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Saturday, August 25, 2007

The 'Dog Days' of Summer

Well, we had been warned.

Janice Huff, the crack meteorologist on Chanel 4, our local New York television station, had reported on the 11 o'clock News last night that it would be like this.

In her relentlessly affable and highly confident way (think female Al Roker), she said that, because of the heat and humidity index, "it will be 90 degrees, but it will feel like 100 degrees."

She was right.

Except, at the worst of it, it was 97 degrees today.

So, it felt more like 107.

My beloved Ms. Conroy has been on duty as an EMT all day. She's been called out more times because of heat exhaustion in the elderly than I've been able to keep count.

The last call was to the apartment of a 58 year old woman with Trisomy-21 (more commonly known as "Down's Syndrome") who had "bilateral four plus pitting edema."

Translation: she had dangerous swelling in both of her legs due, no doubt to the normally poor circulation of her heart condition, made even worse by dehydration.

"When was the last time you drank some water?" asked Nurse Jane Fuzzy-Wuzzy.

"Don't drink water," grunted the woman. "Tastes bad."

Her 71 year old sister, with whom she lives and who is her legal guardian, had made the call to the EMTs. She had become concerned because her sister was "not making much sense."

She was, in fact, becoming disoriented - also due to dehydration. It had taken them over an hour to convince her to go to the hospital to be rehydrated intravenously.

Yes, the apartment had air conditioning, but it was not turned on. A few fans whirred noisly and both women insisted that it was comfortable in their apartment. More than likely, they really couldn't afford the increase in their electric bill.

Yes, even here in Chatham, people live on 'fixed incomes'. It's just that most of the rest of Chatham - not to mention the state of NJ - is blissfully unaware that "people like that" live here.

They live in Newark or Camden.

Or, perhaps Jersey City or Elizabeth.

Not Chatham or Summit, Short Hills or Madison.

The police scanner (which is also reported on the EMT scanner as a sort of 'heads up') has also had an unusually high reporting of people stopped for DUI.

We had a discussion about this and we're not sure if this is because it's hot and people are drinking more, but because it's Saturday, people are drinking more beverages with alcohol (beer, gin and tonic, etc.) - and the heat, combined with the natural dehydrating effects of alchol, make the effects of alcohol even worse.

Yes, everyone knows the warning: "Don't Drink And Drive." But, when it's this hot and you're dehydrated AND drinking, well . . .you get the picture.

No matter. Folks are getting pulled over almost literally 'left and right'.

Presently it's 88 degrees. It's about 10 PM. I've just come in from taking the dogs for their nightly walk. It felt like I was walking around in a tepid cup of tea out there.

Lenny and CoCo got to about half way up the street and CoCo started snapping at Lenny. This is highly unusual behavior. She might do that if she has stolen one of Lenny's chewies and wants him to know that she's serious about not sharing it with him. Otherwise, she's very loving to her brother.

The real surprise was that Lenny snapped and growled back. I've NEVER seen that behavior before. He's the mellow one. He never reacts. He always just walks away, even when CoCo is picking on him.

So, we turned around and came home, cutting our normal walk time by less than half. The dogs actually seemed relieved to be back in the air conditioning..

Guess this is why these are called "The Dog Days of Summer."
Wikipedia reports that the Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the ancient helical (at sunrise) rising of the Dog Star, Sirius.

Apparently, the ancients sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that that star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather.

Wiki also reports that the term was coined by the ancient Romans, who popularly believed this to be an evil time "when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." (Brady's Clavis Calendarium 1813)

Ms. Conroy just got called out again. It promises to be just that kind of night. She hollered upstairs that she would stop after the call and bring home some ice cream.

Cold Stone Creamery for us.

PAWS (specially formulated ice cream) for the dogs.

They'll be no sacrificing of any dogs to Sirius in this house.

Just sacrificing a few calorie counts to the Dog Days of Summer.


Caminante said...

Reminds me of the summer of 1988 when I had just moved into a poorly insulted third-floor garret under a slate roof apartment in Lawrenceville NJ just as NJ went into 40 days of temps over 80 with over 80-plus humidity. Many nights I came home, stripped, sat on the floor in the one AC room (where my computer was because I was writing my dissertation) and wept tears of frustration because even though it was 60 outside at midnight, it was still 100 in my apartment. Prayers that not too many people die because of the heat and dehydration and that your BP can get some sleep tonight.

Suzer said...

Oh dear. Then you musn't ever come visit Atlanta from May through October -- it's like walking out into a warm humid oven every day, even at 7 a.m. The heat hits you like a brick wall. The tap water barely gets cold in the summer -- it's more lukewarm really.

Some of the worst heat I remember, though, was when I lived in NYC. A third floor walkup in Brooklyn with no air conditioning. It was back in the early 1990's, and we had a week or more of over 100 degrees. The apartment was well over 100 all day long and fans were useless. I would go to the movies or the supermarket just to get cool. I awoke at 3 a.m. one morning in a cold shower, which I must have stumbled into in a delirium, only awakened by the cold water hitting my body.

Every year in Atlanta there are older people who die in the heat, and it saddens and infuriates me that this still happens in our country. And, as you mentioned, it's not always because they don't have air conditioning -- they simply won't use it because the choice is between paying for food, medicine or the electric bill.

stumpjumper said...

Same thing here in RB. And for whatever reason there were few people on the beach. No breeze, they all said. No, they came out shopping instead.
I had to rehydrate a few elderly folks in the store as well. Thankfully,we have a bottled water cooler and I made them sit in the AC for a while before leaving.
Driving home the thermometer on the Lighthouse read 99' and the air was almost chewable.
It is hot again today, but the humidity is much lower.
hugs to you and Ms. Conroy.

Susan Russell said...

Harvey and Luna sent greetings ... or would if they could bestir themselves from the coolest-place-in-the-house-brick-fireplace-hearth and the chaise lounge on the porch respectively.

ME? I'm thinking ice cream sounds like a GRAND idea about now!! :)

Bill said...

I spent Sat. on the beach at Sandy Hook. There was a beautiful breeze. The sea temp. was nice and cool. The waves were strong but not dangerous. People didn't want to come out of the water. The water was even clean.

When I left to drive home I became aware of the heat and a curious problem. People were doing the stangest things on the road. I avoided no less than six potential accidents. People were just not paying attention. Now I realize it was probably the heat.