Columns | Northwest Herald

Oliver: Childhood day of fun provides lifetime reminder about heat safety

Whenever it gets brutally hot out, I can’t help but think back a few decades. That’s when I learned a valuable lesson about staying safe in the heat.

My family had decided to try out the new amusement park in Gurnee. That was Six Flags Great America, and it opened in 1976. We probably went there for the first time in 1977 or 1978, when I was 9 or 10 years old.

I was super excited about going to see Bugs Bunny and perhaps being tall enough to ride a roller coaster or two.

The day we went was a sweltering one. We were active little farm kids, so we thought nothing of a day at the park. What we didn’t realize is how much hotter it gets on asphalt. Then again, we were having too much fun to care.

When we stopped at a restaurant on the way home, that’s when I noticed I wasn’t feeling right.

When we got home, my mother told me that my temperature hit 104 degrees.

Mom put me in a tub of cool water to try to break my fever. I’m sure it helped, but it didn’t feel very good at the time.

I was suffering from heat stroke. The symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include high body temperature (103 degrees or higher); hot, red, dry or damp skin; fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and passing out. I distinctly remember the high fever, nausea and headache.

Meanwhile, my mother also started feeling poorly. She told me she almost passed out while she had me in the tub. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; tiredness or weakness; dizziness; headache; and passing out.

In hindsight, my parents should have taken me to the emergency room because heat stroke is a medical emergency. Mom was right to try to get my temperature down, and I’m here to tell the story, so it worked out. However, heat stroke isn’t something to trifle with.

For heat exhaustion, the thing to do is to move to a cool place, loosen your clothes, put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath and sip water. Seek medical attention if you are throwing up, your symptoms get worse or if your symptoms last longer than an hour.

Although that day was a mix of the best and worst of times, it didn’t make me swear off amusement parks. In the years thereafter, I happily rode many roller coasters and splashed in the water park.

I’ve also never had another bout of heat stroke. I now take a lot of precautions to stay safe. At the first hint of heat exhaustion, I’m finding a cool spot and sipping some water, which I always bring with me.

When it’s hot, the CDC recommends three things: Stay cool. Stay Hydrated. Stay Informed.

To stay cool, you should wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing. Stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible. Cooling shelters and places like stores and libraries can get you out of the heat.

Other tips include take a cool shower or bath and using the stove and oven less. Also note that electric fans will not prevent heat-related illness when the temperature is in the high 90s, even if they do provide some comfort.

The morning and evening hours are the coolest, so schedule outdoor activities carefully. Rest in shady areas so that your body can recover. Don’t forget to pace yourself as well.

I learned to wear sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. They help.

Here’s another plea to not leave children or pets in cars. Cars quickly heat up to dangerous temperatures, even with a window cracked open. The CDC offers this tip: To remind yourself that a child is in the car, keep a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front with the driver. Don’t forget to check to be sure everyone is out of the car, including any children who have fallen asleep.

More heat-related tips can be found at

Let’s enjoy the summer. Be cool and stay safe!

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.