The heatwaves that have been plaguing the U.S. West Coast have been all over my Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook feeds. However, I didn’t realize until watching one TikTok video that many are enduring triple-digit heat without air conditioning. In the video I shared in the tweet below, this woman is shopping at what looks like a Walmart and they are literally covering the freezers and coolers where the food is with trash bags.
Here’s the video I saw https://t.co/3ayaPldnM8
— Johnna Crider (@JohnnaCrider1) June 28, 2021
We have similar heat conditions here pretty often, so when I saw the 117°, 115°, and other high temperatures, I figured they could just turn on the air. But knowing now that many people don’t have air conditioning in an area that isn’t used to getting the type of heat I am used to, I realize not only is this a shock to the system, but they are enduring a type of heat that will take your life.
Before I dive into how to beat this type of heat without air conditioning, let me share a bit of my own history. My mother was homeless a lot — up until she secured a job working as a legal assistant for a local attorney up in Shreveport by the time I was 12. When we moved into our apartment, we had one window unit air conditioner. However, my mother didn’t make enough to pay the electric bill most of the time. Many of my summers in north Louisiana were spent in a home without air conditioning — without electricity. Our neighbor would sometimes run an extension cord so we could turn on the air, but this was rare, as my mother would have to pay them and she couldn’t afford it. Sometimes it would get so hot that we’d hear that so-and-so down the street died from heatstroke. Here’s how my mother and I survived.
Surviving The Extreme Heat
During the summer when school was out, I spent most of the hot days at the library. I was (and still am) an avid reader and I think I read every single book at the Shreve Memorial Library. There was an art gallery along the riverfront and sometimes I’d walk down there. There were water fountains in the library and many restaurants would give out free water to people if they asked.
The first tip in beating this type of heat is to find a cool place. For those inside their home, this means finding a room that isn’t on the east or west side where the sun rises and sets. Throwing a thick blanket over the window is a must to keep the room as cool as possible. Many on the West Coast will at least have electricity, so you can easily set up what many in the South call the “redneck AC.” A video of that is below.
Other things my mother and I did to beat the heat and stay cool included a lot of water and ice. She would often get one of the neighbors to pick up bags of ice for us and we would use that in our drinks but also fill the tub with ice and take cold baths during the hottest parts of the evening. These were once in a blue moon for us since we only had coolers to keep things cold.
Another idea that we used was filling up old spray bottles with water and spraying ourselves with them. Now, for those with electricity, you can easily keep those spray bottles in the fridge and use them as needed. You can do the same with ice.
Other ideas are to use ice packs on certain areas of your body that will help you stay cool. These areas are the back of your neck, your inner wrists, behind your knees, the pulse points along your neck, your feet, and your head. In most cases of extremely cold weather, it is always said to wear a hat on your head to prevent loss of body heat. Well, in the extreme heat, keeping your hair wet will help you stay cool.
Eating foods that are naturally cooling is helpful, too. Peppermint and mint, cucumber, and other fruits such as watermelon, apples, and grapes all have a cooling effect on the body. You can even make yummy cucumber-mint water.
Drink Water. Don’t Drink Tea or Coffee or Alcohol.
Tea and coffee are natural diuretics — naturally dehydrating. Sure, have your morning cup of iced coffee, but limit your intake of drinks that will dehydrate you. Instead, drink at least twice the amount of water you normally drink. The reason for this is because your body will be sweating continuously to cool you down.
This is why I always stock up on bottled water when there’s a hurricane or tropical storm nearby. Some neighbors will fill up their bathtubs with water just in case the water supply gets tainted. So far, I haven’t had that issue.
Another tip is to keep the frozen bottles of water in the freezer to prevent the food from spoiling in case of power outages. And if you have power, then they make great ice packs that you can drink once they are melted.
This Heat Is Life-Threatening — Take It Seriously
The most important thing is to take this heat seriously. Extreme heat is nothing to joke about, yet many think that they are okay and don’t need to worry. No, you need to worry, because honestly, your life is on the line here. I used to get excited when it was time for school — this meant I could go somewhere else besides the library. Also, this meant that fall would soon be around the corner.
It’s best to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The Mayo Clinic gives great info on both. For heat stroke, the symptoms are:
- High body temperature. A core body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher, obtained with a rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heatstroke.
- Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
- Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
- Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
- Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
- Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
- Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
- Headache. Your head may throb.
For heat exhaustion, the symptoms are:
- Cool, moist skin with goosebumps when in the heat
- Heavy sweating
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Muscle cramps
Another thing to remember is your pets. When walking them, stay on the grass. The sidewalk will be too hot for them to walk on. Keep them hydrated as well as bathing them and spraying them down. I saw one TikTok video where a cat owner froze wet paper towels in her freezer and would cool her overheated pet off with those.