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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Survival

These fireworks were all photoed at a local fi...Image via Wikipedia
I know, slow and late. I should have posted this up in early May, when summer began, instead of waiting until after Midsummer. Better late than never, I suppose, and it will be here for next year. And I am getting the Fireworks Safety bit in before the 4th, so maybe that will help.
Anyway, here’s a list of safety tips for some common dangers lurking in the joys of summertime.
It probably sounds a bit stupid and trite to say this, but fireworks are dangerous. They go splodey. They involve fire and explosives and projectiles. These, done right, are beautiful, the ephemeral beauty that makes the heart leap and makes the mind joyful. The memory lingers fondly for all of one’s life.
And the damage done can also last for all of one’s life. Lost eyesight, lost hearing, burnt flesh and the scars left behind, burned homes and lost property and memorabilia, loved ones gone forever. These are the dangers lurking in the beautiful fireworks.
I don’t advocate outlawing fireworks. Rather the opposite. Leave people their fireworks, but spend time educating people on the safe use of them. By all means, pool money together to hire fireworks professionals and an emergency vehicle to have a community-wide fireworks display – you get more bang for your buck and a much prettier display. Families can do this, or neighborhoods, or entire cities. The larger the group of people paying towards the display, the better the display will be.
But we still want to do our own fireworks, those little Black Cats and Sparklers, if nothing else, so take a few precautions. Being blinded or bearing deep burn scars for life is going to taint your memory so do your best to prevent that from happening.
Fireworks Safety
Wear eye protection. And I’m not talking the cheapy plastic stuff that will melt onto your face. Get good quality fire-safe eye protection.
Keep all fireworks away from young children. Children under 5 lack the coordination and the discretion to handle fireworks safely and shouldn’t be allowed to handle them at all. This is common sense, but apparently, some adults are too stupid to think of it on their own. This includes Sparklers. Sparklers burn very hot to produce those sparks. For the young child, give them fiberoptic flashlights they can swish and swirl and get the same sparkly effect without the risk of burning themselves or your home. As the child ages, you can introduce them to fireworks ads apprentices, getting closer to see how it’s done and explaining the safety precautions you’re taking. Eventually, they graduate to Black Cats and Sparklers, and then to bottle rockets and other simple fireworks.
I think older children should be exposed to handling dangerous items with adult supervision and direction. How else are they going to learn?
Read and follow instructions on labels. Another no-brainer, and I’m surprised I have to point this one out, but there ya go. These directions include fuse times. Fuse times change from manufacturer to manufacturer and even from year to year, and fuse times are Very Important for your safety. By following the directions, you get both the maximum safety and the maximum pretty bang for your buck.
Have a connected garden hose and someone manning the faucet and a bucket of water nearby. If you’re just shooting off a few fireworks from your back yard, that’s all you’ll need to douse any inadvertent fires. If you’re pooling resources with neighbors and have a large amount of fireworks to shoot off, I’d recommend something bigger, up to an including hiring a fire engine or emergency vehicle to be there just in case.
Use your fireworks outdoors in a clean and debris-free area Another no-brainer, but worth saying for those who just plain didn’t think of it. This includes Sparklers. I don’t know where people got the idea that Sparklers are safe – they’re not. They’re pretty, and they’re fun, but they are not safe. My brother once burned our house down playing with a Sparkler indoors. My mother lit it for him, thinking it was safe for indoor use. Let me state it loud and clear: No fireworks are safe to use indoors. Period.
Enjoy your fireworks, but be safe in their use and be responsible. The best fun is to pool together with friends or neighbors for a larger display, and hiring pyrotechnic experts to assist you in putting on your show.
