Surviving a heatwave

Rose and I are hanging in there through this heatwave. At night we head to the beach to cool off. Around midnight there’s only a few souls around so Zoe can have a good run and splash, and we can lie about in the shallows and feel our brains cool.
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During the day I’m shut in at home, curtains drawn against the heat, feeling ill. We’ve worked out a system. Cold shower, then lie under a fan for a bit. Cold foot baths, sit in front of the air conditioner. Lots of bottles of water in the fridge. Sleep if you can, read books or watch movies to pass the time. The pets have ice cubes in their water and get rub downs with wet towels when they look stressed. I’m sleeping on the couch at night and waking for cold showers when it gets too hot.

Cool baths are the last line of defence against heat stress and nausea, they gently leach heat from the body without dropping your temperature so fast that you feel sick. Be really careful of sudden temperature drops with small children especially. Gently cooling them down with wet towels and a fan is better than a sudden change in body temperature for a baby or anyone ill or vulnerable. When I worked as a child care worker I once witnessed a very distressing incident where a mother took her overheated, sick baby into a cold shower and accidentally triggered febrile convulsions. It was very distressing for everyone involved and resulted in a trip to hospital.

Snacks are fruit, or Anzac biscuits. Food is cereal, toast with tomatoes, salads, or if I can’t eat, banana milkshakes and ice blocks.

The news is covered with terrible updates about fires and blackouts and people in trouble. I feel terribly cut off and helpless. Hiding here in the dark while the world burns. Remembering summers before, spent in a shivering, dehydrated mess, vomiting even water and desperately unhappy. I keep telling myself that looking after myself well enough to stay out of hospital is worthwhile and frees up those resources for other people. I wish there was more I could do.
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Down at the beach at night is like walking into another world. We walk fully clothed into the water and float in the shallows, watching the moon rise. It’s utterly beautiful, a world of ultramarine and silver light spangling on the black water. Zoe kicks up her heels and chases wavelets along the shore.

We stay a long time, the cool salt water eases stressed skin, we’re itchy with hives and heat rash. A good soak cold is enough that we can sleep when we get home. We set up the animals, run a sprinkler on the garden, have a cold shower, and sleep through the morning.

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This is the very first heatwave I’ve been in where so far I haven’t lost any of my plants. Between the sprinkler and my last minute dripper system, everything is still alive! My hollyhock is even blooming at least, huge single white flowers. I’m really lucky. It’s such a relief at the end of the day to stumble outdoors and see this glorious greenery instead of the usual crispy brown sticks that usually greet me at the end of a super hot day.

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I hope that those of you who are in this heatwave have a good way of managing it and were able to do enough preparation that you’re stocked with supplies. Take care of yourselves and your pets. If you have decent air conditioning at home and you can, invite friends around who don’t and help out. Especially if you can accommodate and extra pet or two for a couple of days, this can make the difference in the world to someone else. If you only have one room or space that’s chilled, kids can sleep on a sheet on the floor. A wet sheet on top of them and fan can help tremendously, and keeping a bucket of water in the room to soak the top sheet in periodically can help make it easy to keep them cool enough to sleep.

If you are out and about and pass anyone sleeping rough, please spare some change or buy them a bottle of cold water of you can. One of the best ways to cool down when you’re sleeping rough in the city is if some kind person gives you a metro ticket so you can ride the air conditioned buses. Most public buildings will ease up in their usual policies of moving obviously homeless people on, so if people can get to a shopping centre or library they may not be shooed off the seats. But public transport is always a good bet for some peace and air conditioning. The downside to all these options is that they’re often crowded with very stressed, tired, short tempered people.

With regards to pets, smaller creatures especially like rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats will die easily in this hot weather so use fans, chilled water, ice cubes, wet towels, and keep them inside where you are. Ice bricks (for those that don’t chew) can be wrapped in a towel and stuck in the bedding. For those that do chew, use frozen bottles of water instead. For some little creatures you can buy a small metal plate for chilling in your freezer then putting in their cage. I lost a sweet little guinea pig called Henry a few years back in a heatwave. They can go from being okay to heat stroke and death very quickly!

Be really aware of how hot the pavement is and don’t walk dogs if it’s hot to your hand. You can severely burn a dog’s feet otherwise! Never use dog boots in hot weather, it doesn’t protect their feet from hot surfaces, it just prevents them being able to sweat and cool off through their feet, which can be very dangerous! Most cats hate baths but you can chill their drinking water, supply wet food instead of dry, and give them a rub with wet hand towels if they’re looking stressed. Dogs love a cool tiled surface to sleep on if possible, and you can easily spray them down outdoors (make sure all the hot water from the hose is emptied first!) or give them a quick bath or shower when they’re struggling. Ice cubes and frozen dog treats are great, and Zoe loves a fan by her bed.

Be really careful about transporting your animals (and kids!). Most nights we’re taking Zoe with us to visit someone with better air conditioning and staying there for a few hours. We never leave her alone in the car and we run the air conditioner for the trip. As it was, last night she got really stressed so we went through a fast food drive through and ordered slushies for us and a big cup of ice water for her. Most places will give out tap water and ice so even if you’re broke, if you, a child, or animal is stressed, get to the nearest place and ask for help.

Be mindful of other outdoor animals, not all of them will handle this weather well. Chickens and other poultry can also seem okay and then suddenly die from heat stress. One technique we used to use when I looked after a big flock of chickens as a young person was to put a sprinkler on the roof of their roosting shed and keep it cooler that way. If you have only a couple, it may be better to crate them and bring then indoors if you can. If your laundry or bathroom aren’t hot they can emergency places for outdoor pets during the day. Bathtubs (empty of course, lined with newspaper or straw) are great for little animals like guinea pigs if you don’t have an indoor cage.

Native animals can get very heat stressed too, at this time of year many dehydrate as water supplies dry out, and there’s also issues with desperate animals drowning in swimming pools when they can’t get out again. If you can leave out a proper water supply that is not allowed to run dry that will help. If you have a pool that lacks a ramp out, you can improvise one or cover it and put out a pot of water or a half clam shell pool instead. If you find a bird or animal that is injured or stressed, please contact Fauna Rescue or your local native animal support group for help and instructions.

The government has been publishing health warning and instructions which are great. The heat bothers some people very little, but for babies and kids, pregnant women, the frail aged, those of us with illnesses, disabilities, mental health problems, or who have been going through surgery or exhausting treatments such as chemotherapy, it can be devastating.

Disorientation is a common sign of heat stress and dehydration, as is irritability. People can be quite unwell without realising it, so be careful, be extra considerate, and try to avoid arguments, triggers, and needless stress. Vomiting and diarrhoea can mess up medication absorption which can make people ill very quickly in some cases. Those of us who have issues that affect our ability to care for our bodies, such as eating disorders, or self harm will often be more vulnerable and struggle to provide appropriate care for ourselves. Those of us with vulnerabilities to issues like dissociation and psychosis can find that heat stress and dehydration present as an episode. It’s important to track physical health and care, to make sure enough food and water are being taken on board to keep the body and brain functioning. Lack of food, water, or sleep will all cause problems for anyone, for some of us we are extra vulnerable to these issues.

Take care everyone, my thoughts are with you.

2 thoughts on “Surviving a heatwave

  1. Thanks Sarah, for your reminders for this heatwave re: ourselves @ our animals and wildlife, I have minimised my outdoor activities@ focusing on caring for myself and my furr Kids and anyone doing it rough, on my journey, Eg; when waiting for buses, or walking on the streets.Caring for oneself is so important, as it enables us to care for others and the creatures of our planet.

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