Beware The Midday Sun

10 09 2008

“Where’s the surf, man?”                  (Sossussvlei, Namibia)

Although I wouldn’t spurn the opportunity to live somewhere perpetually warm and sunny, I really do enjoy the change of seasons. After a long sticky summer, those first, fresh, softly-lit autumnal mornings are a most welcome change. I am still as excited as ever by the first flakes of snow that drift past the window and instantly dissolve on the pane, and by the annual novelty of the inaugural major storm. By spring, I enthusiastically embrace the rejuvenating rains that wash away the grey of late winter, but it is those first days of summer when the early morning is brighter than winter’s noon that are most exciting of all.


Whether bitterly cold or furiously hot, weather conditions are always a challenge but it is intense heat that is often the most dangerous for travellers.


The greatest heat I have ever experienced was in Abu Simbel in southern Egypt. Although still morning, even in the shade the thermometer read 52 celsius, but it was also intensely humid due to the close proximity of Lake Nasser. The sun was relentless, the air turgid and difficult to ingest and the water in our bottles was soon as warm as tea. In Namibia, my deodorant stick melted into an oozing cream while in the Zambezi Valley, the small thermometer clipped onto my backpack exploded, sending microscopic spheres of mercury throughout my tent.   


Heat and sunstroke can not only spoil a holiday but they can also take lives. We all know to wear hats and light clothing and drink plenty of fluids, but sometimes we get distracted, especially on vacation. When surrounded by wondrous sights and enthralled by new experiences, it’s far too easy to forget to drink or to linger too long in the sun and end up thoroughly lobstered…even if you’re a medical professional.


I was once in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe on an overland truck. My fellow travellers were a mixed group from 8 different countries ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s and included artists, veterinarians, accountants, students and retirees. Late one afternoon, I found an Australian nurse in our group sprawled on a Thermarest mattress in the shade of our vehicle surrounded by several other travellers. She was a sickly white and looked extremely ill. Every few moments she strained to roll over and dry retch on the ground. Her speech was barely audible and the others were desperately trying to coax her to drink water, but each time the bottle reached her lips, she convulsed with sickness.


A recent medical graduate among us returned to the truck. He instructed the others to run a cold bath in the shower block. He prepared a makeshift ‘electrolyte’ of water, salt and sugar to replenish the minerals lost during the day. The woman was carried to the bath and cold, wet cloths were placed on her head. Drop by drop, the doctor managed to get her to drink his concoction and over the course of the night, she recovered.


The whole group was rather subdued by the experience. We all believed we were taking the proper precautions to avoid following in her footsteps but also admitted to occasionally being a little lax, especially on eventful days. The fact that it was the nurse in our group who’d been felled was particularly sobering.


Our travelling companion fully recovered, but her bout had deprived her of enjoying 4 or 5 days of her trip. Had it not been for her new friends and the good fortune of having a doctor on our truck, it could have been infinitely worse.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan



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