A serious discussion about sun stroke


The heat begins to rise the moment the sun peeks through the Florida foliage.

I want to take 3 minutes of your time to talk about a serious subject:  

Sun stroke.

My mom died from sun stroke. It was like Alzheimer’s happening over a period of one week.

As her brain swelled, she complained of a headache.  You might say, “so what, we all get headaches.” 

My mom was a teenager when the stock market crashed in 1929.  She’d just entered adulthood when the food riots began in 1931, and by the time she turned 20, the Great Depression was at its peak.  

The songs written during that time were meant to sprinkle tiny little sparkles of hope into otherwise dismal lives; songs like “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

The 20-somethings of the Great Depression internalized 2 messages as they struggled to find hope:  

  1. “Every cloud has a silver lining” and

Mom went through 10 hours of hard labor and gave birth to a 5 pound baby butt first (me).  She took pride in the fact that she never once screamed from the pain. 

When my mother said, “I have a headache.  I’ve never had such pain,” alarm bells started to go off. 

She had been outside without a hat mowing the lawn in 100F weather during the course of 2 days.  Her neighbor had warned her to stay out of the heat.  

Mom said, “I love the sun.”

Looking back on her diary, that day wasn’t the first time she’d started showing signs that the sun didn’t love her.

There were times when the words she wrote were incoherent. She had passed out during the years she lived alone, but didn’t call my sister or me for help.

Never, never would she consider asking for help.

My mom experienced dehydration and confusion long before the last time she ever mowed a lawn.   She ignored the warning signs.

During the week she was dying, she experienced kidney failure, Sundowner’s Syndrome, painful brain swelling, and entered a pattern of  Cheyne-Stokes breathing (shallow quick breaths followed by spaces of no breathing) during the last 2 days of her life.

Why am I writing about this in the middle of summer?  

(Can I say Duh????)

The smart person learns from other people’s experiences.  

I went for a vigorous walk in the 99F weather during lunch hour a few days ago.  As always, I wear a hat.  After all, my mom wasn’t wearing a hat when she experienced sun stroke for the last time.  

I’m good then…right?…right?…are you listening?!

I was walking out of the “oven” and back inside the “freezer” of an office when someone asked if I used sun screen.  

“No,” I replied, “I just get used to the sun in increments.”

I had to stop and think about that.  Isn’t it the same thing as saying, “It won’t happen to me?”

No, I don’t love the sun; I love the heat. But heat comes from the sun.  What if the sun doesn’t love me, either?

That is a question every one of us needs to consider.