The Heat is On!

by Bev Meade, DNP/HSL, RN, MHA, CEN, CCRN, CFRN, CTRN, TCRN, Paramedic,
Flight Nurse, MedFlight

Years of transport experience have taught me to prepare for my workday long before I arrive for a shift. Along with ensuring that I am well rested and my physical needs are met, I do my own at home “weather check” as I have my first cup of coffee.

“It’s going to be a hot one” was the popular phrase among local news meteorologists during one of the warmest forecasted days this summer. Those words are always worrisome because I fully understand the dynamics of heat and the impact they have on air medical transport, the crew members and the patients who are entrusted to our care. The heat and humidity on this day was more than I had prepared for as the busy day progressed from “nice and warm” to “hot and humid.”

As an experienced medical professional, it took me longer than it should have to recognize that I was suffering from heat exhaustion.

I thought I had consumed enough fluids and did not readily recognize that my headache and fast heart rate were due to dehydration.  I assumed it was from the heat itself. However, looking back, I see now where I failed to let my fellow team members know that I was not feeling as well as I should be.  Communicating in the air and on the ground
transports regarding patient care and identifying hazards is part of what we do in the HEMS environment. What is equally important is communicating when a team member is experiencing a less than optimum wellness.

When we arrived back to our base after our patient transport, I continued to drink water and stayed in the air conditioned space at our base. My treatment included calling our
Regional Director to request a much needed “crew rest” for myself and my team as I recovered from the heat exhaustion. At MedFlight, we have a safety responsibility to remove ourselves from responding to requests for a designated “safety” time-out that allows us to rest, rehydrate and regenerate physically so that we may continue providing the highest quality care for our patients.

I was able to avoid the continued consequences of heat exhaustion and halted the progression to heat stroke because I recognized the signs and symptoms of this heat-related illness.

Reference:  Center for Disease Control (2018).  “Heat-Related Illnesses.”