Heat-Related Sicknesses
Never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle if it’s hot outside. This includes babies and pets and any disabled people who have mobility or dexterity issues. A car heats up scary fast – in less than 90 seconds, a car can get lethally hot, even with windows rolled down and even when parked in the shade. There have been so many reports of babies being left in cars because parents forgot them and dying that this information becomes critically important. If you can rig it up, I think one of those seat belt type alarms that buzzes when the driver’s side car door is opened and a child is still in a child seat would be very helpful for those forgetful, distracted parents. And those day care and school buses that park with a child still on them needs some kind of counter or buzzer, too. Something to alert the driver that there’s still a child on the bus. Apparently we can’t depend upon them to physically look for children still on the bus.
If you must be out in the heat, limit your activities to morning and evening hours. Sometimes this is really hard to do, especially if you work long hours and have a HOA that rides you about your lawn. I honestly think they should people’s safety above looks, but we all know how shallow-minded HOAs are. They truly do care more about looks than about the environment, safety, or practicality. If possible, don’t live where there’s a HOA. Then you can be reasonable and safe about your lawn care.
If you’re playing, take a break during the hottest part of the day. Go swimming. Or seek shade and play quiet games like lawn chess, or better yet, go to the library or a museum where it’s cooled. Or the mall. Stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Deep shade is best, but dappled shade is better than direct sunlight. Use parasols and umbrellas to provide shade when you’re strolling around at fairs and festivals or just walking your dog. You can get pretty paper parasols at party supply stores. What you want is portable shade when there is no other shade to be had.
Drink plenty of fluids, and if you drink sugary or alcoholic beverages, drink at least an equal amount of water for each sugary or alcoholic beverage you drink. I know a lot of other safety sites will tell you not to drink carbonated, sugary, or alcoholic drinks in the heat, but realistically, people still will. Therefore, I say, drink an equal amount of water or sports drinks for each soda or juice or slushie/smoothie/float/milkshake drink or cocktail or beer you drink. Hydration is important in the heat.
Use sunscreen. Sunscreen protects you from more than the sun’s rays. Modern sunscreens also moisturize your skin which slows down dehydration. Not much, mind, but enough to make a difference between a very mild case of heat exhaustion and feeling great. And slathering on sunscreen may remind you to take a drink of water.
While heat-related illnesses can affect anyone, infants and the elderly are especially susceptible. Check on them regularly. Babies under 6 months of age shouldn’t be out in direct sunlight or the heat of the day anyway. Their bodies are still too new and fragile to take that kind of abuse. Their systems don’t reliably regulate their temperatures yet. If you must take babies out in the heat of the day, keep them shaded and provide some form of cooling for them. For both elderly and babies, I like those bandanas that you soak, or those ice chest or lunch box freezer mats wrapped in a towel to allow the cool to seep through without freezing their delicate skin. Spritzing them lightly with a mister fan can also help. And don’t leave them in an enclosed space, especially not a car, in hot weather.
Stay indoors and, if possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. The library, museums, malls, and community centers are all good places to go for coolness if you don’t have cooling at home. There are tips and suggestions for cooling your home if you don’t have air conditioning.
I did a whole post on surviving lightning, but I’ll recap here.
Pay attention to the weather. Many times, weather stations will report when there’s dangerous lightning. Listen to that. If you don’t have a radio on or nearby, look up. Look at the sky and pay attention to what you see there. Don’t get so involved at looking at the ground or what you’re doing that you don’t notice when lightning, especially the dangerous cloud-to-ground streaks of lightning approach. Get to shelter. You can resume playing or working outdoors later.
There are four types of lightning strikes: the direct hit, the nearby hit, the indirect hit, and the flashover. The direct hit accounts for less than 10% of lightning injuries. The most common one is the nearby hit, where lightning strikes something near a person and the energy from the hit sprays over the person. The next most common one is the indirect hit, where lightning strikes the ground or water and the current is conveyed through the ground or water to strike the person even at a bit of distance. And the final hit, the flashover, is when the lightning passes close by and their sweat or moisture from water causes the air around them to explode.
The most common injuries from lightning are ruptured eardrums and neurological injuries that can cause long term symptoms like chronic pain, memory and sleep disorders, dizziness, muscle weakness, personality changes, and depression.
