Kenneth Kieser: Learn and recognize the signs of heat stroke

The Examiner
This photo of the author was taken the second day of filming. Note how swollen his face is and his expression of not feeling well.

I was feeling good. We were shooting a movie about the Ozarks and I was to be a big part of the fishing side after writing about this region for more than 40 years. 

The first day was on the Current River and here is where my problems began. We were on the river over three hours with the sun beating straight down on us. This was the first real heat of summer, in the mid 90s and our bodies were not yet used to being in these conditions.  

I was drinking plenty of water and splashing cool river water over my neck and head. Clearly, I was hot, but the thought of danger never occurred. 

We worked farther down river and toward midday broke off for a shoreline lunch. This was my real first clue that something wasn’t right.  

My energy was gone, zapped out by the heat. No one besides me seemed to be having problems and I decided to not say anything, a bit embarrassed. Besides, they were frying fish and potatoes on a sandbar, one of my favorite meals. 

I sat at the table while everyone walked around talking. My leg muscles felt weak and sore, the energy to just stand up become nonexistent. I ate a good meal hoping it was just hunger causing all of this. I quickly realized this was not the case. 

We had a three-hour drive back to Branson for the second day’s movie shoot. I drove while talking with a buddy and listening to music. I started feeling even more tired and sweaty. My leg and back muscles ached more than before. 

I managed to make it to Branson and we stopped at our room to cool off and relax. I laid down and immediately feel asleep, very unusual for me on a press trip. My friend woke me an hour later to get ready for dinner. 

I turned the shower on cold as possible and soaked, making sure to splash my kidney area, a way to cool off your entire body. I was shocked to find sweat mixed with shower water running down my forehead. I was trying to cool off and nothing was working. 

That evening we visited an Irish restaurant that was too busy for a table so we sat on the bar stools. The lady took our order and I requested water. She brought me a glass and I downed it while telling her of my plight. Then she brought me a larger glass of water and that disappeared as well. That evening my body absorbed eight big glasses of water that the concerned lady generously continued to bring. 

I could still feel my forehead burning up, but managed to eat a cold salad and drink water. A good-sized bowl of potato and sausage soup was brought out, but I could only eat the broth.  

That night I could not get enough to drink while flopping around in bed and constantly looking at the alarm clock. Finally, the alarm rang, 4:45 a.m. I showered and went to Lake Taneycomo for the second day’s filming, still burning up seemingly more than the day before. The cool air from the early morning lake seemed colder than usual and I had on a long-sleeved shirt and fishing vest.  

I actually started feeling a bit better and managed to finish that morning’s filming, packed up and drove back to Kanas City. I had no appetite and stopped at Bolivar, Missouri, for a salad. The drive seemed to take forever.  

At home I went straight to bed at 3:30 that afternoon and was awakened by my wife who touched my leg that was covered by a sheet and she drew back in shock amazed at the heat. My fever had reach dangerously high proportions and off we went to the hospital, where they easily brought down the fever. Once again, my wife likely saved my life by thinking smarter for both of us. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, heat exhaustion is a condition in which symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of your body overheating. It's one of three heat-related syndromes, with heat cramps being the mildest and heatstroke being the most severe. This is a warning that your body can no longer cool down. 

Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity, and strenuous physical activity. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition. Fortunately, heat exhaustion is preventable. 

When you think heat exhaustion has occurred, stop all activity and rest, move to a cooler place and drink cool water or sports drinks. Contact your doctor if your signs or symptoms worsen or if they don't improve within one hour.  

When you are with someone showing signs of heat exhaustion, seek immediate medical attention if he or she becomes confused or agitated, loses consciousness, or is unable to drink. You will need immediate cooling and urgent medical attention if your core body temperature, measured by a rectal thermometer, reaches 104 degrees (40 Celsius) or higher. 

Chances are I only suffered heat exhaustion. The next step is a heat stroke and then possible death. A heat stroke may include throbbing headache, dizziness and light-headedness, Lack of sweating despite the heat and red, hot, dry skin, Muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat (which may be either strong or weak), shallow breathing, behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering, seizures, unconsciousness and high temperatures.  

Check the Mayo Clinic website or your doctor for more information on how to survive this terrible life-threatening condition. Definitely do as I say, not as I did. According to my doctor, I’m lucky to be alive.  

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com. 

Kenneth L. Kieser