Heat Exhaustion: A Lesson

heat exhaustion bicycling stories
Coasting back down the hill was easy. But soon as I started pedaling, I realized something was wrong. “My fingers and toes are tingling!”
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“Let’s go bike riding!” I said to Ed that fateful September morning. “It was so fun last week.”

“We finally found some exercise we both enjoy,” my husband replied.

I downed a hamburger and some cola, and anticipated the salty sweet air of San Francisco Bay. I glanced at my watch. 11:30 a.m.

“Carol, you should wear shorts,” Ed said, pulling on a white tee shirt. “You’re gonna roast in those.”

I looked down at my blue sweatpants. It had been cool in the house that morning. Secretly resisting, I changed to loose black shorts.

We tooled down the Alameda Creek Trail to Coyote Hills Park in Fremont, California. The flat trail would soon lead us to a fantastic view of the bay. The wind breezed through my short black hair as the sun beat down. I didn’t notice how hot the air was until we stopped to rest and drink water. I rubbed my brow with my arm, but both felt dry.  I figured the wind evaporated my perspiration and dismissed the anomaly.

“Keep drinking,” Ed reminded me.

I doused myself. “You don’t need to tell me that.”
 
Gently rolling hills rose above the marsh, now brown from the summer heat. We rounded a bend and the steepest hill loomed before me. I charged! My muscles throbbed, my heart hammered out of my chest, and my lungs gasped for air. Everything inside me told me to stop, but I ignored the feeling and finally conquered that hill.
 
I slid off my bike, almost dropping it, and plopped to the ground. I drank a water bottle dry and reached for a second one. Ripping off my helmet, I drenched my head. Between gulps of water and gulps of air, I searched for shade, but found none at the top of that barren hill. 
 
I felt sick and sat silent for twenty minutes. I just wanted to go home.
 
Coasting back down the hill was easy. But soon as I started pedaling, I realized something was wrong. “My fingers and toes are tingling!”
 
I deposited myself again on the ground and kept panting. I doused myself with a third bottle of water. The tingling in my extremities began creeping up my hands and feet.
 
I panicked. “ Can’t feel my legs!”
 
“Hold on, Carol. Someone will come by,” my husband assured me.
 
I didn’t believe him, but lay on the black asphalt and prayed. Please God, bring somebody real soon. I emptied the fourth water bottle as we waited an eternity. Finally, a biker rounded the bend. Praise the Lord!

 “Get help! My wife is sick,” Ed shouted and pointed. “The ranger station. Over the hill!”
 
The biker nodded and pedaled off, pumping as hard as he could. Numbness enveloped my arms and legs like an evil anesthetic. What if it goes to my heart? I’ll die!
 
As I sprawled on the ground panting, a group of bikers stopped. “Water…I need…water!” I whispered. A woman handed Ed her bottle. He propped up my head as he held the container for my numb fingers. I greedily gulped down that liquid gold, panting like a dog between mouthfuls.
 
Other bikers slowed, but my husband waved them on. “Make them stop!” I pleaded. “I need…their water!” He probably thinks I’m delirious. 
 
By now I was paralyzed from the hips down. All of a sudden, something warm gushed out into my shorts. “My bowels!”
 
Now what? Am I going to die?
 
A middle-aged biker with a brown moustache and curly hair stopped. He reminded me of my doctor. In a kind, calm voice he said, “Why don’t ya sit up and drink this?” He held a water bottle to my lips. 
 
“We need to cool ya down. This black asphalt is too hot.” His words refreshed me like a glass of ice-cold lemonade. “Let’s move ya to the side.” The stranger and Ed picked me up and placed me on some dry brown grass. A sense of peace washed over me, though I still couldn’t move my legs.
 
“Help is on the way,” the man reassured me.

I believe you. I’m not going to die.
 
The man stayed with us until paramedics arrived, their ambulance creeping down the narrow path. They checked my eyes and took my pulse. “Can you push my hands with your feet?” one asked.

“I can’t!”
 
“Try,” he said. I barely nudged them. He whipped out an emergency ice pack, activated it with a crack of the hand and placed it on my leg. “You’re suffering from heat exhaustion. This ice pack on your leg will cool your blood and the artery will take it to the rest of your body.”

The other paramedic examined my fingernails. They were blue. “You’re hyperventilating,” he said. “Stop panting and breathe normally.” 

I forced myself to breathe slowly. After a few minutes, the first paramedic asked me to push his hands with my feet again. This time, I could thrust more strongly. “Hold onto the ice pack while we get ready to transport you to the hospital,” he said.

Inside the ambulance, a paramedic inserted an IV into my wrist. “This solution contains fluids and electrolytes you lost this afternoon,” he said.
 
The paramedics wheeled me into the emergency room. The cool sheets of the gurney contrasted starkly with the black asphalt bringing an end to the nightmare.

That day, I had to depend totally on others for my life. People came across my path at just the right times. The incident reminded me I don’t know everything and sometimes have to let other people help me. If I had been properly prepared, I could have saved myself a trip to the emergency room.

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