If you are outside and far away from shelter when a lightning strike occurs, crouch down and get as close to the ground as possible. Balance on the balls of your feet so the least bit of you touches the ground. Remember, the lightning can travel through the ground and hit you. The less of you to touch the ground, the safer you are. And if you can get to a hard-topped car, getting inside one is safer still. Not a convertible, because contrary to popular belief, it is the rubber tires that save you, it’s the metal shell of the car. Place your hands over your ears to protect them.
Even if you are inside, lightning can still hit you. Stay away from water, doors, and windows. You should also avoid landlines that have cords, plumbing lines and electric lines, and listening to music with a headset. I know one poor gentleman who has been struck by lightning twice while using the toilet in his house during a thunderstorm.
And if you happen upon a victim of a lightning strike, call 911. If the person is not breathing, perform CPR. Contrary to popular belief, victims are not electrically charged and are safe to touch.
Food Poisoning
The heat of summer can quickly spoil food. Spoiled food leads to food poisoning. Food poisoning makes you miserable for a few days. And it’s avoidable.
Two Hour Rule If the food’s been sitting out for 2 hours or more, throw it away. To keep the food longer, only set it out for half an hour at a time, placing it in a cooler in between. That gives you four times you can take the food out before you exceed the 2 hour limit. If your house is not air conditioned, don’t leave food out of the refrigerator for more than half an hour at a time and again, toss it after 4 times out of the fridge.
I recommend making smaller amounts of food so less is wasted.
Use “one-use” spoons. Provide a cup of water to put the spoon in after it’s been used so people won’t re-use it, or have large ladles to dish out the food that people won’t be tempted to lick or taste from.
Cook meat to safe temperatures. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ground beef and pork should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees. The chicken temperature applies to the thigh if you’re cooking the whole chicken or the thickest part if you’re cooking chicken pieces.
Berries are fragile and will spoil quickly in the heat, often under 2 hours, so check them before you eat them.
Contrary to common belief, mayonnaise doesn’t spoil quickly unless it’s homemade. This is because store bought mayonnaise and creamy dressings have so many artificial preservatives in them and homemade ones don’t. If you’re doing a cook-out or a picnic, take only as much mayonnaise or creamy dressings as you will use and follow the 2 hour rule with it. Put them into smaller containers.
Pools and Ponds
Children should be closely supervised, and very young children should be in sight 100 percent of the time they’re in or near the water. Yes, even if this means you are physically holding them while in the water or eyeballing them constantly if not. It takes so little time for a small child to drown. How many times have you read a newspaper article that says, “I just looked away for a second” or “I just turned my back for a minute” and their child drowned? Don’t look away for a second, and if you must do something where you can’t see the child, take the child with you, get someone else to do it, or wait.
Pools should have fences around them. And they should also have close by lifesaving equipment – hooks, rings, first aid kit.
Keep pool chemicals far away from the reach of children. This should be a no-brainer, but again, some people, especially ones who don’t have children of their own and are entertaining friends with children, don’t think about it.
For ponds, never go into the water unless you know how deep it is, and don’t let children enter it until you know how deep it is This is very important, especially where children are involved. They drown so easy.
If you, or a child in your care, fall and hit your head and you (or they) start to feel nauseous, lightheaded or lose consciousness, seek medical attention immediately. This means a concussion at the least and a brain bleed such as the one that killed that actress this past year.
If you, or a child in your care, fall and your ankle is in an awkward position and it starts to hurt, it should be checked by a medical professional. Children especially, are prone to greenstick breaks or damage to their growth plates and such injuries need immediate attention so the child doesn’t grow up with one leg shorter than the other.
Avoid it. That’s the best advice I can give. Don’t stay in direct sunlight more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time (essential for Vitamin D production), and seek deep shade as much as possible.
