June 30th, 2009
June 30, 2009. Palm Coast, Florida
A day that began with a storm and ended with a beautiful sunset that turned the evening sky into flames!
Lightning and thunder crashed all around the house at 6 AM, rattling the windows and making the power flicker. Afterward, we managed to continue work as usual on the boat. It is so exciting that we are doing finishing work now—carpeting, paneling, running water lines and plumbing, painting, etc; we can really see the boat coming together!
We finished putting up the carpeting in the Scorpion Cabin—that’s what we call the twin cabin on the port side of the aft cabins; when we were hustling medical supplies onboard during the floods here, we stored many of them temporarily in this cabin, and a day or so later we came upon a scorpion that must have taken refuge from the floods in one of the boxes and got carried aboard. For the next few weeks, that dark, warm cabin piled floor to ceiling with boxes looked like the ultimate scorpion apartment complex and made us a bit cagey about going in there and rummaging around. We never saw another one, but forever after we refer to that cabin as The Scorpion Cabin. Hopefully it will never live up to its name again!
The heat and humidity combine into what is called a ‘Killing Heat.’ A couple of years ago, when I was in Ireland, a rare heat wave drove temperatures in London above 100 degrees, and hundreds of people died—mostly elderly people without air conditioning (not a common household appliance then in England), as they (and infants) are much more vulnerable to overheating. The heat here is even stronger—high humidity, and when we are working on deck, and especially down below decks without the fans turned on, sweat pours from every pore on our bodies. Clothes are soaked in moments, paint trays have a rain of salty water into them…it is BRUTAL. We drink 5-10 liters per day and it flows right out of us.
When my dad was doing a medical mission in Cambodia, he said the first medical phrase he had to learn in Cambodian was ‘Drink more water!’ Dehydration is one of the world’s leading killers, either by itself or as a result of intestinal disease like cholera—to treat cholera, you put a large bore IV with wide-open fluids in each arm, give the patient a continuous supply of salt-and-sugar oral rehydration fluids, sit them on a cholera chair or bed (a chair or bed with a strategic hole in it to allow the passage of HUGE volumes of watery diarrhea) and tell them—“Drink this as fast as you can if you want to live.”
NO ONE I have ever met drinks enough fluids, in the developed or the developing world! When I have a patient resting comfortably, not exerting themselves but unable to eat or drink before an operation, I have to give them around 2 Liters of fluid by IV every day just to replace what they lose through breathing, resting sweat, and urine. Hardly ANYONE drinks near that amount per day (and coffee and tea don’t count! The caffeine dehydrates you more!). To remain healthy and keep up your energy, I recommend that normally active adults (not undertaking heavy labor) drink at least 4 liters of fluids per day. If you are doing heavy work in the heat like we are, we lose so much salt and water that even if we drink water continuously, we start to cramp up from the loss of electrolytes and STILL get dehydrated because we can’t absorb the water fast enough!
The reason salt and sugar rehydration beverages DO actually rehydrate you much faster is that your body PASSIVELY absorbs water, but ACTIVELY absorbs sugar and salt—and by absorbing more sugar and salt, you pull water in after it. Also, the sugar helps your body recover from the energy loss your body experiences trying to cool itself (ever felt your car surge forward on a steep hill after you turn off the AC? It takes a lot of power to cool something, including your body!), and the salt is necessary for your muscles to contract normally—pretty vital with the type of work we are doing ! Buying a 5-gallon drink cooler was one of our most vital pieces of equipment—we fill it with lemonade or rehydration drink every day, and every day we drain it in a hurry!
It takes 3 weeks for the human body to make its major adjustment to a new temperature range, so we are pretty well adapted, but even so the heat takes a serious toll on our ability to function, so this time in Palm Coast getting used to the heat and to drinking enough fluids has been critical for us, as the work will only get harder (‘Let’s deploy the clinic and all our supplies 300 yards inland from this beach’) and it will only get hotter as we move further south!