ease by which it is accomplished. It is rapid, effective, and occurred even when the tests were performed in a temperate climate in winter. That’s right friends the studies even included native Eskimo tribes. Furthermore, all normal, healthy people who were tested were able to acclimate whether to extreme heat or extreme cold. What can we learn from all this? When it comes to teaching about the dangers of heat, play the race card. Everyone regardless of race, color or creed needs to know how to spot the signs of heat stroke in everyone and to treat it as the life threatening illness that it is.
Sitting in a rocker at the Old Place, with a glass of iced tea, I am Col. Jim.