Use sunscreen of spf 30 Or higher, but don’t waste your money on any spf higher than 50 because the effectiveness no longer outweighs the cost. Apply it liberally and often. Even if the sunscreen claims to be waterproof, re-apply after heavy sweating or when you get out of the pool. No sunscreen is waterproof enough regardless of claims. If you’re not sweating heavily and haven’t been swimming, re-apply every half hour you are in direct sunlight.
If you do sunburn, cool the skin with tepid or cool water and apply aloe gel.
Pets suffer from the heat as much as people do – and probably more because a lot of people don’t realize just how hot their pet is.
Cars A car can become lethally hot in less than 2 minutes for puppies, older dogs, sick dogs, or fat dogs. It’s a myth that a dog can survive in a car for under 10 or 15 minutes, especially when those “just a few minutes” turns into half an hour or an hour or longer. Most people don’t bring cats with them in the same way they do dogs, but cats handle the heat of a car even less well than dogs do. Small rodents handle it better, but they still suffer. Ferrets can’t take the heat at all. If it’s over 80ºF, ferrets suffer the heat badly. Don’t take your pet with you if there’s even the slightest possibility you will have to leave the pet in the car. No matter how bad their separation anxiety may be, they will survive it much better than being killed by a hot car.
Shaved fur It seems logical that less hair equals a cooler experience in summer’s heat, but it’s not true that shaving a pet’s fur will keep them cooler in hot weather. What it does is expose them to sunburn. Since dogs don’t have sweat glands, the fur offers them protection from the sun’s rays and it actually helps keep them cooler in much the same way the heavy all-encompassing robes of desert people keeps them cooler. The best way to keep long or thick-furred dogs cool in the summer heat is to provide them with air conditioning.
Sunscreen They make special sunscreen just for dogs and it’s important that if your dog is going to be in the sun for any length of time, where they don’t have ready access to deep shade, that you apply dog-appropriate sunscreen to their noses, ears, and groin area. Dogs can suffer painful sunburns and peeling. Don’t use people sunscreen on them, it contains chemicals that will make your dog sick. Use sunscreen formulated for dogs. Ask your vet.
Heat Sickness If your dog or cat is drooling heavily, they are suffering from the heat and are either already in the early stages of heat exhaustion or worse. Get them out of the heat and into air conditioning as quickly as you can, provide shade and place chill packs to their neck and groin. Do not douse them in ice water, this shocks their system and increases their heat problems as their veins constrict.
Keeping your pet cool They make some chiller bandanas and belly vests that are made from those water-absorbing crystals that work short term for keeping a pet cool. Tie them loosely around the dog’s neck and belly, where the dog cools off the fastest. These cool through evaporation, like sweat, and doesn’t cool them a lot, but it seems to cool them enough.
I have a service dog that accompanies me everywhere, which means he has to endure all kinds of weather. He tolerates heat less well than I do, so I’ve learned a few ways to keep him cool when we attend festivals and other outdoor events with sparse shade and no air conditioning or when driving in a car or riding on a parade float with no air conditioning. One of the things I did for him was create a mat that can hold those frozen ice chest ice blankets. He sprawls on these when he waits for me to do whatever I do and it’s hot outside. I also carry a parasol for him so he can have shade as well as the ice mat. When he’s walking about, I have made him “saddlebags” that carry the frozen lunch box inserts to keep him cool and I carry the parasol so he’s shaded. He wears “sandals” I made him so he doesn’t have to burn his paws on hot pavement – they are rubber soles that lace up his legs to hold them in place. Most dog booties are too heavy and hot for summer wear but his “sandals” are perfect. They also protect his paws from broken glass at these events. They are not good for walking in beach sand, though. I keep spare mats in a small ice chest so when one mat melts from the heat, I can trade out a fresh one for him. Three mats are enough to last a whole, hot day. I also provide him with plenty of water and I always treat him to doggie ice cream or frozen fruits. He likes frozen bananas and watermelon.

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